Did you know raw salmon or trout could kill your dog in the Pacific Northwest?? What is Salmon Poisoning Disease?!

Easily the most bizarre infectious disease ONLY found in our Pacific Northwest part of the world is Salmon Poisoning Disease.  If you have ever presented your dog to our clinic in Bremerton or Tacoma from mid-August to late January with any combination of the following symptoms: vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and/or lymph node enlargement, then you’ve likely been asked a very important question, “Is there ANY chance your dog ingested raw salmon?”  This question is often received by our clients with bewilderment.  We usually get a response, something like this, “huh?!”

Chico salmon 2


Chico Creek (off Kittyhawk Drive) 11/11/13


As many of you are aware, salmon swim upstream along creeks and rivers in the fall to complete their life cycle and spawn their eggs.  There are many really neat places to visit right now (Nov. 2013) to see these fish battling their way up the streams, creeks, and rivers.  WE attached a link below which is a map of some local places to visit.  We’d be happy to share some of our favorites, if you ask.  This is a really great activity to take the children to witness; however, we would recommend you not bring your dog in case they gain exposure to dead fish along the banks. (http://data.kitsapsun.com/salmon-map/#axzz2kN1B5jKK)

Salmon poisoning disease is a life-threatening (and can very easily kill your dog; untreated, affected dogs have a >90% fatality rate) infection  Despite it’s inaccurate name, Salmon poisoning disease is not a poison at all and it doesn’t affect the fish either: simply stated, it is an infection that affects dogs from the ingestion of raw salmon that has been infected with a parasite.  The infection is from a very unique and specific germ called Neorickettsia helminthoeca.  This “germ”  is like a bacteria or virus that is ingested in the remains of salmon meat.  Illness typically occurs within 5-7 days of ingestion of the raw salmon.  The rickettsial agent most specifically infects the lymph nodes and intestinal tract of the affected dogs.  Therefore, the most common symptoms are vomiting, diarrhea, swellings around the neck, shoulders, legs, and severe fever.  As bizarre as this condition is, it only affects dogs that ingest RAW salmon.  Cooked salmon does not cause illness.  And the condition (SPD) is not seen in cats.


Fortunately, a vigilant and thorough veterinarian can easily diagnose and treat salmon poisoning disease.  Along with the history of raw salmon exposure and the compatible symptoms and physical exam findings (i.e., fever, enlarged lymph nodes), there are two specific diagnostic tests to confirm the presence of salmon poisoning disease.  The first test is a stool (fecal) examination which may show the fluke (Nanophyetus salmincola) which is typically carried within the salmon after the salmon ingests a specific kind of snail.  The snails carries both the fluke (parasite) and the rickettsia (within the snail).  The eggs of this fluke are a characteristic yellow, football-shaped egg and are often identified in these patients.  The second test is a lymph node needle cytology which can show the rickettsia (germ) within a highly reactive (inflammed) lymph node.

SPD fluke



Once the diagnosis of salmon poisoning is confirmed, the treatment for salmon poisoning is actually incredibly easy and extremely effective at curing these dogs from further illness / injury.  We re-hydrate these patients with aggressive intravenous (IV) fluids and correct any electrolyte imbalances.  Furthermore, we administer a specific antibiotic (tetracycline or doxycycline) which eliminates the rickettsia germs.  And lastly, we administer an anti-parasite medication (either fenbendazole [panacur] or praziquantal [droncit]) to eliminate the fluke (parasite) from the dog.  These scenarios can be very rewarding as this condition is so treatable.  However, it takes diligence to identify these cases since there are many conditions that can look similar to salmon poisoning disease such as lymphoma, pancreatitis, gastro-enteritis, foreign body obstructions, and many others.

This condition is one of hundreds of illnesses that demonstrate the importance of veterinarian consultation, even for the most benign symptoms.  Could you imagine your dog dying because it didn’t receive a 10-day course of doxycyline, which costs $14.85, because you thought your dog had an “upset” stomach?  Our goal is to improve our clients’ understanding of pet healthcare so that they can make the best decisions for their families.  We can’t help people nor pets, unless we have an opportunity to evaluate these pets!  And finally, be very careful to avoid exposure of raw salmon to your dogs!

Feel free to contact us if you have any questions or concerns regarding your dog and cat’s health.


Dave Luttinen, DVM, DABVP (canine/feline)

Wheaton Way Veterinary Hospital,

1216 Ivy Road

Bremerton, WA 98310

(360) 377-0078



2 responses to “Did you know raw salmon or trout could kill your dog in the Pacific Northwest?? What is Salmon Poisoning Disease?!”

  1. Randal Wood says:

    Does Trifexis work prophylactically against the fluke and/or rickettsia that are responsible for Salmon Poisoning?

    • wheatonwayvet says:

      Dear Randal, thank you for your question regarding the parasites Trifexis covers. From all the literature I’ve read, it does not cover the fluke and rickettsia responsible for Salmon Poisoning. It does, however, help prevent and gets rid of hookworms, roundworms, whipworms and heartworms as well as fleas. It is not labeled to kill or repel ticks nor tapeworms.