Toxicology experts at Pet Poison Helpline are using International Sushi Day on June 18 as a jumping off point for reminding pet owners the dangers their aquatic creatures can pose to other pets in the house after a California dog was recently treated for eating a poisonous pufferfish that escaped from its tank.
The fishy tale of Shayla, a nine-year-old Yorkshire Terrier, is this month’s Toxin Tails profile.
“We came home and found Shayla had vomited,” said Thomas Simanek, Shayla’s owner. “We saw what looked like bird feathers in the mess, so we looked around for any bird remains but didn’t find anything. When we checked her dog bed, we found the remains of one of our pufferfish, which apparently had jumped out of its tank. It turns out the scales and coloring on the pufferfish skin were what we thought were feathers. Shayla is about 80 percent blind, so she must have heard the fish flopping around and came to investigate. I immediately took her to the emergency animal hospital, who recommended I call Pet Poison Helpline.”
“Pufferfish (Family Tetraodontidae) often contain tetrodotoxin, which is poisonous not only to humans but pets,” said Dr. Renee Schmid, a senior veterinary toxicologist at Pet Poison Helpline. Pufferfish ingest certain marine bacteria in their environment, leading to the accumulation of tetrodotoxin. While this is less of a concern in residential aquarium fish due to likely being fed a tetrodotoxin-free diet, if the bacteria is present in the aquarium environment, or if the fish acquired this bacteria before arriving in its current environment, poisoning may be possible. “Poisonings are caused by ingestion of the flesh, viscera, ovaries or skin. The highest concentration is in the viscera, which fortunately Shayla did not ingest.”
In addition to pufferfish, many residential aquariums are home to other poisonous fish such as scorpionfish (Family Scorpaenidae), boxfish (Family Ostraciidae) and squirrelfish (Family Holocentridae).
Onset of clinical signs can occur in as little as 30 minutes with severe poisoning, or within four to six hours in more mild cases, starting with gastrointestinal upset, a tingling sensation around the mouth and weakness/numbness of the limbs. Signs can progress to generalized muscle weakness, ataxia (a degenerative disease of the nervous system), tremors, low blood pressure, a slower than normal heartrate, dilated pupils and paralysis. Death can occur due to respiratory arrest, secondary to respiratory muscle paralysis.
When Shayla arrived at Animal Emergency Clinic in Victorville, CA, she received an anti-vomit medication, was placed on intravenous fluids and kept overnight for observation. Fortunately, she had not ingested the internal organs, which are the most dangerous parts of the pufferfish.
“Shayla’s doing great,” added Simanek. “I actually think the ordeal added time to her life. Between the IV treatment she received, and the new wet food we’re feeding her, she has more spunk and is a little more active. She still likes to sleep a lot.”
Pet Poison Helpline created Toxin Tails to educate the veterinary community and pet lovers on the many types of poisoning dangers facing pets, both in and out of the home. All the pets highlighted in Toxin Tails have been successfully treated for the poisoning and fully recovered.