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Dangers for Dogs Who Eat Compost

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  • Dangers for Dogs Who Eat Compost

    A scary lesson: eating compost can be fatal to pets

    Friday, April 23, 2010 (Updated 3:37 pm)

    By Jamie Kennedy Jones
    Staff Writer
    During the past few weeks, many dog-park visitors and obedience-school classmates have asked me why my puppy’s front legs were shaved.
    When they hear the answer, they’re taken aback. Six-month-old Beauregard was hospitalized overnight after stealing and eating moldy bread and vegetables from the compost bin.
    The vet techs shaved his front legs to insert IV catheters so he could receive a steady drip of anti-seizure medication intravenously throughout the night. They also induced vomiting, gave him a muscle relaxer and made him drink a charcoal liquid — and his was a mild case.
    Most people I’ve talked to about the ordeal didn’t realize that compost could poison a dog. After all, it’s just fruits, vegetables, grains, eggshells and paper, right? The problem is a fungus that can be in decomposing objects, particularly those with moist food, including compost and garbage.

    The main symptom of tremorgenic mycotoxin intoxication, as the name suggests, is tremors. On a recent Friday evening, about two hours after I chased him from the compost bin, Beauregard began shaking all over and vomiting. Not all dogs vomit as a result of the toxin, but because Beauregard did, he prevented some of the toxins from staying in his system. That made his case less severe.

    The nonstop shaking seemed so unusual that I called the after-hours emergency clinic at the N.C. State Veterinary Teaching Hospital, a facility on which I rely for dog emergencies and veterinarian expertise.

    The staff told me to bring him in. On the drive to Raleigh, Beauregard acted odd, alternately huddling under the dashboard and snuggling close to me and resting his head atop my purse, drooling. I found out later that the mycotoxin affects the central nervous system and can cause hallucinations.
    Beau’s symptoms were nonspecific, but Amanda Ardente, a veterinarian intern, was able to make a diagnosis quickly because I told her that he had been in the compost bin that day.

    Ardente said early treatment is crucial. If left untreated, the toxins can lead to seizures and death. (Any seizure that lasts long enough can kill a dog.) Also, the tremors can cause a dog’s temperature to spike. Not treating the problem is very risky.

    Pet owners should not try to induce vomiting in their pet because the tremors and loss of muscle control could cause the dog to aspirate — inhale vomit — which could lead to pneumonia. A vet needs to decide whether inducing vomiting is safe.

    “There’s nothing that a pet owner can do at home that’ll help them,” Ardente said.

    There are few reports in the veterinary world about tremorgenic mycotoxin intoxication, she said. In one report she found, four dogs were normal after 48 hours of hospitalization.
    But Ardente said she expects the issue will get more attention as more people take up backyard composting. Beau was one of four dogs treated for the problem at N.C. State Veterinary Teaching Hospital in the past few months.

    “We hadn’t really seen it before,” Ardente said. “It’s kind of new to N.C. State and new to vet clinics in the past few years.”

    Make sure dogs can’t get to compost piles and garbage cans, she said. If you see your dog ingest compost, watch for tremors, vomiting, diarrhea or lethargy. Other outdoor hazards that pet owners should keep in mind are rodent bait and antifreeze.

    Contact Jamie Kennedy Jones at 373-7088 or Jamie.

  • #2
    Re: Dangers for Dogs Who Eat Compost

    Thanks for this info; my GF's dog got into my compost bin earlier this week! It was recently started, so not much decomposition yet. I put an expen around it b/c I didn't want any more mess, but it's not totally dog-proof. Guess I'm gonna have to put a real fence around it (she's a major trash picker/counter surfer/recycle bin raider)


    • #3
      Re: Dangers for Dogs Who Eat Compost

      There is a good article here on cocoa mulch and other potential garden poisons.