The Case Of The Almost-lethal Organism
Rocco, a big, bruising 2-year-old male pit bull, had a handful of problems.
Problem No. 1: He was allowed off- leash to roam his rural neighborhood at will. Though large and imposing, he had a sweet disposition, and the local children loved him.
However, Problem No. 2 was that though he was fond of people, he didn’t care for other animals and had multiple run- ins with local wildlife.
This leads us to Problem No. 3: One day, Rocco encountered a very dangerous chicken.
“Doc, I’m not sure what’s wrong with Rocco. He’s not his usual energetic self and seems unsteady on his feet. I ’ m r eally worried,” exclaimed Mr. Thompson.
Normally Rocco would be bowling me over by j umping and l i cking my face. His downtrodden posture and forlorn expression said it all.
“When did this start?” I asked.
“I think it started yesterday morning after he …” Mr. Thompson paused. “Well, he was out terrorizing the wild chickens that roam our property, and he stumbled upon one t hat had died.
“At f i r st he j ust r olled around on top of the smelly carcass. A few moments later, before I reali zed what was going on, Rocco had i ngested half of t he bird. Anyway, l ater t hat night he started t o act funny. I j ust assumed he had an upset stomach from his rotten meal, but now I’m not so sure.”
We ran a barrage of tests and couldn’t find anything wrong with Rocco. Fearing t hat his condition would worsen, I r ecommended that he be hospitalized for observation and started him on an IV drip. As the night wore on, Rocco got worse, and by morning he could no longer stand.
The r apid onset of his clinical signs hinted at a disease that I rarely see in practice: botulism.
The i ntestinal t r act of t he dead chicken Rocco ate contained Clostridium botulinum. After eati ng the carcass, Rocco got infected with this potentially lethal bacterium. The toxins produced by this nasty organism affect the nervous system and causes paralysis that spread throughout Rocco’s body. I informed Mr. Thompson of Rocco’s condition and gave him a guarded prognosis.
“Rocco can no l onger stand, eat, drink or urinate on his own. I’m hoping the paralysis does not affect his diaphragm.
“If i t does, he won’t be able to breathe on his own. We will continue t o give hi m s upportive c a r e by catheterizing him so t hat we can remove his urine, a n d we’l l a l s o p r o v i d e some nutritional support through his IV. We have to hope for the best.”
Days went b y, a n d I would often sit with Rocco, waiting for a sign that told me his muscle control was returning.
The Thompson f a mi l y c a me e v e r y d a y to visit him, and t hough he couldn’t move a muscle, Rocco’s eyes beamed with appreciation.
Then it happened. On day seven, Rocco started to lift his head. Though just a little at first, it was a sign that said everything was going to be all right. Several days l ater, Rocco was headed home and t he Thompson family was whole again.
When I last spoke to the Thompsons, they said Rocco was back to his usual self and continuing his pastime of chasing wild chickens. Hopefully he l earned his l esson and won’t eat any dead ones.
Then again … he is a dog, and s ometimes you j ust can’t contain the wild side.
Dr. John Kaya is a veterinarian at Hawai‘ i Kai Veterinary Clinic.