Botulism in Dogs

Humans are not the only species to get botulism.  Dogs can get it too.  Of course, they get it from eating dead animals or raw meat, not from improperly canned food.  They can spread it to humans by licking them soon after eating the toxin.  Clostridium botulinum type C is a bacteria that forms a toxin that is one of the most deadly substances known to man.  Just a taste of food containing the toxin can cause severe symptoms.  It is a potent neurotoxin.

Dogs have some protection against the worst symptoms of Clostridium botulinum type C.  However, even they can get sick if they eat enough of it. Symptoms appear a few hours to six days after eating the neurotoxin.  First the rear legs are paralyzed, then it spreads to the trunk, the front legs, and neck. Sometimes the dog has breathing difficulty and occasionally the muscles that allow the dog to breath become paralyzed and the dog suffocates.  Botulism can kill your dog and should be considered an emergency.

In mild cases, the dog recovers with supportive treatment.  However, if the dog has trouble breathing, more intensive treatment such as supplemental oxygen is necessary.

Dogs with paralysis should be taken to the veterinarian immediately.  The veterinarian will take a thorough history of your dog, onset of symptoms, and any possibility that the dog has eaten dead animals or spoiled meat.  She will also perform a physical, including a blood profile, complete blood count, and urinalysis.  There is a test for botulism toxin and your veterinarian may perform it if that is the suspected diagnosis.  X-rays of the dog’s chest will be taken to check for problems with the lungs and upper digestive tract as the botulism can cause paralysis of the respiratory muscles.

Mild cases of botulism will be temporarily hospitalized and treated with intravenous feeding and a urinary catheter.  This prevents them from being dehydrated and allows them to pass their urine even though their muscles are paralyzed.  Severe cases with problems breathing will have to be placed in intensive care.  There the dog will be feed with a stomach tube and hooked up to a ventilator to help him breath in addition to the intravenous feeding and urinary catheter. Regardless of the severity of the poisoning, the dog will be given a type C antitoxin to stop the poisoning and prevent the dog from getting any worse.

Complete recovery of the dog takes from one to three weeks.  This is quite an ordeal for both the dog and the owner.  Prevention is much easier than treatment.  Do not let your dog eat dead animals and never give him raw meat.  You never know when it might be spoiled and contain the botulism toxin.  Always cook any meat you are going to give your dog and do not use any meat that is questionable.  Giving the dog a steak you think is too spoiled to eat is no favor to the dog.