Curious Yorkie and helpless pufferfish can make a deadly duo


When a poisonous fish flops out of a tank and a pup catches wind of the escape it leads to an unplanned hospital visit.

Shayla, a 9-year-old Yorkshire terrier, who was treated after ingesting a pufferfish (Photo courtesy of Pet Poison Helpline).

Shayla, a 9-year-old Yorkshire terrier, who was treated after ingesting a pufferfish (Photo courtesy of Pet Poison Helpline).

In light of International Sushi Day approaching on June 18, Pet Poison Helpline toxicology experts are raising awareness of how aquatic creatures can pose a danger to other pets in the house.

This was demonstrated when a pufferfish jumped out of a home aquarium, and it piqued the interest of 9-year-old Shayla, a Yorkshire terrier from California. However, this “sushi snack” ended in an unexpected trip to the emergency room.

"We came home and found Shayla had vomited," said Thomas Simanek, Shayla's owner, in an organizational release.1 "We saw what looked like bird feathers in the mess, so we looked around for any bird remains but didn't find anything. When we checked her dog bed, we found the remains of one of our pufferfish, which apparently had jumped out of its tank. It turns out the scales and coloring on the pufferfish skin were what we thought were feathers."

“Shayla is about 80% blind, so she must have heard the fish flopping around and came to investigate. I immediately took her to the emergency animal hospital, who recommended I call Pet Poison Helpline," she explained. `

According to Renee Schmid, DVM, DABVT, DABT, a senior veterinary toxicologist at Pet Poison Helpline, pufferfish (Tetraodontidae) contain tetrodotoxin, which is poisonous to both humans and companion animals.1 When pufferfish ingest specific marine bacteria in their environment, it results in a buildup of tetrodotoxin. Because residential aquarium fish usually have a tetrodotoxin-free diet, this presents less of a worry. However, if the bacteria exist in its current environment or the fish obtained the bacteria before moving into the tank, it could potentially still be poisonous.

"Poisonings are caused by ingestion of the flesh, viscera, ovaries, or skin. The highest concentration is in the viscera, which fortunately Shayla did not ingest,” Schmid added.

Various other poisonous fish in residential aquariums include scorpionfish (Scorpaenidae), boxfish (Ostraciidae), and squirrelfish (Holocentridae).

According to the release,1 onset of clinical signs can begin in as little as 30 minutes for a severe poisoning to within 4 to 6 hours if the case is milder. Symptoms start with gastrointestinal upset, a tingling sensation around the mouth, and weakness/numbness of the limbs. They then can develop into generalized muscle weakness, ataxia, tremors, low blood pressure, a slower heart rate than normal, dilated pupils, and paralysis. Ingesting this poison can be fatal as a result of respiratory arrest, secondary to respiratory muscle paralysis.

Upon arrival at Animal Emergency Clinic in Victorville, California, Shayla received an anti-vomit medication, was placed on intravenous fluids, and remained overnight for observation. Luckily, she did not ingest the internal organs—the most harmful parts of the pufferfish.

"Shayla's doing great," commented Simanek.1 "I actually think the ordeal added time to her life. Between the IV treatment she received, and the new wet food we're feeding her, she has more spunk and is a little more active. She still likes to sleep a lot."


Sushi snack poisons scavenging Yorkie. News release. Pet Poison Helpline. June 8, 2022. Accessed June 8, 2022.

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