Let’s begin with a little story…
While out on a hike along the Oregon coast, Bailey, the most lovable canine companion a person has ever met, bounded ahead of his parents and was playing in the surf. By the time Bailey’s parents caught up to him, he had found some leftover goodies from a fisherman’s catch of the day. Namely, Bailey was paw deep in leftover fish parts, and boy did they taste good to him! Bailey’s parents discouraged him from taking another savory bite, and they all went along their merry way. Bailey’s parents didn’t think twice about his mid-afternoon snack, until about a week later…
Bailey woke his parents up in the middle of the night experiencing profuse diarrhea (his parents even saw some blood), vomiting and boy did he seem to be burning up! Bailey had been a little off the last couple of days, but they hadn’t thought too much about it until this moment. They rushed him to the nearest emergency clinic, and that’s when everything became a little clearer.
While the staff took Bailey in the back to draw his blood, start an IV catheter and fluids, Bailey’s parents tried to answer all the history questions the vet was asking. When the vet asked, “Has Bailey gotten into anything unusual lately?” his parents remembered their hike a week earlier and informed the vet that Bailey had indeed eaten an unknown quantity of raw fish parts. At this point, the vet informed Bailey’s parents that he was concerned that Bailey might be suffering from salmon poisoning.
Salmon poisoning is a bit of a misnomer. It is actually an infection cause by a rickettsial organism by the name of Neorickettsia helminthoeca. Tongue twister, isn’t it? For ease of conversation, let’s just call him “Neo” from now on. The organism actually lives in a trematode (also known as a fluke) by the name of Nanophyetus salmincola. As far as we know, the fluke itself is not harmful to dogs, but if it is carrying Neo, it can be bad news for the unfortunate canine (Bailey in our story) that comes along and eats the fish (that ate the snail, containing the fluke, that harbored the rickettsia).
Salmon poisoning is a disease associated most commonly with the Pacific Northwest, as this is where the snail that carries Neo has set up residence. Neo has a complicated life cycle, but once he is ingested by a dog, the subsequent disease process is a little more straightforward. Usually within five to seven days (although it can sometimes be longer), clinical signs associated with the disease will start rearing their ugly heads. These signs can include vomiting, diarrhea (sometimes with blood), lethargy, fever and almost always a pronounced lymphadenopathy (swollen lymph nodes). As in most diseases, dogs can experience all or some of these signs, and as you can see, the signs themselves are not that specific.
The most important piece of the puzzle is the history of ingesting raw fish (geographical location is also important). If salmon poisoning is suspected, your vet will likely run bloodwork, run a fecal to check for fluke eggs, and possibly do an aspirate of one or more of the lymph nodes. Your vet will also want to hospitalize your dog to provide fluid therapy, antibiotics, antiemetics, antidiarrheals, supportive care and in some cases blood transfusions. This is a life-threatening disease if left untreated, but fortunately pets respond very well to therapy if instituted in a timely manner.
Now, back to our story…
After spending a week in the hospital, Bailey recovered beautifully and was able to go home. It wasn’t long before he was back on the coast surfing the waves. But don’t worry – his parents had learned their lesson, and Bailey was no longer permitted any mid-afternoon raw fish snacks.
Although this story sounds a little cheesy, over the past week there have been two cases just like this that have been brought to my attention. Fortunately, both of the cases were covered by dog insurance policies from Petplan, which covered close to $4,000 for one case, and $3,000 for the other, to help pet parents with the costs of treatment. Salmon poisoning is an unexpected illness, and as you can see, the cost of caring for these unexpected illnesses can be very high. But with a little knowledge and prevention – and some help from Petplan – you can help your pets steer clear of a fishy situation.
To more waggin’ and purrin’, rwkj