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Tremorgenic Mycotoxin Toxicity: The Moldy Shakes

The compost pile, a seemingly innocuous feature of your outside garden, can seem like a great idea, for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, this kind of eco-friendly heap of decomposing organic matter can also look like a free meal to your dog. As food in a compost pile starts to decay, a variety of molds can grow on it — molds that won’t always deter a dog from wanting to enjoy an outside feast. Many of these molds (at least 20 varieties are known to inhabit compost piles) produce mycotoxins that can have negative health effects. Ingesting even a small amount of mold can cause small muscle tremors and ataxia (which will cause your pet to look like he/she is drunk or having trouble walking) for a period of hours or days. A large amount of mold exposure can cause severe tremors, seizures and even death.

Spoiled food and fats in the compost pile can also cause gastrointestinal problems, including vomiting and diarrhea (sometimes bloody). Moldy dairy products such as cheese, moldy nuts such as walnuts or peanuts, moldy grains, and pastas are often the culprits behind these kinds of issues.

Apart from food found in compost piles, moldy refrigerator food thrown outside or in the trash can also potentially expose your dog to toxic molds. If you suspect that your pet has gotten into a compost pile or moldy trash, please take him/her to a vet immediately. Depending on whether the pet is showing signs of toxicity, your dog may be made to vomit. We never recommend the inducing of vomiting at home, due to possible complications. For instance, if your pet isn’t stable, he/she could inhale their own vomit or bloat. At the vet, a dose of activated charcoal is also often given to help absorb toxins from the GI tract.

Most dogs with this kind of mold toxicity likely will be kept in the hospital on IV fluids and given muscle relaxants to address any tremors, until the tremors cease. Antibiotics are also sometimes used to treat any diarrhea. A hospital stay can range from one day to several days, depending on how much mold your pet consumed and how quickly they were treated by a veterinarian.

Just like anything else, with mold toxicity, prevention is key. Keep compost piles in areas out of reach of your pet, or keep the material in a secure composting container. Also, don’t throw food away in inside trash cans. Most outside trash cans are much sturdier, and some are made to be difficult for a dog to open — even if the can is overturned. Finally, avoid throwing moldy food from your refrigerator in your backyard.

© 2012 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.

45 Comments
  1. Reply
    Jennifer S

    Can the mold cause tremors and ataxia if it is not ingested, but merely in the area in which the dog sleeps?

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      Sorry for the late reply, I was on vacation away from a computer. I assume the dog could be allergic, but it is much more likely the dog either got it ingested or has a nasal infection because the mold is so severe???? Yes would be my guess.

  2. Reply
    Jennifer S

    Thank you for the reply. We certainly haven’t completely ruled out the moldy shakes, but have eliminated any source of the mold and the tremors are still present. They seem to appear when he is over stimulated or stressed, and always in late afternoon or evening. This condition is just baffling and to date, we have no solid answers.

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      Wow, good luck. Have you tried a medicine specialist? neurologist?

      • Reply
        Jennifer S

        Not a medicine specialist, but we have tried anti-convulsants, muscle relaxer and various other meds with no improvement. The next step would be an MRI, but we are hesitant to have him anesthetized.

        • Reply
          Dr. Stewart

          I would certainly try to find a neurologist before jumping to an MRI. A boarded neurologist (likely who will read and administer the MRI) would be the best person to see. Sounds like you have that very rare — something — that non-neurology specialists can not figure out. Sorry and good luck!! PS: if the neurologist suggests the MRI, then they will monitor appropriate anesthesia to be as safe as possible and I would feel comfortable with that. My opinion.

          • Jennifer S

            Thank you very much for your input.

        • Reply
          Mel

          Try CBS oil

    • Reply
      Deborah A. Hartman

      This could either be mold toxicity and or lymes or one if it’s co infections. Almost all people and animals who have lymes have a problem with mold toxicity. Always gets worse when the body is heated up and always start a more at 4 pm on. I do muscle testing and natural healthcare if your vet is unable to find anything.

      • Reply
        Dr. Stewart

        I’m not sure I agree. Lyme disease is a rickettsia bacteria and mold is a fungus, but again I’m not saying it’s not possible.

