Bumper Salmon Runs Pose Danger for Dogs

Sep 26, 2013

Fishermen around the Northwest are enjoying some exceptional salmon runs this autumn. Puget Sound is teeming with pink salmon and there's a record-breaking fall Chinook run in the Columbia and Snake Rivers. But as fish move upstream to spawn, danger lurks for dogs.

Dr. Scott Capsey had his first encounter with "salmon poisoning" years before he became a vet. His family's normally exuberant golden retriever mysteriously turned lethargic, had diarrhea and lots of vomiting.

"They didn't know if she was going to make it. I remember that conversation,” Capsey said.

After much investigation, it turned out the dog had eaten a fisherman's discards, which brought on a bacterial infection spread by a fish parasite. The potentially fatal infection is treatable with antibiotics, antidiarrheals, fluid therapy, and an anti-parasitic drug.

Capsey says his dog made a full recovery. Now that it's salmon season, he and his colleagues at the Steamboat Animal Hospital near Olympia routinely ask owners of sick dogs, "Did Fido possibly interact with raw fish?"

"There's always, 'Oh, I didn't know.' There's a lot of [pet] food that is salmon-based. It is usually okay, because it's cooked. So the idea is, 'Oh they love eating fish. It's not a big deal,’” Capsey said.

But it is. Capsey says the best defense is to keep a close eye on your pet near the water and never feed raw salmon, steelhead, or trout to a dog. Cats, bears, and humans are not subject to this disease.