Puffer Fish Toxicity

Puffer fish in fisherman's hand

For many people summer in Australia means trips to the beach, often with the company of our furry friends. While a trip to the beach is a day of fun, sunbaking and swimming, there can be hidden dangers lurking for your dog. One of these dangers are puffer fish which are highly toxic to dogs, often found washed up along the shore or left on the beach or jetty from a fisherman's catch. Before your next trip to the beach make sure you know signs and symptoms of puffer fish poisoning, it may just save your dog's life.

How poisonous are puffer fish?

There are 57 species of puffer fish, also known as blowfish and toadfish, found in Australia, with 48 of them found in Queensland. Puffer fish contain a toxin called tetrodotoxin which is one of the most deadly natural poisons. The toxin is found on the skin and internal organs of the puffer fish, and is approximately 1,200 times more poisonous than cyanide. A lethal dose of tetrodotoxin is smaller than the head of a pin, with one fish containing enough poison to kill 30 people. 

Puffer fish washed up on beachPuffer fish contain one of the most deadly natural poisons

In Japan fugu (puffer fish) are considered a delicacy. Specially trained chefs prepare them in such a way so diners can experience a small tingle or numbness to their lips when eating. However, it is still not uncommon for poisoning and even death to occur.

Pufferfish, either alive or dead, can be fatal to both humans and dogs alike if ingested in large enough quantities. The fish doesn't just have to be eaten, even just chewing or licking can lead to a serious case of poisoning. At first your pooch may seem fine, but without treatment paralysis can soon set in.

Dog laying down in the surfHighly toxic puffer fish can be washed ashore

What are the signs and symptoms of poisoning?

Tetrodotoxin is extremely fast acting. Within minutes, signs of poisoning start to become apparent, and after a few short hours paralysis will set in. In severe cases, puffer fish poisoning proves fatal within an hour. 

Early signs and symptoms include:

  • Vomiting
  • Excessive drooling
  • Panting
  • Dullness and lethargy

Symptoms will then progress to:

  • Trembling
  • Wobbly walking pattern
  • Blue-tinged coloured gums
  • Dilated pupils
  • Muscle tremors and seizures

Quickly signs and symptoms will become more severe to include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Unable to blink
  • Complete paralysis of the whole body
  • Coma

How is puffer fish poisoning treated?

If you see your dog eat or mouth (licking or chewing) a puffer fish take them to the vet immediately. On your arrival your vet will perform tests, such as blood tests, to determine the severity of the poisoning. As there is no antidote for tetrodotoxin poisoning, treatment involves:

  • Inducing vomiting to remove the toxin
  • Administering of activated charcoal to assist in the removal of the toxin
  • Soluble fat fluids may be used to dilute the toxin
  • IV fluids for hydration
  • Oxygen therapy if they are experiencing breathing difficulties
  • In cases of severe paralysis, mechanical ventilation (life support) may be needed

If treatment is sought many pets will recover within a day or two. Without treatment, pets who become paralysed are not likely to recover.

 

 

If your pet has come in contact with a puffer fish, or you suspect they have, visit your local vet immediately or your closest Animal Emergency Service hospital.

For more information about what is toxic to pets, visit our Pets and Poisons Guide.

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