Many of you will be aware of reports of dogs having become ill after having been walked on Norfolk’s beaches over the last month. Very sadly one of our patients, a beautiful young and healthy Golden Retriever called Hattie, passed away on New Year’s Eve within an hour of eating some dead starfish from a North Norfolk beach. There is a further report of another dog having died several weeks later within an hour of eating a crab on Felixtowe beach.

Throughout January and late December, there have been unusually high numbers of marine species washed up on East Anglian beaches. Following the loss of Hattie, The Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) in Weymouth have carried out testing on some of the dead fish and starfish from Cley beach where Hattie and her family had been walking; they have found naturally occurring marine toxins called Paralytic Shellfish Toxins (PST) in these samples. Following this discovery, they have found the same toxins within some of Hattie’s post mortem samples, and also from the crab from Felixtowe beach which the other dog had vomited before he sadly died. These findings lead us to believe that PST toxicity was the cause of death for these 2 dogs.

Paralytic shellfish toxins (PST) are naturally occurring marine toxins produced by some species of plankton; they can accumulate in shellfish such as mussels, and consumption has been reported to result in outbreaks of toxicity in humans; the last recorded outbreak in the UK was in 1968. PST levels are regularly monitored by Cefas in shellfish species which may enter the human food chain; no detectable levels of this toxin have been found around the Norfolk coast before. PST toxicity has never previously been reported in dogs. The toxin is a neurotoxin – this means it acts on the nerves of the body and can cause rapid paralysis, and if eaten in sufficient quantities, can cause death due to paralysis of the respiratory muscles.

Bramble, a lovely cocker spaniel belonging to the same family as Hattie, was treated at Taverham for severe gastroenteritis signs following ingestion of some fish material from the beach on the same day. Thankfully, Bramble did not show any signs of nervous-system toxicity and has made a full recovery. There have been other reports on social media and local newspapers of dogs being unwell around the county (from beaches along the North Norfolk coast, from Burnham Overy Staithe along to Hemsby), which to our knowledge did not visit a veterinary practice and did not show signs of nervous-system toxicity.

The Environment Agency will be continuing to monitor our beaches and testing is ongoing at Cefas. In the meantime our advice would be to supervise your dogs closely at all times, and ensure they are not allowed to eat any dead fish, starfish or other material that has washed up on the beach. In the event that your dog does eat something on the beach, please contact us urgently. If your dog has eaten material from the beach and then vomits, please also collect the vomited material as this may be useful for analysis.

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