  3. Reply
    Madie

    I have a bag of dog food that had mold in the bottom and I said at least one day’s worth before I realized it was moldy. It got wet from the bottom up and I was not aware of it. Could that mold be dangerous?

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      Yes, throw it out and get new food. Watch your dog for tremors, seizures, vomiting or anything else abnormal and bring your dog to the vet if you see anything immediately. If there are no symptoms then you are ok most likely.

  4. Reply
    Grace

    My dog ate a rotten banana out of the trash and a little bit of Chinese food too (maybe like 2 bites).. She has thrown the food up twice so far and I think she’s done now but she is walking drunk and tremors a little bit, only when she is standing though. She still has a ton of energy like her normal self and went and ran around outside for a bit (although a little clumsier than normal) so I like that’s a good sign.. My problem is, I absolutely can’t afford to bring to get a vet and I tried to apply for a carecard to pay for her vet visit but I wasn’t approved so I have no option.. I’m worried about her though, I am just curious if this can go away on its own, if there’s something I can do at home to help her, or if I absolutely need to get her to the vet right now. Thank you in advance!

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      Sounds like there might have been more than a rotten banana in there? Was the Chinese food rotten? It could be a mold toxicity in a minor quantity and that will likely resolve with a little more time. If she gets worse or can not stand you need to get her to a vet asap. As soon as she gets worse you should be concerned. Now you can wait a little.

  5. Reply
    Bre

    We had mold in our basement that we cleaned entirely before moving out 2 years ago. I don’t know how long it was present, ad it was underneath wood paneling along the basement walls. The dogs used to stay in their crates down there – a couple years prior to us finding it.
    One dog has unexplained lipomas all over his body, a possible collapsing trachea and odd trembling of the rear legs when he is stimulated. Also an anal sac tumor has recently presented. He had a CT scan to verify.
    It has been years, but I wonder if the exposure could have built up and caused a systemic issue? What do you think?
    And what test should I ask for?
    Thanks on advance!

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      Very unlikely related I would assume. Those symptoms are not what I would expect from mold. I would expect much more respiratory symptoms from chronic wood mold and basement mold. Sounds like multiple things going on with that dog and serious conditions, but I would not point to mild at this time.

  6. Reply
    Randi Sheets

    This morning my dog was running outside & collapsed an was defecating on himself. Finally he got up & came inside & he acted as if he acted as if he had something in his throat & eventually laid down. Does this sound like a seizure (mild maybe)? He wasnt shaking. His stomach twitched a little after. We had a leak in the ceiling that caused mold however the dogs did not injest any. The other 2 dogs have had diahrea & vomiting here & there. Any help is appreciated.

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      Sounds like heart disease and something called syncope. I would have him checked out ASAP for a heart problem. Does not fully sound like a seizure although that would be my second guess. Tell your vet about it and try to video it next time if possible, that really helps!

  7. Reply
    Shiva

    Hi,
    I am confused with a question, I would like to know that are tremorgenic mycotoxins different with other mycotoxins such as aflatoxin, ochratoxins, fumonisin,…?
    thanks

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      Honestly I am not a microbiologist and could not give you a great answer. Mycotoxins toxic substances created by mold and each have different toxic effects on different animals (and possibly plants too.) Tremorgenic mycotoxins are a particular type of toxin produced by the mold that grows most often on food or compost. I once read that there are multiple types of these toxins and a multiple species of mold that produce them, but I can not verify that quickly. These specific toxins are associated with neurologic symptoms in the animals at ingest them, thus the tremorgenic name. I am not sure the exact mode of action (google can help here I’m sure) but the effect is a rapid muscle action and relaxation the causes tremors and effects the CNS of an animal. That is why we use muscle relaxants as the first line of treatment after clinical signs are present. Hope this helps.

      • Reply
        Shiva

        I appreciate your answer. Actually, I have searched about it through internet but unfortunately I did not get a clear and complete answer. My only problem is the possibly differences between tremorgenic mycotoxins and other types(aflatoxin, ochratoxin, …). Anyway, thank you very much for your help.

  8. Reply
    Ethan

    Hi Dr. stewart my name is ethanjay and recently my dog Ginger who is a female and 15 and a half and a medium sized dog consumed moldy bread with the plastic. She was old and had trouble walking because she would always walk like she was drunk and i would have to help her poop and pea so she would not fall in it. when me and my mom took her to the hospital they did a blood test on her and said if we want to move forward then we would have to hospitalize her and they would give her fluids. My mother instead chose to put her down. Did she make the right choice? what would you have done?

