January 27, 2021 Diet Emergency

Pet Food Related Aflatoxicosis: What You Need to Know

A field of corn

Pet Food Related Aflatoxicosis: What You Need to Know

There is an ongoing pet food recall for aflatoxin contamination. The Canine Review (TCR) has interviewed a number of dog owners whose dogs tragically died from eating the recalled food. The pet owner descriptions of the dogs’ deaths are graphic and deserve some medical explanation to help readers understand the disease. So, today’s blogpost will explain the clinical signs and the mechanisms underlying aflatoxicosis.

How does aflatoxin get in pet food and how much does it take to make a dog sick?

Aflatoxin is naturally produced by the mold species Aspergillus. Aspergillus sp. can grow on corn or other grains used to manufacture pet food. The United States Food and Drug Administration requires pet food manufacturers to screen grains incorporated into pet food for aflatoxin and allows no more than <20 micrograms per kilogram of food. Dogs show clinical signs of aflatoxin poisoning when the aflatoxin concentration reaches 60 micrograms per kilogram of food. In past outbreaks of aflatoxicosis, pet food has contained > 100 micrograms per kilogram of food.

How do you know dogs with aflatoxicosis have liver problems?

The blood tests posted on TCR article are typical of dogs with liver disease. The enzymes released by injured liver cells are high. These tests are abbreviated ALP, ALT, AST, GGT. The dogs also had low levels of albumin in their blood, indicating compromised liver function. Finally, the blood levels of bilirubin were high in several dogs. Normally, bilirubin levels are maintained at low levels by the liver.

What is the significance of the dogs’ yellow gums and eyes and urine the color of orange juice?

Bilirubin is a yellow colored compound. Increased levels of bilirubin result in the yellow-orange discoloration of the gums and eyes. This is called jaundice. When the liver cannot perform its normal function to break down bilirubin, the kidneys step in and remove the excess in urine, making the urine an orangish color.

Why do dogs with aflatoxicosis bleed so much?

Many of the owners of dogs suffering from aflatoxicosis report their dogs were bleeding. The liver is the sole producer of proteins that make blood clot. The severe liver damage caused by aflatoxin decreases clotting proteins production and put the dogs at risk of developing life-threatening hemorrhage.

The ultrasound report on Jax says the liver is normal. Are you sure these dogs had liver problems?

The liver damage caused by aflatoxin is so sudden that the cells stop working abruptly. A change this sudden would not be detected on an ultrasound. If dogs with aflatoxicosis survive, the liver ultrasound would change.

Why were dogs suffering from convulsions and strange behaviors like walking in circles?

One of the major jobs of the liver is to remove toxins from the body. When aflatoxin disrupts liver function, the toxins build up and can cause convulsions (seizures) and other abnormal behaviors.

Why is it so difficult to diagnose aflatoxicosis?

Aflatoxicosis causes a very sudden and severe form of liver disease, and the clinical signs are not unique to liver injury from aflatoxin. Any dog or cat with severe liver disease might suffer from the same clinical signs, and that is the challenge in making a diagnosis of aflatoxicosis.

Tags: Aflatoxicosis, Aflatoxin, cat food recall, Dog food recall, liver failure, pet food recall, Sportmix,

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