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Woman warns pet owners about Sugar House Park after dog nearly dies from botulism

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Posted at 8:02 PM, Aug 02, 2015
and last updated 2015-08-03 09:26:55-04

SALT LAKE CITY – A dog was diagnosed with botulism last week after his owner took him for a walk in Sugar House Park. Now, the dog owner wants to warn other pet owners about the hidden danger lurking at the park.

“He doesn’t want to walk because it hurts so bad, apparently, it’s really painful,” said Jeni Talbot, the dog owner and a resident of Sugar House.

Willy, the toy Australian Shepherd, almost died after being diagnosed with botulism. He picked it up after taking a dip in the pond at Sugar House Park on Thursday. His owner said she noticed he was acting lethargic and was out of breath. His condition rapidly deteriorated and he stopped eating or drinking water. Then, he became paralyzed.

“It started from his hind legs and his bum, and then moved towards his head and neck and respiratory [system],” Talbot said.

Willy is still healing after being treated at a local pet clinic, but his fate could have been much worse. His diagnosis comes shortly after dozens of ducks were found dead in Sugar House Park in June. Now, Talbot is posting signs around the park, warning residents to be aware.

“The condition is totally fatal,” she said. “And in a smaller animal, he would’ve died within 24 hours.”

Dr. Jeffery Simmons from Advanced Veterinary Care Clinic says, while it’s uncommon for dogs to get botulism, it can happen. He said chances are especially high if the animals eat infected carcasses or meat, or even grass and soil where botulism lives and can easily be activated. Conditions for active botulism are especially ripe in wet areas when temperatures rise.

“Typically, they have to be in something that is fairly rancid and has been somewhat in a warm climate, so this time of year is perfect,” Simmons said.

The National Wildlife Health Center states: "This bacteria is widespread in soil and requires warm temperatures, a protein source and an anaerobic (no oxygen) environment in order to become active and produce toxin. Decomposing vegetation and invertebrates combined with warm temperatures can provide ideal conditions for the botulism bacteria to activate and produce toxin."

Talbot said she’s just grateful her dog is alive and they were able to detect his infection fast enough. She said she hopes her story will help save other pets’ lives.

“There’s no awareness,” she said. “So, really, what I’m trying to do, is help all pet lovers who love their fury friends, like family members, they need to know that this exists there and is a potential harm.”

If anyone has visited Sugar House Park recently with their pets and are concerned about botulism, some common symptoms to look for include a lack of interest in food and water, lethargy, difficulty breathing and paralysis.

Doctors recommend keeping your pets out of the water and away from the area until it has been cleared. They said if a person suspects their pet has botulism, it’s important to take them to the vet immediately--as the disease can rapidly progress and eventually lead to death.