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      Ethan, sorry for your loss. It would be very hard for me to make the call without seeing the blood tests, seeing your older dog and being in the room when the decision was made. However, from what you are telling me it sounds like your older dog was losing the quality of life that we look for in older animals and time alive is not as important as GOOD time alive. I think your mother was most likely looking out for your dog and I hope had her best interest in mind. I think the end of life decisions are often our hardest to make but usually are correct. From the sounds of it, Ginger was not enjoying life and playing and getting around easily and the moldy bread and plastic might have been just too much. At that age, surgery is not an option and there is very little that can be done if her internal organs are compromised. The short answer is I think your mother was probably correct despite how hard and sad the decision was. You should give her credit for making the hard choice and talk to her about it.

  9. Reply
    Kandace Salyer

    My sister has a female pug that she recently took to the vet due to the fact she was having seizure-like symptoms and foaming from the mouth. They didn’t put her on any seizure medicine and found out that she had a urinary tract infection so they put her on antibiotics and gave her a heartworm pill. The whole time she was on the antibiotics which was Clavamox she didn’t have any of the seizure-like symptoms or any foaming of the mouth. Now that she’s not on the antibiotics anymore she has started to have the symptoms again. The house that she currently moved into has a water leak in the basement and there is mold present also there is mold open the kitchen sink from a water leak that was recently there as well. Could the symptoms she’s having be from the mold or could it be from something else? There are three other pugs in the house as well and they’re not showing any signs of these symptoms, and all of the dogs range from 7 to 10 years old. The female pug that is having the symptoms didn’t start this until she was brought over to the new home and we can’t figure out what is going on. We don’t understand why she wasn’t having seizure-like symptoms or foaming of the mouth when she was on the antibiotics. Can you please help? Thank you in advance!

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      Very odd. I’m sure the moldy house could cause this especially if she is licking the mold. Why dont they get it fixed? I have no idea why the antibiotics stop the seizures unless they are caused by some infection or meningitis?? If there was a link between the UTI and the seizures then there is a blood brain issue or some other more serious condition that needs to be addressed. I would see a neurologist or have a thorough vet visit after the UTI is cleared up and the seizures start again. It might be helpful to video them so you can show the vet. Sorry I can not be more help.

  10. Reply
    David Rogers

    Hi, both of my dogs, one an Australian Shepard and the other a Yorkie, have been having trouble with diarrhea. Because they both have it, I am worried that they are being exposed to something that might be causing it. I haven’t changed their usual food, and they both drink plenty of water. My Australian Shepard, Sadie, has become incontinent and cannot keep from going on the floor. She is very old, but still seems happy and still has some quality of life. Any advice would be helpful…

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      Have the vet run kidney, and urinalysis on the older dog and fecals o both of them. Its a great start and baseline. AFter that I would make sure there are no ponds nearby or neighbors feeding anything. I would change the diet and start with a blander diet to see if that helps. The vet visit with the tests is key, maybe they have UTI’s or renal disease. Good luck.

  11. Reply
    James Brush

    My boxer pup 1yr and my American bulldog 5yrs got into some moldy buns that I didn’t know got thrown away. The boxer has vomited about 4 times and the bulldog once, that is the only symptom they are showing 12 hours post ingestion. Is this something I should get them to a vet ASAP or am I safe to monitor them for worsening symptoms?

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      12 hours later you can probably just keep watching. In 24 hours I would think they are out of the woods. Good luck.

  12. Reply
    isabelle Le Bihan

    good evening, my dog a catalonian sheepdog ate moldy kibbles, around 8 month ago, didn;t know there was mold in it and didn’t saw anything either except worms (mothes) this is the reason why i made those kibbles get analyzed. Today she just died from a possible lung cancer (still waiting for the fluid analysis) do you think there could be a link?

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      No link at all. Moldy food will not cause lung cancer. I think these are separate. Sorry for your loss.

