Dough is a Don’t!
My husband has recently taken up the delicious hobby of daily bread making and baking. Although this is a pursuit that myself and my belly are in full support of, it has reminded me of the dangers that raw bread dough can pose to our pets. The risks are two-fold: the first problem is that dough rapidly rises after ingestion and can cause life-threatening stomach distention and obstruction. The second- and potentially more serious risk of the two- arises from the fermentation of the yeast, which creates the additional problem of alcohol poisoning.
Any species can be susceptible, but dogs are most commonly involved due to their “indiscriminate eating habits.” If given the opportunity, many dogs will readily ingest bread dough during the process of rising, and because they will ingest all that is available, they usually consume 1-2 loaves or a pan of rolls. Dogs generally don’t think, “Hmm, I’ll just save this one loaf for later,” so they present with a large amount inside their stomach. A common scenario is that the soon-to-be bread is placed on a counter to rise overnight and the next morning the owner wakes to find missing dough and a symptomatic dog.
How does it happen?
The warm, moist environment of the stomach serves as a most efficient incubator for the replication of yeast within the dough. The expanding dough mass causes distention of the stomach, resulting in compromise to the body’s perfusion. With continued distention of the stomach, compromise to breathing can also occur.
Yeast fermentation also produces ethanol (alcohol) as a byproduct, which is absorbed into the bloodstream resulting in inebriation and life-threatening disturbances to a pets metabolic state.
What are the clinical signs?
Early signs can include unproductive attempts at vomiting, visible belly distention, and increasing depression. As ethanol intoxication develops, the pet can stagger and become disoriented. Eventually, profound neurological depression, weakness, coma, low body temperature and/or seizures can be seen. Death is usually due to the effects of alcohol rather than from the stomach distention, however, the potential for the dough to trigger life-threatening Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV, also known as “Bloat”) or intestinal obstruction should not be overlooked.
How is it diagnosed?
A presumptive diagnosis is usually made based on history of exposure and presenting clinical signs. Blood ethanol levels can be obtained, but are not readily available. Other disease processes that can present in a similar way include GDV, other intestinal foreign bodies, ethylene glycol ingestion (antifreeze), and ingestion of anti depressants.
How is it treated?
Vomiting may be induced with recent ingestion in animals not showing clinical signs, although the glutinous nature of bread dough may make removal by this method difficult. In animals where vomiting has been unsuccessful, gastric lavage may be attempted (“flushing” the stomach out with water while under anesthesia). Cold water introduced into the stomach through a stomach tube during lavage may slow the rate of yeast fermentation and aid in removal of the dough. Surgical removal of the dough mass may also be required if a large enough amount has been ingested.
Pets that present with the additional signs of alcohol toxicity first need to be stabilized and have any life-threatening conditions corrected before attempts are made to remove the dough. Alcohol toxicity is managed by correcting metabolic disturbances, managing any heart abnormalities and helping the pet maintain its normal body temperature. Fluid therapy is often administered to help enhance elimination of the alcohol from the blood stream.
As always, prevention is the best treatment, and if you have a fabulous baker boy (or woman) in your home, be extra conscientious during the rise! And keep in mind: “Dough is a Don’t”