Recently, some pet food brands came under fire because authorities discovered that the kibble was contaminated with aflatoxin. But what is aflatoxin, and how can it negatively influence a dog’s health?
We’re answering this question and more in today’s article, so keep on reading!
What is Aflatoxin?
Aflatoxin is a substance (a toxin) produced by certain types of yeast (or mold) that can develop on a wide variety of foods. Aflatoxins are effectively produced by the genus Aspergillus flavus, which can grow on anything ranging from corn to peanuts.
In fact, this is one of the reasons why many pet owners refrain from giving their dogs any peanuts because they can’t know for sure whether they are contaminated with the mold or not. By the way, some types of peanut butter might contain the toxin, too, so make sure you always give your dog only small quantities.
Ideally, senior dogs should not be fed any food that has a risk of containing aflatoxins.
What we do have to note is that cooking food at high temperatures does remove the fungus itself, but it does not do the same for the toxin. This means that if you cook your dog food at home and some of the ingredients are contaminated, even cooking it thoroughly will not make a difference.
What Symptoms Does Aflatoxin Poisoning Cause in Dogs?
Aflatoxin poisoning, also called aflatoxicosis, can cause a variety of clinical signs, from respiratory distress to general malaise. Unfortunately, the toxins target the liver, so most dogs end up suffering from severe liver damage or developing liver failure.
The most common symptoms seen in dogs with this condition are listed below:
- Absence of appetite for food or water
- Yellow visible mucous membranes (gums, eyes or any visible skin area)
- Diarrhea or other types of digestive distress
- Bleeding complications
- Changes in the dog’s urine color (it becomes darker)
Some dogs can experience these clinical signs all of a sudden, while others can develop them in time. It also depends on how exposed they are to the toxin in terms of frequency.
Small doses of aflatoxin over a longer period of time can cause other health problems, such as cancer or a lower capable immune system, leading to recurring infections.
Diagnosing aflatoxicosis in dogs (and any other species, for that matter) is quite difficult, and the reason for that is that the animals usually end up at the animal hospital when they are already in poor health status. This means that potentially invasive diagnostic techniques such as a biopsy, for example, might not be performed simply because they might further damage the dog’s health.
However, the vet can test the dog’s blood for liver enzymes and determine whether they are suffering from liver damage in this way. Even a clinical examination is quite revealing in this sense since most dogs develop jaundice.
Since jaundice is a symptom of other diseases, though, further testing is required – urine tests can sometimes reveal the presence of aflatoxins, which can be very helpful, especially for a dog that might not stand other types of diagnostic investigations.
Of course, the dog’s food itself can be tested for aflatoxins or the fungus strain that we mentioned at the beginning of this article. If the kibble is discovered to have been contaminated, this can lead to a rather quick diagnosis.
Can Aflatoxin Poisoning Be Cured?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a type of therapy that works for aflatoxin in all cases, despite extensive research being performed in this sense over the years (since people can develop aflatoxicosis, too).
The only way that this condition can be ‘treated’ would be to stop feeding the dog the food that has made them sick. This can be very challenging sometimes since some dogs might have eaten peanuts or peanut butter containing the toxin, so it might not be discovered in their kibble.
If the vet does suspect aflatoxicosis, they will most likely advise pet owners to feed their dogs an elimination diet. Pet parents might have to completely change their dogs’ diets for a while, whether that means cooking their dogs’ food at home (following a recipe that their vets provided them with)
Supportive therapy for dogs that are regrettably left with long-lasting liver damage might be necessary. In other words, the dog might have to be put on medication such as milk thistle or other supplements that make it possible for their liver to continue functioning. Depending on the extent of the liver damage that they have sustained, they might need to take these medications for the remainder of their lives.
How much does it cost to treat aflatoxin poisoning in dogs? The answer to this question actually depends on whether you have pet insurance or not.
In most cases, the diagnosis itself is quite expensive (since a lot of tests have to be performed), and the supportive therapy can also cost a lot (most dogs have to be hospitalized for at least a week until their liver function recovers partially), so the everything can cost up to $3,000 or even $4,000.
Can You Prevent Aflatoxicosis in Dogs?
Yes! Since there have been some scandals with some pet food brands having their food contaminated with aflatoxins, what you can do is do a bit of research before picking your dog’s kibble.
Kibble can sometimes grow mold in the container you keep it in, so it is a good idea to check and see whether there’s any trace on the inside walls. This is particularly true for kibble that’s not completely dry, such as that which is a little greasy and more moist than necessary (this does make it more palatable for dogs).
If you do feed your dog some table scraps (although we advise against it), make sure you never give them something moldy. Mold can also grow on your dog’s food and water bowls if you do not clean them regularly, so make sure you wash them thoroughly once every few days.