Could Tiny Mussels Be Making Dogs In Maryland Sick?

A mysterious surge in liver failure in Maryland dogs has owners and veterinary professionals worried about tiny shellfish. When about 20 dogs mysteriously suffered liver failure last winter and almost half of them died, a local veterinarian suspected the tiny mussels that have been collecting in the waterways. Native to the Chesapeake Bay, the mussels were experiencing a surge in population growth, and many of the owners of sick dogs reported that their pets had eaten them in various nearby waterways. But an investigation by the Maryland Department of the Environment found no toxicity in the shells.

Then the Capital Gazette reported the recent case of a 6-year-old Golden Retriever who recently became ill with liver failure, just like the dogs last year. The dog, named Leo, was throwing up mussel bits after a visit to Edgewater beach. His condition has since improved.

“It seems to be definitely related to the mussels,” veterinarian Carl Rogge told CBS, referring to the similar cases he saw last year (scroll down for video).

The Magothy River Association, which posted a warning about the mussels on its Facebook page, suggests that the mussels that clear algae from the water may contain a concentration of algae toxins. But state officials believe that based on the timing of algae blooming in the spring, the shellfish would no longer be carrying the toxins in the winter, when the cases are being reported. The Capital Gazette adds that October seems to be a time when the mussel populations collect and grow. Some years they are more prolific than others—namely, in years with more rain and less salt in the water.

Mussels in Maryland
The tiny mussels collect in high quantities beginning in October (image via CBS report below).

Another theory is that the mussels contain a toxin that affects only dogs, not other species, since aquatic ecologist Sally Hornor reports that crabs and ducks are known to eat the mussels but have not become ill.

“I’m guessing it might be a toxin we just don’t have a test for yet,” Hornor told CBS. The mysterious toxicity sounds similar to the issue some dogs have with grapes, which makes some, but not all, dogs sick for reasons still unknown. Grapes don’t don’t seem to affect other animals, like cats.

Other theories about the mussels include food poisoning from bacteria in the mussels and lesions to the mouth from the broken shells, the Citizen Gazette reports.

Local veterinarians were asked to report cases of liver failure that may be related to the mussels.

See the report by CBS:

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