Monday, December 20, 2010

Aflatoxins: What Are They & How They Hurt Your Pet

*Press Release & List of Affected Foods*

What is an Aflatoxin?

Aflatoxins are compounds produced by various fungi that grow on crops in the field or while in storage. Crops such as corn, rice, wheat, oats, sweet potatoes and peas are used as ingredients in many pet foods and therefore aflatoxins can contaminate them. Commercial grains are screened routinely for aflatoxins but as you can imagine not every single grain can be screened (for example one moldy orange in a large bag may not be spotted when you purchase it from the store).

How do aflatoxins cause my pet to be sick?

Dogs and cats are very sensitive to aflatoxin. A dose as low as 0.5 mg/kg can be lethal. The disease has only been reported to clinically affect dogs, but that does not mean that cats are not susceptible. Aflatoxins are easily absorbed by the small intestines. Once in the blood stream they bind to proteins, those that are unbound go to the liver and other tissues. The breakdown of the aflatoxin produces the product that is highly reactive and causes the damage we see. It causes death of liver and kidney cells.

What are the signs of aflatoxicosis?

In most cases pets have been exposed to the toxin for weeks to months and then suddenly become sick. The most common early signs you may note if your pet is affected include refusing to eat, weakness, vomiting, diarrhea and lethargy. Some pets may die unexpectedly without ever showing signs. Later in the disease pets may develop a yellow color to their gums and skin (icterus), fresh blood in the stool or vomit, black tarry stools (intestinal bleeding), bloody nose, bruises on the skin or gums.

How is aflatoxicosis diagnosed?

Your veterinarian will run blood and urine tests to check for liver and kidney damage. Other tests may include clotting times and stool analysis. A liver biopsy may be obtained. Make sure to bring the bag of dog/cat food being fed. A sample may be submitted for testing; although many times the bag that was the culprit was consumed before the pet showed any signs.

What is the treatment?

Unfortunately there is not special antidote for aflatoxins. Treatment consists of supportive care until the toxin is cleared from the body. Medications given include liver protectant medications such as vitamins and antioxidants, blood and plasma transfusions for the bleeding problems, medications for the intestinal system and fluids to help keep good blood flow to the kidneys and liver.

In most affected pets signs do not show up quickly. Usually large amounts of contaminated food have been consumed and the pet will most likely succumb to the disease. Pets that have ingested small amounts may survive with appropriate supportive care.

It is important to remember that many other diseases may cause similar signs and your veterinarian will want to make sure other diseases are not responsible for the signs. If you note these signs and your dog or cat has been fed a recalled food call your veterinarian immediately!