Maryland Vets Concerned About Mussel Deadly to Dogs - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Maryland Vets Concerned About Mussel Deadly to Dogs

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False Dark Mussels, compared to keys for size comparison (Photo: Queenstown Veterinary Hospital) False Dark Mussels, compared to keys for size comparison (Photo: Queenstown Veterinary Hospital)

QUEENSTOWN, Md.-  It's no secret dogs love the water, especially here on Delmarva.  And no one knows that better than Queen Anne's County Sheriff Gary Hofmann.  He has three labs who just can't stay away.

"They love water, they'll look for sticks in the water.  As soon as they see the water, they are out there," said Hofmann.

But there's a new danger in the water for these pups, and it's so small you might just shrug it off.  False dark mussels are only a centimeter or two long.  But they can be deadly.

"We believe it's pretty aggressive," said Dr. Marianne Holbein at Queenstown Veterinary Hospital.  "We don't know from the time a dog eats mussels to when they start to show signs of liver failure.  But it does seem that once they are diagnosed in liver failure, it's very serious."

At that point, chances are 50-50 that the dog will survive.  In the past three months, 24 dogs have suffered from liver failure, which is believed to be connected to the mussels.  But vets aren't sure what it is about the mussels that is so toxic to dogs, although the state is now doing research into the cause.

"We don't know if it's an algae that they are filtering, or a toxin that they are filtering that the dogs then ingest that makes them sick," Holbein said. "We don't know if it's a bacteria or something else.  So there's a lot of research going on right now for all veterinarians in the area and in the state.  There's a form that you fill out if you have a case where you think these mussels are going into liver failure."

So where are dogs finding them?  In terms of where to find these unusual mussels, just look in the usual places, like pilings, or really anything else that's submerged most of the time.  That includes those sticks that so many dogs are fond of picking up in the water.

So what can you do to keep Fido healthy?

"It's tough.  Especially, you have a dog that you think you've got eyes on him constantly, and then you turn your head and they grab a mouthful of something that you don't see, and we see that all the time, so just try to watch them the best you can," Holbein said.

That is advice the sheriff will be taking.

"With three dogs it's going to be difficult to watch what they are doing while they are in the water," Hofmann said. "We may just have to reduce it to one dog at a time." 

So how can you tell if your dog is sick due to the mussels?  Vets say the dog may skip meals, be lethargic, and avoiding the water.  They say it looks like a dog that just has an upset stomach, but it can be serious.  Vets say if you know your dog has been near the water and you have concerns, be sure to take your dog to the vet to play it safe.  The sooner they can put the dog on medication and diagnose the problem, the higher probability that the dog will survive.

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