The Associated Press is reporting a concern about botulism in dogs in Florida that might be linked to dead iguanas. The facts are pretty sparse at the moment, and it sounds like both the diagnosis of botulism and the link with iguanas are hypothetical, but it’s an interesting story.

Botulism is a very serious, hard to treat and rare disease in dogs. It’s also very hard to definitively diagnose, which is one of the problems in a situation like this. It seems that a veterinary neurologist first raised concerns after seeing paralysed dogs (and no evidence of typical causes) and a common history of exposure to dead iguanas.

The recent and prolonged cold weather in south Florida has apparently resulted in widespread death of iguanas (who do not tolerate cold weather). The iguanas presumably didn’t die of botulism, but if they had Clostridium botulinum, the bacterium that causes botulism, in their intestinal tract (something that can be common in some animal species), then theoretically dogs could ingest the bacterium or (more likely) botulinum toxin produced by the bacteria in the iguana carcasses after death. Botulinum toxin is extremely potent, and ingestion of even minuscule amounts is enough to cause serious or even fatal disease.

Testing is pending on some of the affected dogs. It would be nice if someone would test some dead iguanas as well, to see if there is really a link. This type of outbreak, however, often passes without a definitive diagnosis because of the difficulties diagnosing the disease. Regardless, keeping your pets away from dead iguanas (and other dead critters) is a good general rule.

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