What is Hickory Nut Poisoning?
Properly processed hickory nuts are not directly toxic to your dog but the canine system does not correctly digest the proteins in nuts. Eaten in large enough quantities hickory nuts can cause gastrointestinal distress, obesity, and pancreatitis. This can occur in dogs either if the nuts are eaten all at once or in small, frequent amounts. The shells of hickory nuts also contain the chemical juglone which can be mildly toxic to canines as well. In addition to the dangers posed by the nuts themselves, hickory nuts may also harbor certain penicillium and claviceps type molds. Dogs are particularly susceptible to the tremorgenic mycotoxins produced by this mold and exposure can have serious consequences for your pet.
Although hickory nuts are not highly poisonous to dogs they are not recommended. The canine system is not designed to process nuts and they cause gastrointestinal distress, obesity, and pancreatitis.
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Symptoms of Hickory Nut Poisoning in Dogs
Signs your dog recently overindulged
- Greasy appearing stools
Signs of pancreatitis
- Difficulty breathing
- Heart arrhythmias
- Lack of appetite
- Orange urine
- Severe abdominal pain
- Swollen abdomen
- Weight loss
Signs of tremorgenic mycotoxicosis
- Abdominal pain
- Dilated pupils
- Elevated heart rate
- Excessive drooling
- Uncontrolled flickering eye movement
Although nuts such as hickory nuts are a common vector for the molds that produce tremorgenic mycotoxins they are not the only way for your canine to be exposed to the toxins that they produce. These toxins can be produced on many different types of molding food including bread, cheese, and rice. Another common source for your canine to ingest these dangerous molds is to raid your garbage and eat moldy food from there. Hickory trees and other trees in the same family such as black walnuts may drop moldy nuts to the ground where your pet may gain access.
Causes of Hickory Nut Poisoning in Dogs
Although properly prepared hickory nuts aren’t generally poisonous in and of themselves they do present a number of secondary risks. These risks can include:
Hickory nuts that humans get to snack on for themselves often have salt and other seasonings added to them. Too much salt can increase water retention in dogs and the chance of injury to the kidneys. This can be particularly dangerous for dogs with heart conditions.
Juglone is a chemical that is toxic to dogs. It is produced by the hickory tree and is found in the shells of hickory nuts as well as the wood and leaves of the tree.
Tremorgenic mycotoxins lead to tremorgenic mycotoxicosis. Dogs reacting to this type of toxicity will require hospitalization to manage the symptoms.
High phosphorus content
The high phosphorus content in most nuts can increase the likelihood of forming bladder stones.
Dogs do not always chew their food as effectively as humans and this may lead to a choking hazard due to the hardness of the nut joined with its size and shape.
Nuts are quite high in fat which is a primary contributor to developing Pancreatitis, a painful and debilitating disorder that can considerably shorten your canine’s life.
Diagnosis of Hickory Nut Poisoning in Dogs
Symptoms exhibited with this condition will prompt your veterinarian to get a history of the patient, taking particular note of what foods your pet had access to recently. Typically, a general physical examination will be completed and a chemistry profile and complete blood count will be analyzed as well. Urine, stools, and vomitus will also be tested and may expose underlying diseases or toxins such as tremorgenic mycotoxins or toxins related to organophosphate toxicity. These toxins can also be identified using mass spectrometry techniques.
Further testing will depend on the signs that are presenting. If your dog is showing signs of damage to the esophagus or dehydration an x-ray or ultrasound of the throat and chest area may be recommended to check for tearing of the esophagus or enlargement of the heart. Ultrasounds may be used to image the abdominal area as they often reveal enlargement of the pancreas or fluid accumulation in this area.
Treatment of Hickory Nut Poisoning in Dogs
Treatment will depend on how the hickory nuts have affected your pet. Supportive treatment will be given for any urgent complications. This could include IV fluids for dehydration and medications may be prescribed to alleviate certain symptoms. These medications may be given either intravenously or by an intramuscular injection and could include any combination of antibiotics, anti-nausea, or pain management medications.
Dogs who have contracted tremorgenic mycotoxins will generally be kept at the hospital with IV fluids and muscle relaxants to alleviate symptoms until the disease can run its course. Activated charcoal may also be administered to limit the absorption of the toxin. Most dogs that are affected will recover within 24-48 hours but this can be extended depending on the amount of the toxin ingested and the length of time between ingestion and treatment.
In the event that your pet is vomiting steadily or excessively your veterinarian may recommend a period of withholding food by mouth, sometimes for several days. These symptoms are often a sign of pancreatitis. The intent behind this treatment is to allow the pancreas to heal enough for the inflammation to go down. If the dog is willing and able to eat on its own, several low-protein, low-fat, high-fiber meals per day are generally suggested to speed healing. Supplements of pancreatic enzymes can be given to relieve abdominal pain, but it usually does not alter the course of the disease itself.
Recovery of Hickory Nut Poisoning in Dogs
Keeping the recuperating patient in a calm and quiet environment and making sure that he or she completes the full measure of their medications will help speed recovery. Medications such as antibiotics, stomach protectants, and antacids may be prescribed to combat the symptoms. Although most dogs with tremorgenic mycotoxicosis are well within 24-48 hours there are some cases of ataxia that can continue for several years. Dogs with pancreatitis will most often be placed on a diet restricted to low-fat, high-fiber foods for the remainder of their lives. Pancreatic enzyme supplementation, while unlikely to change the overall course of the disease, may provide some relief from the severe abdominal pain.
Hickory Nut Poisoning Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
I come home from work monday morning and my dog had diarrhea and vomit in her cage there was also a whole hickory nut in there with her. I gave her pepto for the diarrhea and feed her half of her normal food...6 hours later(3pm) she threw it all back up..she was give rice some hours later(my dad gave it to her without my knowledge) she threw that up too 8 hours later(1am) the vomit was yellow. This morning she drank some water and a few hours later she threw up brown stuff that had what looked like fibers maybe from the shell of the hickory nut. Should i just watch her or take to emergency vet?
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My 8 month old standard schnauzer ate a hickory nut yesterday and got sick, weak could hardly stand she was also foaming at the mouth then a few hours later seemed alot better. Today , she would only eat eggs not her normal food should I take he to vet?
Hickory nuts are not poisonous as such but they will give a bad stomach ache to a dog and if consumed in large quantities, may cause conditions like pancreatitis. Supportive care is best, ensuring that Stella remains hydrated is more important than her eating in the short term; if she is eating eggs, it is a good high quality protein source. Keep an eye on her, but if she doesn’t start to eat her normal food within a day or so, have your Veterinarian check her over. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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