One of my friends recently recounted the harrowing tale of her two young golden retrievers who came down with salmon poisoning within days of each other. Only with the help of intravenous therapy and antibiotics were they saved from a pretty horrible death.

“Salmon poisoning” is from a rickettsial organism spread by parasites that infects salmon, steelhead, and trout. Harmless to humans, it can be transmitted to canines with as little contact as licking a drop of blood on the bottom of the boat from a badly hooked fish. Smoked or kippered salmon can also pass on the organisms. If you live near a tackle-shop, have neighbors who fish, walk your dog near fish-inhabited waterways, or bring home fresh fish in the Pacific Northwest area, you should be especially aware of the danger signs of salmon poisoning. Many of the signs are similar to distemper and Parvo. A fecal sample or needle-sample from a lymph node can confirm salmon poisoning. The symptoms usually manifest 5-7 days after the dog has ingested contaminated fish.

  • Dramatic drop in activity level, listlessness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Runny stool, often progressing to bloody
  • Swollen lymph nodes (this is where the rickettsial organism has taken up residence)
  • Temperature of 104-107 for the first 4 days, may appear to normalize as animal declines
  • Persistent vomiting, becoming unable to keep down even water
  • Visible weight loss
  • Dehydration evidenced by sunken eyes and lack of rebound when pressing on gums or pinching skin on back of neck

The sooner you treat this disease, the better. 90% of symptomatic dogs die within 14 days if left untreated. Some dog owners who live near waterways find it prudent to keep the antibiotic on hand to begin treatment at the first signs of infection. Intravenous or subcutaneous fluids are nearly always necessary due to the severe dehydration that results from vomiting and diarrhea. A “wormer” is also administered to flush the parasite from the dog's system. 

Early treatment is usually successful. However, the longer the dog is allowed to decline, the more difficult and expensive it will be to treat it. My friend with the 2 golden retrievers was able to avoid a pretty enormous vet estimate by treating the dogs at home with antibiotics and subcutaneous fluid injections. The vet who provided her with initial treatment and supplies was amazed that the first dog survived, given how far it had declined before the problem was realized. The moral of the story is DON'T WAIT. If your dog has more than momentary diarrhea or vomiting, combined with any other suspicious symptom, prepare yourself to take quick action.