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What is Botulism?

Botulism is a rare, potentially fatal disease in dogs. Your dog could acquire botulism as a result of ingesting the decomposing tissue of a dead animal, or plant material where the bacterium Clostridium botulinum has produced a toxin. The toxin will affect the nervous system of your dog, leading to a variety of symptoms. These symptoms will usually be seen from 12-36 hours after exposure to the bacteria.

While a rare disease in dogs, botulism is caused by ingesting the toxin produced by Clostridium botulinum, which leads to weakness, paralysis and possibly death.

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Botulism Average Cost

From 591 quotes ranging from $500 - $4,000

Average Cost

$2,000

Symptoms of Botulism in Dogs

Symptoms of botulism are caused by muscle paralysis and include the following:

  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Drooling
  • Pain in the abdomen of your dog
  • Worsening weakness 
  • Paralysis typically starting with the hind limbs and spreading
  • Vision problems
  • Struggling to chew and swallow
  • Decrease in your dog’s heart rate
  • Difficulty breathing

As noted above, symptoms will typically be seen within 12-36 hours after your dog has been exposed to the bacteria.

Types 

Clostridium botulinum produces a toxin that when ingested can lead to serious illness. There are seven types of Clostridium botulinum; A, B, C1, D, E, F, G. The type is based on the specific antigens of the toxins. Type C1 is most often seen in animals.

Though botulism rarely occurs in dogs, when it does occur, it is usually caused by the type C toxin. There have been reports where type D is responsible for the illness in dogs as well.

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Causes of Botulism in Dogs

Botulism is caused by consuming a toxin that is produced by Clostridium botulinum. The organism multiplies quickly in the decomposing tissue of deceased animals, as well as sometimes in plant material. 

When your dog eats something with the toxin, the toxin can cause paralysis. When a dog suffers from botulism, it is usually due to ingesting the decomposing tissue of a deceased animal.

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Diagnosis of Botulism in Dogs

Should you notice that your dog appears alert but is unable to move, it is important to rush him to your veterinarian. Motor paralysis will lead the veterinarian to consider botulism as a cause, and you will likely be asked about any possible opportunities your dog may have had to consume something with the toxin. You will likely also be asked for more information regarding your dog’s history and any other symptoms you have noticed (and when you noticed them).

It is challenging for a veterinarian to make a definite diagnosis of botulism, particularly because it is so rare in dogs and because symptoms can be similar to other illnesses (for example: poison, nervous system infection, nervous system injury, Myasthenia gravis, a reaction to a drug or stroke). Samples of your dog’s serum, feces, vomit or samples of the food he ingested can be tested for the toxin levels, however since levels are low, tests may not pick them up. Diagnosis will often be made through the elimination of other possible causes of motor paralysis. If you noticed your dog around an animal carcass, that can help point your veterinarian in the right direction.

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Treatment of Botulism in Dogs

Treatment for botulism in dogs is mainly to provide supportive care. This will include respiratory therapy, intravenous fluids to keep your dog hydrated and nursing care. In the case of seizures and tremors, your veterinarian may recommend medication. Wounds that have been infected with botulism should be completely cleaned. With a high level of care, it can still take weeks for your dog’s paralysis to improve. It will likely take even longer for him to function normally. As it can be difficult to find an animal hospital that can provide the level of care necessary, botulism in dogs can be fatal. 

There has been some success with botulinum antitoxin, though how successful it is depends on what type of animal the host is and what toxin is involved in the illness. The success of treatment is typically related to the dose of the toxin your dog ingested, which is equated with how quickly your dog became ill, how fast symptoms progressed and how severe they got, as well as how quickly treatment was started.

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Recovery of Botulism in Dogs

Should your dog be struggling with botulism, you will want to follow your veterinarian’s instructions carefully in order to give your dog the best opportunity for a full recovery. 

For those dogs who survive botulism, recovery is typically 1-3 weeks, though clinical signs may be present for months afterward. It is important to keep an eye out and keep your dog from getting into dead and decomposing animals that may cause botulism. Staying with your dog while he explores will help you stop him before your dog can ingest something that can cause him harm.

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Botulism Average Cost

From 591 quotes ranging from $500 - $4,000

Average Cost

$2,000

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Botulism Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Australian Shepherd (standard)

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Four Years

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

None

I am supplementing my dogs kibble with commercial canned green beans. I opened a can this morning and noticed as I putting the beans in her dish that the beans were quite warm - never noticed this before. This can had a pull top instead of needing a can opener. They smell okay. Should I be concerned, I gave her about 20 of these beans?

Sept. 27, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. It is difficult to say if there was something wrong with the beans, but if she develops any signs of vomiting or diarrhea, It would be best to have your pet seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine them and see what might be going on, and get treatment if needed.

Oct. 12, 2020

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Kamea

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Labrador Retriever

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9 Years

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Lethargic
Unstable Walking,
Dragging Hind Paws
Sore Tummy
Difficulty Laying Down

She was absolutely fine in the morning on Wednesday, then in the afternoon when I came home, she wouldn't get up or walk. It was like, all of a sudden, her back legs stopped working properly. Her left paw is dragging while she walks and she's very unstable in both hind legs, wobbling a lot. When I test her knuckling in the left hind leg, there is no response, not even a delay. Also, her reflexes are reduced. She winced when I tried to lift her from ground around her abdomen. She has not vomited, nor had diarrhea. It should be known that she is a 9.5 year old labrador who finds food on our walks and she ate part of a dead bird once before. The vet did x-rays without sedation that didn't show anything in her chest, abdomen, or spine. She is still wagging her tail, but is extremely lethargic. Please help me bring my baby back to normal!

April 20, 2018

Kamea's Owner


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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

I'm so sorry that this is happening to Kamea. Without seeing her, I can't really determine what might be going on, but possible causes might be a spinal lesion that is causing her back pain, or a systemic disease that is affecting her electrolytes. A blood panel would be a good idea, and if that is normal, your veterinarian may need to treat for a back injury. An MRI would be the definitive test for that, but we often treat signs as needed. I hope that she is okay.

April 20, 2018

I let me dog in kennel like every morning after he goes to bathroom I went to work I came home and he couldn’t use his back legs at all I noticed he was panting a lot the next morning I did bring in to er vet when I had got home he said buldging disc and said he needed mri I brought him to personal vet next day he said dog can fill all the way done spine neck and back he’s had him for two days now I still don’t know what wrong he said he was very dehydrated and electro count was off but that’s all I know right now any help will he very appreciated he did say he’s eating and drinking and a lil active but still know use of back legs he’s a 4 year old cur and pit mix any ideas ??

May 7, 2018

William T.

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Botulism Average Cost

From 591 quotes ranging from $500 - $4,000

Average Cost

$2,000

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