What is Pistachio Poisoning?
Properly processed pistachios are not directly toxic to your dog but the canine system does not properly digest the proteins in nuts. Eaten in large quantities pistachios can cause gastrointestinal distress, obesity, and pancreatitis. This can occur in dogs if the pistachios are eaten all at once or in smaller but more frequent amounts. In addition to the dangers posed by the nuts themselves, pistachios may also harbor Aspergillus mold. Dogs are particularly susceptible to the aflatoxin produced by this mold and exposure can have serious consequences for your pet.
Although pistachios are not directly toxic to dogs they are not recommended. The canine system is not designed to process nuts and they ultimately cause gastrointestinal distress, obesity, and pancreatitis.
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Symptoms of Pistachio 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 Aflatoxin poisoning from Aspergillus mold
- Liver failure
- Loss of appetite
Although nuts such as pistachios are a common vector for Aspergillus mold they are not the only way for your canine to be exposed to the aflatoxins that they produce. Aspergillus mold can be found on several types of plants including corn, hay, and wheat, which could potentially be used in the production of food, dog or human. In some cases, animals can ingest the toxin and then pass it on to others through their byproducts such as milk or eggs. No animal species is immune to aflatoxins and there are strict regulations on the amounts allowed in foods, and large recalls due to aflatoxin contamination have occurred in both pet and people foods.
Causes of Pistachio Poisoning in Dogs
Although pistachios aren’t generally poisonous in and of themselves pistachios do present a number of secondary risks. These risks can include:
Pistachios 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.
Aflatoxin is caused by the mold Aspergillus. Aflatoxin levels in foods are only mildly toxic to humans, however, dogs are acutely sensitive to it. There are often trace amounts of these molds on tree nuts such as pistachios, walnuts, brazil nuts, and almonds.
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 combined with its size and shape. Pistachios are often sold in their shell, which can break into jagged or sharp pieces, increasing the chances that they may puncture the esophagus or other parts of the gastrointestinal tract.
Nuts are quite high in fat which is a primary contributor to developing Pancreatitis, a painful disorder that can considerably shorten your canine’s life.
Diagnosis of Pistachio 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 given and a chemistry profile and complete blood count will be completed as well. Urine, stools, and vomitus will also be tested and may expose underlying diseases or toxins such as aflatoxin. A preliminary diagnosis based on the physical exam and history may prompt treatment even before the final diagnosis is completed.
Further testing will depend on the symptoms that are being exhibited. If your dog is showing signs of damage to the esophagus or of 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 can be used to image the abdominal area and may reveal enlargement of the pancreas or fluid accumulation in this area.
Treatment of Pistachio Poisoning in Dogs
Treatment will depend on how the pistachios have affected your pet. Supportive treatment will be given for any immediate concerns including IV fluids for dehydration. Medications may be prescribed to alleviate certain symptoms. These medications could include antibiotics, anti-nausea, or pain management medications which can be given either intravenously or by an intramuscular injection. Aflatoxin poisoning carries with it a serious risk of damage to the liver so hepatoprotectants and vitamin K treatments are often recommended. The supportive treatment is vital to the chances of recovery from aflatoxin as there is no antidote. In the event that your pet is vomiting persistently or severely, your veterinarian may recommend a period of withholding food by mouth sometimes for several days. These symptoms are sometimes seen with pancreatitis. The idea behind this treatment is to allow the pancreas to heal enough for the swelling to go down. If the dog is willing and able to eat on its own, several low-protein, low-fat, high-fiber meals are generally recommended per day 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 Pistachio Poisoning in Dogs
Keeping the recovering patient in a calm and quiet environment and making sure that your pet completes the full measure of their medications will help speed recovery. Medications such as antibiotics, stomach and liver protectants, and antacids may be prescribed to combat the symptoms. Dogs diagnosed with aflatoxin poisoning will likely need follow-up appointments to check their liver function. 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.
Pistachio Poisoning Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
I have a small 6 year old yorkie. I turned my back and he knocked down the plate of pistachio nuts I had on table and he was eating them when I returned to room. I’m not sure how many he consumed. I would say under 4 with the shell. I got there immediately but he’s a fast eater. He swallowed them whole. He seems fine now an hour later but I’m concerned because of his size. What should I expect? Will he be able to dispose of it when he does to the bathroom? Will it cause constipation? Anything I should give him if that occurs?
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I have a Siberian husky who just ate 2 pastachios, and His stomach isn't liking it. He's had diarrhea and puked once, he is only 5 months old. What should I do?....
Whilst pistachios are not considered toxic for dogs, their gastrointestinal tracts doesn’t like them at all and will cause gastric upset including vomiting, diarrhoea and in severe cases (or when ingested in large amounts) pancreatitis. It is important to keep Kai hydrated and if he starts vomiting a lot, withhold food for 24 hours; if he isn’t drinking, becomes dehydrated or you have general concerns, visit a Veterinarian or Emergency Veterinarian for supportive care. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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