On November 5 2017, 30 ducks and one heron were found dead at Woodbine Beach in Toronto. After weeks of investigating, the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative reports that Type E botulism is the likely culprit for the bird deaths.
What is botulism?
Botulism is a neuromuscular disease that causes paralysis. Birds get it when they ingest a toxin produced by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum. They tend to ingest it by unknowingly eating invertebrates that carry the toxin. Invertebrates (like maggots) are typically unaffected by it.
Ducks often get botulism from eating these toxic-laden maggots, and it doesn’t take many before botulism can develop. When it does, the disease attacks the nervous system. Ducks become unable to use their wings or legs, or even lift their heads. They eventually die unless treated.
What are the risks to humans (and pets)?
There are seven different strains of botulism, of which only four cause botulism in humans (Types A, B, E, and F). The botulism mentioned above, Type E, does pose a risk to humans and pets. In order to contract it, however, one would have to ingest dead animals that carry the strain.
If a dog eats dead animals that carry Type E botulism, there’s a good chance the dog will get it, too. Eat enough of it and dogs can starts to get similar symptoms as described above—paralysis and troubled-breathing.
Protect your pets
Botulism can be fatal for dogs. If you enjoy taking your dog for a swim, be mindful of your surroundings. In no way should you allow your dog to eat dead animals, as they may contain the botulism toxin. In the same vein, do not feed your dog raw or spoiled meat, as the toxin may be present there as well.
If you are taking your dog for a walk and see dead animals in the water, it is best to avoid the area altogether. Be sure to report it. Click on this link to learn more on who you make a report to and how.
Botulism in fish
Fish can die from strains of botulism as well. If you are an angler who enjoys taking your catch home for a meal, it is a good idea to follow this rule of thumb: If the fish you caught looks sick or is acting oddly, it’s best to not take it home to eat.
Wear gloves when cleaning your fish, and always wash your hands afterwards.
If you see a large fish kill, botulism may be to blame. Be sure to avoid any contact and to report it.