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Tremorgenic Mycotoxin Intoxication in Pets

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Imagine returning home from work and as you push open the door, you are greeted by trash strewn across the kitchen floor. Your eyes follow the trail and spot the knocked-over trash can. Immediately, you realize Fido, who has been home alone all day, got into the trash. And as you process the scene, questions race through your head: How long ago did this happen? What was in there? Should we go to the vet? 

When a pet gets into the trash, it can be a frightening experience! Toxins like grapes, onions, and xylitol, or potentially obstructive objects like corn cobs are scary enough. But another danger that’s often overlooked is tremorgenic mycotoxins – toxins produced from mold. Typically, dogs and cats are exposed to these harmful toxins after eating moldy human or pet food or compost. Whether your pet is a first-time offender or a repeat trash bandit, here’s what pet owners need to know about tremorgenic mycotoxins intoxication in dogs and cats, and why it’s necessary to seek immediate veterinary care as soon as you spot the evidence. 

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Common Signs 

Signs of tremorgenic mycotoxin intoxication can occur rapidly – often within minutes to hours – and mostly affect the central nervous and gastrointestinal systems 

  • Early Signs: Vomiting, diarrhea, and agitation 
  • Intermediate Signs: Tremors, seizures, weakness, and stiffness of the limbs 
  • Severe Signs: Hyperthermia, pneumonia, and abnormal clotting ability of the blood

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Treatment 

As soon as you realize your pet got into the trash or compost pile, it’s important to have them evaluated by a veterinarian. Early and aggressive treatment leads to the best outcome for your petOften, treatment includes 

  • If the pet is not showing signs of tremorgenic mycotoxin intoxication yet, the veterinary team will induce vomiting. 
  • If the pet is displaying signs of tremorgenic mycotoxin intoxication, a tube is passed into the stomach to remove contents and flush the stomach.
  • Bloodwork is performed to assess organ function and rule out other toxins to which the pet may have been exposed.
  • Depending on when the pet was exposed (and if he/she is displaying visible signs of intoxication,) the veterinarian may recommend overnight hospitalization or allow your pet to receive outpatient care and return home. In-hospital treatment focuses on supportive care with IV fluids, anti-nausea medications, charcoal to bind any remaining toxins, and anticonvulsant medications if seizures are noted.  

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Prevention Tips 

The best way to prevent tremorgenic mycotoxin intoxication is to keep pets out of potentially moldy situations. We recommend 

  • Keeping trash cans closed with lids or inside a cabinet. For repeat offenders, we recommend taking extra precaution by securing cans or cabinets with baby-proof locks. Trash cans with magnetized lids can also be a good option for homes without a cabinet enclosure. 
  • Securing compost piles in enclosed bins with latched lids. We also recommend always supervising pets while in yards with compost piles – especially if not secured. 
  • Storing pet food in the original food bag within a sealed container. At the end of every bag, thoroughly clean and wash out the container. For wet food cans, thoroughly rinse out the can before recycling to reduce your pet’s temptation.  

If you have concerns about your pet being exposed to tremorgenic mycotoxins or anything else found in the garbage or compost pilecontact your veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital for immediate veterinary care. If you have multiple pets and you are unsure who the culprit was – bring them all in! Prognosis is good with early decontamination and treatment, so don’t hesitate!

Megan Brewer, DVM, Megan Johnson, DVM, Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota, emergency veterinarian 

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