Raw salmon, trout can be deadly to dogs

An open field in Washington is filled with snow geese. Photo

We just returned from a short trip to the Pacific Northwest. I
really enjoy visiting the Seattle and Portland areas. But further
north, there are some real special spots. One of those is
Anacortes, a small town on the south end of the San Juan
We just returned from a short trip to the Pacific Northwest. I really enjoy visiting the Seattle and Portland areas. But further north, there are some real special spots. One of those is Anacortes, a small town on the south end of the San Juan Islands. Anacortes sits in sight of Mount Baker and the Cascades. It’s a bustling little city with lots to see. It’s also a ferry port, so travelers can get on one of these boats and quickly go to one of many islands in the region – or even trek into Canada. Blue sky, blue waters and green hills everywhere.

On this trip, we visited with an old friend, a college roommate. And on our way there, we were treated to open fields filled with snow geese, heading south for the winter. One field was easily 40 to 50 acres and it was literally covered with these birds, grazing on barley that was left there. Our friend explained that this was an annual ritual for these birds. And the farmers get the benefits of a lot of fertilizer left behind by these visiting migratory birds.

The Northwest is so much greener than most of California. The high annual rainfall allows grasses and plants that can’t survive in our dry heat to thrive up there. There’s water everywhere on the west side of Oregon and Washington. Cattle and other grazing farm animals seem very content everywhere you look. But we saw one ranch where a few of the animals looked a little scruffy, and it reminded me of a story about some horse owners who moved from their ranch in Gilroy to central Oregon years ago. Their two mares fell ill because of a parasitic infection almost a year after the move. Certain parasites thrive in moist

climates. And these folks learned the hard way that their animals needed aggressive treatment for intestinal parasites.

But their real heartbreak came when their family dog, Spooly, fell ill with a parasite he acquired after eating some raw fish from a stream on their property. He suffered from salmon poisoning, a disease acquired when a dog ingests raw salmon, trout or other anadromous fish (fish that swim upstream to breed). This disease is somewhat unique to Washington, Oregon and the most northern parts of California. Only dogs are susceptible to this disease, so cats, raccoons and bears eat raw fish and never fall ill.

Salmon poisoning is caused by a rickettsial organism that is sometimes found in a parasite carried by some salmon. It causes general malaise at first; most patients have a fever and feel sick. Some may have intestinal upset, but many become dehydrated and very weak. The tell-tale signs of this disease are high fever (105 degrees or higher) and swollen lymph nodes. If it’s treated properly in its early stages, the patient recovers. But poor Spooly fell ill and was never treated. He died after only four days of illness.

All those lush green pastures, and all those streams and lakes seem so pastoral. But they’re also home to some hazards. Dog owners in the Northwest are always advised to never give raw fish to their pets. (Heat kills the rickettsia organism so cooked fish is safe).

And you might remember a story I told a few years back about a local dog that fell ill with salmon poisoning. We were able to diagnose the disease easily enough because of the clinical symptoms, but I wasn’t really sure where this dog became infected. As it turned out, his owner worked at a local private fishing spot near San Jose. And the owners of this spot stocked their lake with trout brought down from the Mt. Lassen region in northern California. This pooch was lucky. We made a quick diagnosis and started him on proper medication. He was up and running within a few short days. And you can bet he never had any raw fish treats after that day!


Our terrier, Toots, was at the vet for vaccinations last week. She is almost 18 years old and doing well. But her age is showing and we know her time is limited. The vet wanted to clean her teeth, although he admitted they weren’t too heavy with tartar. I questioned whether we want to subject her to the anesthesia and cleaning. What’s your opinion?


So much of this answer depends on Toot’s overall health and, of course, her age. If she has advanced dental disease, she should probably have the procedure done. But if her teeth only have a very small amount of tartar, you should probably follow your instincts and forego the procedure. At this age, it all comes down to relative risk and benefits. And each case is unique and needs to be handled that way. All too often, I hear of a dog or cat that was given a dental cleaning because “it’s a procedure that she’s had done every year.” If her teeth and gums are not diseased, and she’s very old, I think everyone should think about whether or not she needs to undergo the risk. Always discuss this with your pet’s veterinarian before making any decisions.

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