Aflatoxin Toxicosis: Get the Facts

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This information is not intended to cause alarm in pet owners. Many pet food manufacturers routinely test their products for the presence of these toxins, and, therefore, a recall can also be viewed as a positive step to prevent pet illnesses.

  • Aflatoxin toxicosis is an occasional reason for recalls of our pets’ foods.  
  • The aflatoxin is produced primarily by various species of Aspergillus (A. flavus, A. paraciticus, and A. nomius) fungus, although pencillum species and a few other fungi can produce the toxin as well.  The Aspergillius fungus is common on cereal grains, spices, tree nuts (like almonds) and peanuts.
  • Aflatoxins can cause considerable damage to the cells that make up the liver.  One of the aflatoxins that can be found in pet foods is called aflatoxin B1
  • Although most pet food manufacturers routinely test foods for this aflatoxin, it is possible for small amounts to slip through and reach the final product without being detected.
  • Signs that your pet might be suffering from aflatoxin toxicosis include:  lethargy, weakness, loss of appetite, vomiting, bloody diarrhea or black-tarry stool, yellow mucous membranes and possibly seizures.
  • There is no specific test for aflatoxins other than directly assaying the pet food.   A history of starting a new bag of food or a new brand of food in the recent weeks is an important clue to this disease. Pet owners are encouraged to keep samples of the pet food, lot number and expiration date in case further testing is necessary
  • High doses of aflatoxins cause a very sudden death of liver cells, but even low levels can cause damage, often taking months to appear.
  • Monitoring of the patient is imperative, and blood work (including a biochemical profile, clotting test, bile acids, etc.) is important.
  • Treatment is strictly supportive and may include fluid therapy, hospitalization, anti-vomiting medication, stomach protectants, plasma transfusions, Vitamin K1 treatments, IV antibiotics and liver specific treatments, such as SAMe (a hepatoprotectants). 
  • There is no specific antidote for aflatoxin toxicosis.
  • It is important to contact your veterinarian if your pet is showing the symptoms listed above.  Although other things can cause similar symptoms, the window for successful treatment is very narrow in aflatoxin cases.

Published: December 7, 2011;    Updated: December 7, 2011

Filed Under: Safety, Companion Animals, Cats, Dogs

Author: Oregon Veterinary Medical Association

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