The other day I had the good fortune to have a consultation with a woman who owns show dogs. Unfortunately, she needed my help because she has had nine dogs die in the past few months. Post-mortem examination of the internal organs showed the dogs had most likely died from a preventable disease. That disease is called Aflatoxicosis. Aflatoxicosis occurs from the ingestion of aflatoxins, which are molds commonly found on grains and other crops, including nuts, peas, and lentils. They are also found in dairy products like cheese, yogurt, and milk. Inadequate harvesting and storage techniques result in the growth of the aflatoxin-producing Aspergillus fungus. The aflatoxins are not destroyed in the process of making pet food; they survive cooking at high heats.
Not only do the aflatoxins damage the liver of the animal; they are also secreted in the milk and cause damage to offspring. Young, newly weaned, pregnant, and lactating animals require special protection from suspected toxic feeds. Aflatoxins produce acute necrosis (death), cirrhosis, and carcinoma (cancer) of the liver in a number of animal species; no animal species is resistant to the acute toxic effects of aflatoxins. High dosages of aflatoxins result in liver cell death; prolonged low dosages result in reduced growth rate, immunosuppression, and liver enlargement. Dogs with prolonged exposure will commonly suffer from concurrent diseases and parasite infestation that is difficult to clear. The dogs in the consultation group were suffering with hookworms that just wouldn't clear, even after multiple doses of de-wormers. Whole litters of puppies were being lost and those that survived were much smaller than normal.
Symptoms of disease can include vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, weakness, fluid in the abdomen (ascites), fever, enlarged liver, jaundice, seizures, and death. Laboratory tests may show elevated liver enzymes, low blood protein levels, low red blood cell counts, and prolonged clotting times.
My solution for this owner includes a variety of treatments. First and foremost, all dogs need to be removed from dry kibble. Kibble contains grains, peas, or other legumes in most cases. Any of these could be contaminated. She agreed to start all dogs on a raw diet. (Thank you Allprovide for helping here!) In addition, all dogs will receive daily doses of organic milk thistle, Sam-e, probiotics, and food grade diatomaceous earth to help detoxify the liver and bowel and help remove parasites. No chemical parasite preventatives will be applied topically or given orally for at least 30 days. Injections of vitamin B12 will be given weekly. I am hopeful that most of the dogs will be able to be returned to good health if the owner is able to stick with the recommendations. This will not be a quick or inexpensive problem to fix.
The sad news: The pet food company and the veterinarian treating the dogs both felt there was not enough evidence to implicate the kibble. The owner told me of at least three other kennels across the country feeding the same kibble that were having similar problems. Sadly, none of them had reported their suspicions to the pet food company or to the FDA. So no testing has been performed on the food. But, never fear! Dr. Morgan is here! I just ordered two bags of the kibble, which have arrived at my doorstep. (E-gads! There's kibble in my house!) I will be sending them to the state laboratory for testing for aflatoxins. If my suspicions pan out, I will call out this company and you will all know their name. In the meantime, if your dog has elevated liver enzymes and you are feeding kibble, perhaps you should rethink your feeding regimen. I suspect that aflatoxicosis is occurring much more often than we realize.