Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Toxicology Tuesday, January 8

No hints this week, just a question:

Toxic or Not?

Here's a close-up photo to help you:
And, even closer:

Yep, that's right, we're not talking about the seeds here (which are safflower seeds, by the way) but the mold that is growing on them. And the answer is, most likely TOXIC.

This is a lesson from my own backyard. Last winter, I left a lid off the metal garbage can where I store bird seed, and it got wet. I didn't notice, and popped the lid back on. As the contents of the can got lower, I dumped fresh seed on top, never noticing the developing toxic stew at the bottom of the can. Finally, one day, I scooped out a bunch of seeds and noticed they were discolored. Upon further investigation, I discovered the mold. Yuck!

I started to dump the can in a corner of the yard when I realized that my opportunistic dogs would surely discover this bounty and feast on it. Bad idea. I gathered up what seed I had already spilled on the ground and put it all in the garbage. Come spring, I thoroughly scrubbed and bleached the can before using it again.

Molds are crazy things, a real mixed blessing and curse of Nature. Some of them give us wine and cheese and penicillin. And, some of them can kill us. I don't know precisely which mold this was, but I am guessing some species of Aspergillus, a ubiquitous environmental mold, and one commonly found in various grains.

Moldy corn was discovered to be the culprit in an outbreak of fatal liver disease in dogs in 1959, which was termed hepatitis X back then. It was similar to cases in cattle and swine which had eaten moldy feed. Further study revealed aflatoxins from Aspergillus to be the cause. More recently, in December of 2005, there were several outbreaks of liver failure among dogs which was traced back to aflatoxin contamination of one brand of dog food. (This is not the same thing as the big, multi-brand pet food recall from last year.)

More than 100 dogs died of liver failure from the 2005 episode. Clinical signs are vague - anorexia, lethargy, and vomiting - the same as a hundred other diseases. Later, dogs develop jaundice (icterus = yellowing of the skin and mucous membranes) and blood in the stool or vomitus. Many victims suffer an acute death before developing any signs. Treatment is supportive, and fatality is high. There is no antidote.

I have never seen this particular problem, but I did see two dogs from the same family who got into the garbage and ate moldy cream cheese. The owners had been away and returned to find one dog having severe seizures. We began treating it, but the dog had such severe brain damage it didn't survive. The owners went home, then returned with the second dog, who had just started having seizures as well. It was then they found the cream cheese container. With supportive care, we were able to save the second dog. Why did these dogs have seizures instead of liver failure? I'm guessing it was a different kind of mold.

Take home lesson from today's subject: Don't feed any moldy foods to any animals, and if you do have bird seed, cream cheese, or other foods get moldy, be sure to dispose of it where your pets can't find it.


nina said...

Me favorite!
And I don't think "toxic", (but fattening)

nina said...

But, what about the shells?

Franklin hovers at my side while I crack black walnuts. It scares me to death when he snatches a shell that's flown onto the floor before I can retrieve it.
I'm afraid he'll break a tooth--or slice up his innards.

Lisa said...

Moldy seeds of some sort - I'm guessing toxic. Molds are funny - some make drugs possible that keep us alive, some make fabulous cheese, and some are lethal. 'Splain it to us, please, O Master Katdoc?

(Hey, I updated my blog! Check it out!)

ncmountainwoman said...

Wow! You got us with this one. I have no idea what kind of seeds they are. I'm guessing toxic for no reason other than the label on the picture (Toxseed 1). Of course the label could just as likely mean seeds for Tox Tuesday and has nothing to do with the answer.

Kathy said...

I don't know if the seeds were toxic before they got moldy, but I would not want to feed moldy seeds to wild birds. They look like pistaschios but I'm not sure of the id on them. Pistaschios can be toxic to dogs without the mold. Will be waiting for your diagnosis.

Kathy said...

After taking another look at the picture, I think that they could be gray stripe sunflower seeds. I don't know if sunflower seeds are harmful to dogs.

donaldthebirder said...

It looks like safflower seeds in the snow under a feeder. Some have sprouted it looks. Some have a mold on them it looks - I would say the mold is toxic - not the seed.

nina said...

Yes, I think safflower sounds more like it.
And I'd think the mold wouldn't be good for birds OR dogs.

(But if it WERE pistachios?)

Mary said...

I'm glad someone else thought of pistaschio nuts. They look moldy. I'll be checking back for the answer because I don't know it.

KGMom said...

I clicked on the photo to enlarge it--and the seeds look GROSS. Whether they are toxic or not, I don't know. But they look bad enough that whoever (or whatever) eats them would have a belly ache.

KGMom said...

Oh, I just had a thought--could it be ergot poisoning?
I remember reading an article years ago that speculated that the girls who got hysterical giving rise to the Salem witch trials might have been victims of ergot poisoning which was caused by fungus growing on rye grain.

KatDoc said...

Funny, I didn't notice that the seeds do look a little like pistachios. (it's safflower, tho) To my knowledge, Nina & Kathy, pistachios are not toxic to dogs, but like most nuts are high in fat, which can cause some GI distress. The occasional pistachio shouldn't harm your dogs, although I would avoid the shells.

Lisa was right with her mold guess, although in the interest of complete disclosure, I must say, she is my sister and does get some inside information from time to time. Lee, I don't know why some molds are good (cheese, penicillin) and some are bad. I'm not a mycologist.

ncmountain: I use the TOX prefix on almost all the photos in my toxicology file, so that won't help you, but it was a smart move to read the tag!

Donald gets the first right answer and wins ... A NEW CAR!! No, really, just bragging rights, for whatever they are worth.

KGMom: Ergot is another fungus which can be pretty bad for you, although it used to be used in small doses to stimulate uterine contractions to cause abortions or stop bleeding after childbirth.

Well-played, everybody!

Next week, something a bit different.


Kathy said...

Kathi, have you ever heard of dogs getting sick from bones, rawhide chews, etc., that they have taken outside and buried? My terrier mix loves to bury them in the yard for months, then digs them up. At times they have looked moldy and gross, so I've put them in the trash, instead of letting her gnaw on them some more like she wants to do.

KatDoc said...


I have never seen nor read about any problems associated with dogs digging up and chewing old yucky bones, etc. Dogs can and do eat a lot of gross stuff that doesn't seem to bother them, but if it were me and the things looked moldy, I would take them away as a general precaution. (Your terrier will hate me for saying that!)


Kathy said...

Thanks Kathi. I won't tell her that you agreed with me about her choice of chewing items needing to be trashed. I will remain the "bad guy" in her eyes. My shepherd dog never buries anything. Wonder if it is a terrier thing? A few years ago I talked to a gal that said her terrier even took toys outside to bury.