Many pet owners are aware that various human foodstuffs are harmful to our pets.  Did you realise that any mouldy foods could be potentially dangerous for dogs and cats too?

Which mouldy foods are harmful to my dog or cat?

Mouldy foods and mouldy plant material, including compost, could contain toxins called tremorgenic mycotoxins.  These toxins are produced by moulds found in mouldy foods and organic material, for example mouldy cheese, blue cheeses, other mouldy dairy products, mouldy bread, mouldy fallen fruits and nuts, food waste and rubbish.  Dogs that raid household rubbish or garbage bins containing food waste are especially at risk of exposure to tremorgenic mycotoxins. Decaying organic matter that may be found in the garden such as silage, rubbish or compost, and fallen apples or walnuts for example, may also pose a risk to inquisitive dogs and cats.

Another type of toxin produced by a mould is the aflatoxin. Aflatoxins are produced by Aspergillus moulds which can grow on plants or plant products. Typically aflatoxins could occur on mouldy maize, various nuts such as peanuts (groundnuts), and barley.  Dogs can become exposed by eating aflatoxin contaminated foods. However in the UK poisoning from aflatoxins are less common in dogs and cats than poisoning from tremorgenic mycotoxins.

Any mouldy foods or plant material could potentially be dangerous for pets to eat and could make them very unwell.

What signs would I see if my dog or cat has eaten mouldy food or plants?

If your dog or cats eats mouldy food or plant material containing tremorgenic mycotoxins it may become ill very quickly, often within one hour.  Common signs that are seen are vomiting, wobbliness, tremors, agitation and hyperactivity, a high body temperature and panting. In severe cases there may be convulsions.  Effects could possibly last for several days and deaths in cats and dogs have occurred. Prompt veterinary treatment is essential. The sooner they are treated, the better the outcome.

Without specialist laboratory testing it is hard to say what the level of mycotoxins are in mouldy foods. So, what appears to be only a small amount of mouldy food, or even if the food is visibly only very slightly mouldy, it could still make your pet unwell should they eat it.

Aflatoxins cause different signs compared to those seen with tremorgenic mycotoxins.   Principally their main effect is liver damage and signs of this may not be seen until several days after the ingestion of the aflatoxin contaminated food.  There may be vomiting and diarrhoea, thirst, lethargy and jaundice (a yellowing of mucous membranes, skin and the whites of the eyes). Deaths from aflatoxin ingestion can occur in dogs that develop severe liver damage.

If your pet manages to eat any mouldy food products, mouldy plant material or has raided the rubbish bin, seek veterinary attention immediately.  If your pet is already showing any signs, then take them to your local vet practice immediately for treatment.

Animal PoisonLine’s top tips about mouldy food:

·         Do not feed your dog any leftover or mouldy food

·         Dispose of unwanted and mouldy food promptly and carefully

·         Ensure used rubbish bags are securely stored away from pets and that dustbins are firmly closed

·         Prevent access by pets to compost heaps. Consider using a secure composting bin

·         If your pet has ingested a potential poison, never try to make your pet vomit at home as this could cause serious complications.