Compost Poisoning in Dogs

What causes tremors in dogs? An emergency room veterinary technician discusses compost poisoning in dogs and what to do if your dog ate compost.

article image
by Amelia Eigerman
Keep your dogs safe from potentially dangerous mycotoxins by dog-proofing your compost bin.

What causes tremors in dogs? An emergency room veterinary technician discusses compost poisoning in dogs and what to do if your dog ate compost.

PrintThere is an audio version of this article for your listening pleasure. Scroll down use a little bit and look for the “Audio Article” link.

Your dog ate compost, what should you do next?

Mycotoxicosis, often referred to as “mushroom toxicity” or “compost toxicity,” is more frequent in the veterinary emergency room than you might think. While any moldy or rotten foods can cause symptoms of these diseases, dog owners can often trace them to their dog’s visit to the compost bin within the past few hours. Luckily, there’s a lot you can do to make sure your dog is safe. Stay one step ahead of meddling noses by dog-proofing your compost bin, and you’ll never have to worry about coming home to a tremoring pup.

Mycotoxicosis: What Causes Tremors in Dogs?

Compost toxicity is caused by the byproducts of some molds. That’s why it’s usually not a good idea to eat bread that’s been molding on the counter for weeks. It’s also why dogs, with their less discerning palates, tend to get compost toxicity far more often than humans. Symptoms can include whole-body muscle tremors and weakness, vomiting, fever, seizures, and increased sensitivity or reactiveness. If you notice any unusual symptoms or behaviors in one of your animals, the safest first step is to call your veterinarian.

While it isn’t entirely known how these mold toxins cause illness in dogs, we do know that mycotoxins act on the central nervous system, the spinal cord and brain. The amount of mold eaten plays a role in the severity of the symptoms, but there’s no way to know how much mold is in compost. The quantity of mycotoxins can vary even across different areas of one compost pile. There’s no such thing as mold-free compost — that would defeat the purpose of composting!

Audio Article

Mycotoxin Poisoning: Diagnosing and Treating Compost Toxicity

Diagnosing a dog with compost toxicity can be a little tricky. While some veterinary laboratories have the ability to analyze compost and other potentially toxic materials for mycotoxins, this test isn’t readily or rapidly available. It’s even rarer to find a lab that’s able to analyze a dog’s blood for these toxins. Without definitive diagnostics, it may seem impossible to know for sure if compost and mycotoxin poisoning caused a dog’s symptoms.

However, the symptoms of compost toxicity are fairly distinct if you know what you’re looking for. A diagnosis of compost toxicity is made based on the way your dog looks and behaves, its response to treatments, and any history of eating compost. This is why it’s so important to let your vet know if you think your dog may have gotten into something it wasn’t supposed to. If you see the telltale signs of dog activity in the compost pile or your trash bin, it’s always worth a call to the vet.

A dog lying down in a bed looking into the camera.

Treatment for compost toxicity typically focuses on controlling the symptoms and making sure the toxins are flushed from the body as quickly as possible. Time is of the essence, as early treatment can stop absorption of toxins and reduce symptoms. Generally, treatment may involve medications that block the digestion of the mycotoxins and that control the muscle tremors. Typically, vets also recommend intravenous fluids to help hydrate and cool the patient while protecting the kidneys from damage. If a dog is exposed to mycotoxins and isn’t treated, there’s a risk of extensive damage to its vital organs, including the brain.

So when should you worry about your dog? If you know that your dog got into the compost pile, the safest thing to do is to call your veterinarian or a pet poison helpline, even before symptoms begin to show. Compost toxicity can begin within 15 minutes of ingestion, so act quickly. Compost also often contains kitchen scraps that are toxic to our canine companions, such as grapes and onions. However, if your dog gets into nontoxic kitchen scraps fresh off the cutting board, there’s almost no chance of mycotoxicosis, since those scraps haven’t had time to grow any toxic molds. In short, it’s time to worry when your furry friend has found something moldy or rotten.

Dog-Proofing Your Compost Bin

The best way to avoid a stressful trip to the vet is by making sure your pets can’t get into your compost in the first place. Dog-proofing your bin is best done with your specific setup and dog in mind. First, think about what your needs are for the compost pile itself. Do you have a lot of space to work with? Are you into vermicomposting? Is manually turning your pile the best or worst part of your week? It’s also important to think about your dog. Does your new Jack Russell puppy love to dig under things? Does your German Shepherd know how to open doors? Do your Malamutes regularly knock over the trash bin to get what they want? Once you’ve assessed your needs, it’ll be easier to figure out how to protect your dog.

Processing agricultural waste into compost

If you have a large area for your compost pile, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recommends adding a fence around it. A simple solution, such as some chicken wire or a wooden lid, may be enough to foil most animals. If you use an enclosed composter, anchor the bottom with some heavyweight materials to make sure your dog can’t knock it over. If you know your dog likes to dig, perhaps a raised composter is best for you. Tumbling composters are generally considered to be the hardest for nosy creatures to break into, since their rotating plastic barrels are raised off the ground and the compost is enclosed. For apartment dwellers, you likely already close off your compost to manage smells. If you send your compost out to a municipal composting service, you can keep your scrap bucket in the fridge or freezer. Consider your specific situation, and make the choices that work best for you.

Amelia Eigerman is an emergency room veterinary technician with a passion for science communication. In their time working at multiple emergency hospitals, Amelia has helped treat many dogs suffering from compost toxicity.  They hope to help pet owners learn more about how to keep their animals safe and what to do when things go wrong.

  • Updated on Aug 7, 2023
  • Originally Published on Jan 4, 2023
Tagged with: compost, dog, dog behavior, PET
Online Store Logo
Need Help? Call 1-800-234-3368