Last updated on October 23rd, 2023 at 08:27 pm
Dog owners often have a garden. In many gardens nowadays you can find a compost heap. If you don’t have one yourself, your neighbor may have one, and sometimes it’s on the property line, so it may still be accessible to your dog.
Many dog owners may not be aware that compost can pose a not inconsiderable risk of poisoning for their pet. Therefore, here is a brief account of the compost poisoning of Leyla, a 3-year-old, intact, 36 kg Cane Corso female. The photos show Leyla once in all her beauty and once in a very bad condition during the treatment.
In late February, Oliver, Leyla’s owner, came home from work around dinnertime to find the dog in the backyard, where a family oversight/misunderstanding left her alone and unattended for a short time. Leyla greeted Oliver and then lay down on the couch. Shortly thereafter, she retched and vomited profusely. From the vomited stomach contents it was clear that Leyla must have helped herself to an old compost heap, very surprising for Oliver, who describes the bitch as a rather finicky “gourmet”.
Oliver and his wife Kerstin immediately packed Leyla into the car and drove with her to the AniCura small animal center in Neu-Ulm. During the 20-minute drive, they informed the practice by phone so that they could quickly make the necessary preparations until their arrival.
The colleagues kindly provided me with a summary of the course of treatment for this article. At the time of hospitalization, Leyla was unable to stand, was passing feces and urine, exhibited bright red mucous membranes, severe salivation, an internal body temperature of 39.7°C, dilated pupils, and generalized tremors. After immediate placement of a venous line (venous catheter), shock infusion was started. Leyla was then given diazepam and buprenorphine for sedation before anesthesia was induced with propofol and maintained after intubation with anesthetic gas (isoflurane). A gavage tube could then be placed and the stomach flushed. To bind any remaining toxins, 200 ml of liquid charcoal (Carbodote) was administered via the tube.
These measures led relatively quickly to a stabilization of Leyla’s condition. She then remained under inpatient monitoring and was discharged home the next day when her condition returned to good health. The bitch got off with a black eye, which is unfortunately not a matter of course in such cases. The quick reaction of the owners and the determined action of the treating practice contributed significantly to this outcome.
In a compost heap – not least depending on what is put in there – completely unpredictable decomposition processes take place. Both toxin-producing fungi and anaerobic bacteria such as Clostridium botulinum can be involved in these processes. The latter form botulinum toxins that trigger the notorious and very dangerous clinical picture of botulism in humans and animals. Botulinum toxin is considered the most lethal toxin known to higher organisms.
Dogs are relatively impervious to botulinum toxin compared to humans and other animal species, but it can still definitely get them. Leyla’s symptoms suggest, at least in part, that this was the case here, although an advanced course of botulism is actually characterized by flaccid (and then very long-lasting) paralysis rather than tremors and convulsions. It is treacherous that quite different periods of time (from hours to days) can elapse between ingestion of botulinum toxin and the development of symptoms. As mentioned above, the very rapid response of owners and decisive medical intervention probably prevented the development of the classic and more severe botulism symptoms. In addition, other unspecified toxins may have been involved in the event.
Another mechanism of “compost poisoning” is based on the effect of an overdose of caffeine. Coffee grounds are very often put on the compost heap and then possibly ingested together with other things that are attractive for the dog. In a case in our own practice, we were only able to correctly classify the disturbing symptoms of the dog in question (high degree of excitement with vocalizations, panting, trembling, bright red mucous and conjunctivae, pulse racing with extrasystoles, tendency to cramp, etc.) when he spontaneously vomited shortly after arrival and suddenly the entire consulting room smelled intensely of espresso. This case, too, was quickly brought under control by means of the procedure described above.
However, it will be clear to everyone that this does not always have to end so optimally. If the dog is possibly several hours unattended in the garden, substantially more bad courses up to an ugly death are conceivable. Compost heaps should therefore be well secured against even the most energetic dog attacks. As Leyla’s case shows, even a dog that has been in the house for years and is a rather picky eater can suddenly get the idea that now would be a great opportunity to thoroughly examine the compost heap for a snack.