  13. Reply
    Jennifersizemore1998@gmail.com

    My year old pittie got into some really moldy bread a couple hours ago. He’s been off for a bit. I woke up this morning at 4 with him crying and shaking really hard. I though he had to go potty and I took him out and he went poop. When I took him back inside he started pacing erratically and wouldn’t stop shaking as if he were really cold. He doesn’t look like he’s feeling well at all. He’s all hunched up and won’t quit whining. What should I do?

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      Bring him to a vet asap. Moldy bread can cause neurotoxic tremmors and a host of other problems. If he starts shaking he might go into a seizure or convulsions. This is something a good vet needs to see. The treatment is muscle relaxants, stomach protectants IV fluids and close monitoring for days. This is serious. Good luck!

  14. Reply
    Kristen

    Thank you for the informative article and responses. We arrived home Wednesday evening after running errands to find our seven-year-old beagle (previously completely healthy) in the middle of what seemed to be a severe seizure. We immediately got him to the emergency vet and they were having difficulty getting the seizure under control (told us they weren’t sure they would be able to stop it so I assume it was pretty severe) but after an hour or so and trying different medications, they were able to control the seizure. He’s been in the hospital two nights and hopefully will be coming home today. Initially they were controlling his symptoms with Valium and later with muscle relaxers. As of 24 hours of the seizure he still could not walk or hold his weight on his legs and was still experiencing muscle tremors, but was eating and his neurological tests were normal. The report this morning is that he’s now able to support his weight on all legs and take a few steps although his feet are still ‘knuckling’ and he’s unsteady/wobbly. It sounds like they are expecting him to make a full recovery. Do dogs usually fully recover or are there possible long-term effects?

    We have no idea what he got into but suspect it was some old food we threw away in an open trash can. He’s always been a persistent trash can invader, but I had no idea he could become so sick from spoiled food. I just assumed he’d vomit if he ate something bad. I appreciate this information as I’m planning to spread the word among friends and family to be careful of this possibility (along with making sure all food is disposed of in outside trash cans that the pets can’t get into.)

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      There is a very serious distinction between seizures and muscle tremors here. If it is seizures then you need to keep looking for a cause like brain tumor or severe neuro toxin. When you mention moldy food and muscle relaxants and 2 days and weakness….you are talking about tremors and this is usually due to moldy food toxicity (compost is the main culprit.) These mycotoxins can be very serious but are usually cleared in a few days and as long as the dog does not get them again, the dogs are fine. Moldy food or composts should be protected and dogs should never get either. Here is an ASPCA link. http://www.aspcapro.org/sites/pro/files/zo-toxbrief_0400_0.pdf

  15. Reply
    Brenda

    Can mold toxicity in a dog have long term or permanent affects?

    • Reply
      Brenda

      My 10 lb dog was in the hospital for it and he just seems more timid now and shaky bouts of almost depressive behavior of isolating himself.

      • Reply
        Dr. Stewart

        Very possibly.

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      That is a good question? I think repeated and long term exposure can weaken the immune system. Once time exposure I do not know.

  16. Reply
    Kelby H

    My girlfriends dog got into the trash outside because it is very windy and knocked some trash out of the can. I stopped her fairly quickly but she got a nibble off of something that was very very moldy. Her parents said to just put her outside and make sure she has clean water but I don’t want to be responsible for this dogs death so I’m thinking about taking her to the vet. This happened only about 15 minutes ago so she is not showing signs, but should I still take her to the vet?????

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      You can probably just watch her for any symptoms (in blog) like tremors or vomiting. If that happens then rush her to the vet. She will likely be fine with just a nibble. Watch her closely.

  17. Reply
    Brianna Brixius

    My 50 lb. golden retriever just ate a small bowl of fat (liquid that had turned solid) that had mold growing on the top of it…. she hasn’t acted unusual for about an hour now. Do you recommend just watching her? She has not thrown up or passed stool yet.

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      Yes, I would be concerned with pancreatitis and GI upset. If you can get her to drink a lot of water and start with multiple very bland meals of dog food or boiled rice that might help. Watch for severe vomiting and pain and fever and rush her to a vet. Pancreatitis is very dangerous. The mold does not worry me as much.

      • Reply
        Brianna Brixius

        Okay thank you for your input. How long until she would be considered “out of the woods” for pancreatitis?

        • Reply
          Dr. Stewart

          I would think 5-7 days but I dont think anyone could tell you for sure.

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