Q: My neighbor's healthy young dog died suddenly of liver failure. The vet thinks the cause was aflatoxins in a new bag of dog food, since the food was later recalled. How can I prevent something similar from happening to my dog?
A: Aflatoxins are poisons produced by molds, particularly Aspergillus molds, that grow on grains such as corn and rice, as well as soybeans, tree nuts, peanuts and cottonseeds. These molds flourish under warm, moist growing and storage conditions.
Aflatoxins are not affected by heat, so they persist after food is processed. In December and January, Midwestern Pet Food recalled its Sportmix, Sportstrail, Nunn Better, Pro Pac and Splash pet foods after many dogs became ill or died after eating it, and testing showed very high levels of aflatoxins in the food.
In September and October, Sunshine Mills cited high aflatoxin levels when they recalled 17 brands of pet food.
While aflatoxins harm many animal species, dogs, especially puppies, are particularly sensitive.
Depending on how much aflatoxin is ingested, a dog can experience liver damage (even without clinical signs), liver failure or death. Aflatoxin exposure also causes liver cancer.
Signs of liver damage include decreased appetite and energy, regurgitation, diarrhea and jaundice, indicated by yellowing of the eyes, gums and skin. Clinical signs can begin within a day or two of ingestion or be delayed for weeks.
To protect your dog, buy pet food from large, well-established manufacturers with on-staff veterinary nutritionists who test the products in dogs. Ask your veterinarian for recommendations.
Store pet food in a clean, dry, cool place. Although most aflatoxin-tainted food doesn't show visible mold, don't feed moldy food or any food your dog suddenly dislikes, especially if it's from a new bag.
Never let your dog munch on livestock feed, because regulatory agencies permit aflatoxin levels to be 15 times higher in livestock feed than in pet food.
Q: A year ago, my wife took in Nugget, a stray kitten with long hair. My wife has obsessive-compulsive disorder, which manifests as compulsive housecleaning.
Because Nugget drops hair everywhere she goes, my wife locks her in a carrier 20 hours of every day. For the remaining few hours, Nugget is confined in one room to eat, drink and use the litter box.
We have a large house that I'm certain Nugget would enjoy exploring. It's too risky to let her go outdoors because of the predators in our rural area. I'd appreciate any ideas to persuade my wife to give Nugget the run of the house.
A: I'll begin by suggesting your wife consult her therapist about how her obsessive-compulsive disorder is affecting Nugget. Cognitive behavioral therapy, medication and other treatments can help.
Confining Nugget to a carrier most of each day is not only inhumane but can also contribute to a variety of health problems. For example, forcing her to hold her bladder all day increases her risk of urinary disease.
You can help by brushing Nugget daily, which should decrease the amount of hair around your home. Having her shaved also will decrease the volume of fur she sheds.
Fleas increase shedding, so make sure Nugget is treated throughout the year with a flea preventive. If she's shedding so much that her hair is sparse, make an appointment with her veterinarian.
If your wife remains unwilling to release Nugget from confinement, consider giving her to a family looking for an indoor cat to play throughout their home and snuggle with family members.
I'm certain your wife shares your desire to do what's best for Nugget. But you will have to take a stand to make that happen. Best wishes to all three of you.
Lee Pickett, VMD, practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at