Vet Buzz from Bill Barboni, DVM and Chris Pitts, RVT, Marin Pet Hospital, San Rafael, CA
Think it’s cool to throw your dog a nice fresh piece of raw salmon, trout or steel head on your fishing trip? Think again.
What is salmon poisoning? Salmon poisoning is actually an infection caused by the rickettsial organism Neorickettsia helminthoeca.
What causes salmon poisoning? The rickettsial organisms are carried by a fluke which can embed into a fish’s tissues. When the fish is eaten, the larval form of the flukes set up shop in your dog’s intestinal mucosa where the rickettsial organisms are then released into your dog’s blood stream. From there they can then travel to the liver, brain, lungs and lymphoid tissue.
What geographic regions are affected? Salmon poisoning is seen in the Pacific North West from San Francisco to the coast of Alaska.
What are the symptoms of salmon poisoning? Symptoms typically begin five to seven days after eating raw fish, but can take longer to manifest. The signs can include vomiting, diarrhea, bloody diarrhea, fever, lethargy, anorexia, possibly enlarged lymph nodes and/or spleen, possibly nasal and/or ocular discharge.
How bad is it? If left untreated, the disease can turn deadly in seven to 10 days.
Diagnosis: Your veterinarian will most likely run a blood panel to assess electrolyte levels and metabolic changes, but the diagnosis of salmon poisoning is based upon a fecal float or smear, or a lymph node aspirate. The organism which carries the rickettsial component of the disease is a fluke whose ova is visible upon most fecal exams under the microscope. However, due to how the ova are shed, they are not present in every fecal sample your dog produces.
Treatment: Antibiotics and a deworming agent.
Prevention: Easy; just keep your dog’s lips off raw fish.
Can I get it? No. You cannot get this form of Salmon Poisoning. Oddly, it only attacks canids; dogs, foxes, coyotes. Other wildlife, your cat and the neighborhood raccoon are not susceptible.
All in all, Salmon Poisoning is a potentially fatal disease to your dog. However, with a quick diagnosis a course of antibiotics and a dewormer can nip this infection in the bud. So, enjoy your fishing trip, just keep the raw fish to yourself. Please note: smoked raw salmon does not count as cooked when it comes to Salmon Poisoning and your dog.