I saw this week that a raw diet was recalled for possible botulinum toxin contamination. I have only seen one suspected case of Botulism in practice (in a dog) but let’s take a moment to review this important disease. In general, dogs and cats tend to be more resistant.
Symptoms in dogs may include weakness (ascending type paralysis), drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. (2 Case Studies of Botulism in Dogs)
Botulism is caused by Clostridium botulinum (various types). Type C is the most common in animals, especially wild foul and horses, and type D in cattle.
Source of infection is most often a carcass or contaminated vegetation (spoiled hay or silage). The toxin is ingested and prevents acetylcholine release at the neuromuscular junction. This leads to flaccid muscle paralysis and progressive motor paralysis, causing symptoms such as difficulty swallowing or chewing. As the paralysis progresses, it can lead to respiratory and cardiac paralysis, and death.
Treatment really depends on the species affected and the type of toxin involved. Botulinum antitoxin can be used in treatment for some cases. Supportive care is especially important. Vaccination with a type B toxoid in endemic areas is effective. There is an ELISA test available. Often the diagnosis is made by eliminating other causes of flaccid paralysis. PennVet also offers a PCR assay, usual performed on stomach/rumen, GI contents, feces, or spoiled vegetation (5 day turnaround time).
For more information about Botulism and its implications in animals and humans, visit the Department of Agriculture.