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Pet Talk: Diagnosing Ciguatera / Fish Poisoning in Dogs and Cats

Wednesday 3 July 2024 | Written by Supplied | Published in Opinion, Pet Talk

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Pet Talk: Diagnosing Ciguatera / Fish Poisoning in Dogs and Cats
Diagnosing ciguatera poisoning in pets can be challenging due to the non-specific nature of the symptoms and the lack of a definitive test for the condition, says Te Are Manu Vet Clinic. SUPPLIED / 24070202

Ciguatera poisoning is a type of foodborne illness caused by consuming fish that have accumulated ciguatoxins, which are produced by marine microorganisms, writes Dr Rose Hasegawa, medical director Te Are Manu Vet Clinic.

While this condition is usually associated with human cases, animal owners should be aware that their dogs and cats can also be affected if they consume contaminated fish. 

Ciguatera poisoning occurs when fish ingest dinoflagellates that produce ciguatoxins. Typically, in Cook Islands the species affected are black surgeonfish (Maito), unicorn fish (Ume), snake mackerel (Manga) brown moray (A’a pata), red snapper (Anga-mea) and different cod species such as the peacock cod (Roi).

These toxins accumulate in the fish's flesh and, when consumed by other animals or humans, can lead to poisoning. The toxins are heat-stable, meaning cooking or freezing the fish does not eliminate the risk. 

In pets, the symptoms of ciguatera poisoning can vary but often resemble those seen in humans. They may present within a few hours to a couple of days after ingestion. Common symptoms include:

-       Gastrointestinal Issues - Vomiting and diarrhoea are often the first signs, indicating that the digestive system is affected.

-        Neurological Symptoms - Pets may exhibit signs of weakness, ataxia (loss of coordination), muscle tremors, and seizures. In severe cases, paralysis can occur.

-       Cardiovascular Problems - Changes in heart rate and blood pressure may be observed, which can be particularly dangerous in older or already ill pets. 

-       Behavioural Changes - Affected pets might become lethargic, disoriented, or excessively vocal due to discomfort and neurological disturbances. 

Diagnosing ciguatera poisoning in pets can be challenging due to the non-specific nature of the symptoms and the lack of a definitive test for the condition.

Veterinarians often rely on the pet's history, including recent dietary intake and exposure to potentially contaminated fish. Neurological exams, and supportive diagnostics might be used to rule out other conditions with similar presentations. Treatment primarily focuses on supportive care, as there is no specific antidote for ciguatera poisoning.

This may include: - fluids to combat dehydration from vomiting and diarrhoea. Medications such as anti-nausea drugs, anticonvulsants for seizures, and other medications to manage symptoms.

Prevention

The best way to protect your pets from ciguatera poisoning is to prevent them from consuming potentially contaminated fish. Here are some preventive measures. Avoid feeding risk species of fish; while it might seem natural to offer your pets a taste of seafood, it's safer to stick to pet foods or cooked, safe fish species. Be cautious with leftovers - be mindful of what table scraps you share with your pets.

Ciguatera poisoning is a serious illness that can affect the animals in the Cooks. By understanding the risks and symptoms, and taking preventive measures, you can help reduce the risk of exposure to your dogs and cats. If you suspect your pet has consumed contaminated fish and is showing signs of illness, call Te Are Manu on 27719.

Prompt treatment and supportive care can significantly improve the prognosis for affected pets.