More of us are composting these days than ever before. We know that turning food waste into compost is great for the planet and helps to provides rich soil to be used in our gardens. What many do not know, however, is that compost can be highly toxic to dogs and other animals. To avoid this, food scraps should be plant based only (no meat or dairy) and placed in a secure compost bin or a fenced compost area. Dogs are highly attracted to compost and often do not hesitate to ingest some. Compost, and also spoiled garbage, is very dangerous to dogs due to fungi that grow in the decomposing plant or food material. These fungi produce tremorgenic mycotoxins. Tremorgenic = tremors/shaking and mycotoxin = poisonous fungus (mold).
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Even ingestion of a small amount of compost may cause poisoning. A dog might show symptoms in as little as 30 minutes to a few hours. Besides tremors, common symptoms include: agitation, increased temperature, vomiting, panting, drooling, difficulty walking and seizures.
If compost ingestion is known or suspected, it is important to contact your veterinarian immediately. Although there is no cure or antidote for compost poisoning, early supportive veterinary care will give your dog the best chance of a full recovery.
The veterinarian may administer activated charcoal to bind to the toxins, provide IV fluids to flush the toxin from the system and employ muscle relaxants or seizure medication to stop the tremors or seizures. The dog may also need to be cooled down to regulate its temperature. Most dogs will recover within 24 to 48 hours with prompt veterinary care; however, secondary complications can be dire or even fatal.
Compost is also highly toxic to cats, but cats are less likely to ingest compost. Even if you do not compost your food scraps, be on the alert for possible toxicity due to ingestion of garbage, moldy foods, or your dog possibly wandering out of sight and finding nearby compost.
Unrelated to compost, but highly toxic to dogs, is marijuana. Marijuana, which may be used by people for recreational or medical purposes, has become an increasing cause for concern in the veterinary community since its use has been legalized. Marijuana (Cannabis) contains cannabinoids, one of which is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Because dogs have far more cannabinoid receptors in their brains and throughout their bodies than humans do, a dog may be poisoned by ingesting even a small amount of THC. The most common route of THC poisoning is by ingestion. Dogs are likely to ingest edibles infused with THC such as gummies or brownies. Just like in humans, the THC must be activated by heating or cooking at high temperatures in a process called decarboxylation before it is able to bind to the receptors in the body and brain. The symptoms of THC toxicity vary but common ones include: sedation or agitation, difficulty walking, vomiting, dribbling urine, changes in body temperature, tremors and seizures. Symptoms may begin within 5 minutes to 12 hours depending on the amount ingested as well as the size of the dog.
Just like with compost poisoning, there is no antidote. Supportive care is given. THC is toxic to cats too, but again, like compost, cats are less likely to ingest it. When dogs ingest brownies or other chocolates with THC, there is also the additional concern of chocolate poisoning. It is extremely important, therefore, to provide your veterinarian with as much detailed history as possible so that the best possible care can be provided.
With both compost and marijuana, preventing access is key. All compost should be safely stored/fenced and all marijuana and THC edibles kept far out of reach of any pet. When ingestion is known or suspected, call your veterinarian immediately. Time is crucial and early supportive care is essential for a full recovery.
Written by Andi Levesque (and her dogs, pictured above)