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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Symptoms of Botulism in Dogs
Symptoms of botulism are caused by muscle paralysis and include the following:
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Botulism Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
Unfortunately it is too late for my dog Pearl and we are heartbroken at the loss. At this point we are just trying to find answers. Pearl was picked up from her normal boarding facility showing some signs of sluggishness and being tired, I called the boarder immediately to see if anything had happened while she was there and they said everything was normal except she had vomited a small amount of yellow bile-like substance on Monday when she was dropped off. Her condition worsened and began to show signs of "wobblers" where she couldn't walk straight, had trouble placing her front and back paws; got to the point where should couldn't walk on her own in just about 36 hours from being picked up from the boarder. At the emergency vet she had X-rays, blood work, MRI, brain scan, and spinal tap completed. EVERY test came back normal, yet my dog could not walk, wasn't eating, and had diarrhea. They never gave her medicine for pain, she never seemed like she was in pain, just neurological issues where she knew she wanted to walk but couldn't make her legs do what she wanted. At the very end she wouldn't eat even though she was on medicine for upset stomach and nausea, her blinking was off, she couldn't blink her upper lid, only the third eyelid and her face seemed to droop, she had difficulty keeping her jowls out of her mouth, they would get stuck and she would bit them and she was drooling way more than normal. And the walking was the biggest issue. She could no longer get up on her own, she could somewhat walk with little support, but not very straight and not for longer than a minute or so. The vet was led to think Botulism but no further tests were done. It's highly unlikely she ate the raw/rotting meat (she was a picky eater already). Could this be from contaminated canned dog food? Could this be something else? We think the paralysis in her face points to stroke but are not sure. We are just looking for a second opinion on this and maybe some closure. Any info you can give would be greatly appreciated!!
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My dog suddenly became paralyzed while i was away at work. We have been to 3 vets. He can eat and drink. He can not wag his tail or stand at all. One vet said distemper and the other botulism... he's alert and shows signs of both... however neither vet said you can test for either. Would the fact that he cant wag his tail rule out botulism? Thanks
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My dog ate bad dog food today and was having siezures and now can't walk. His vet doesn't open till tomoroe morning. Is there any thing I can do to make him feel better now?
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