Dead puffer fish washed up on the beach are a common finding. They are covered in sharp 1-inch spines as a warning to predators to keep away. You couldn’t imagine that dogs would find these appetising but they do. The more dead and stinky the better.
Pufferfish contain a potent neurotoxin, ‘tetrodotoxin’, which is stored in the skin and internal organs.
In Japan this toxin is considered a delicacy. Specially trained chefs prepare the puffer fish so that diners experience a small tingle or numbness on the lips when eaten. However if prepared incorrectly, or eaten in large quantities, puffer fish can be fatal to both humans and dogs alike.
We recently had a case of poisoning in a dog that had been walking on Otaki Beach. The dog had been to the beach 3-4 hours earlier and developed muscle tremors, shaking and incoordination. Other poisons can cause similar signs but we induced vomiting and saw large numbers of puffer fish spines, which confirmed the diagnosis. In more severe cases paralysis, seizures and death may follow.
Treatment with antiseizure drugs, sedation and intravenous fluids are required and will need to be continued for 12-24hours while the toxin is metabolised. If respiratory muscles are paralysed artificial ventilation will be needed and treatment may not be successful.
The advice is obviously to prevent your dog from eating the puffer fish. If you notice signs of trembling or incoordination contact your vet immediately so that vomiting can be induced to prevent further absorption of the toxin.
Fortunately our dog made an uneventful recovery but only after a very anxious few hours and considerable cost to the owner.
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