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The Dangers Of Walnut Shells

Kris Kothe

Beware of walnut shells! They can be very destructive to a dog. If chewed, broken into little pieces and swallowed, they turn into little razors and spikes, and can tear up the intestinal track. I know. I found out the hard way. The dogs' yard is in the woods and, as such, accumulates woodsy materials including walnuts. In all the years that I have been using this yard, I have not had a problem. However, that changed when eight year old Rader decided one day that walnuts might make a good supplement to her diet... and she paid for it.

walnut shells

The first sign that she had a problem came on a Saturday evening, late, when she did not want to get up, seemed very depressed, and showed no interest in food. These conditions continued on Sunday. However, she drank water, urinated regularly, and had normal stools, plus a normal temperature. It was Monday morning (36 hours later) that I discovered the culprit. During the night she had vomited up a half dozen, quarter inch walnut shells pieces. This was followed by a bloody stool.

I rushed her, shell pieces in hand, to the vet. He x-rayed her but nothing showed up. Apparently, the pieces were too small. However, the bleeding worsened considerably and there was a real concern about the possibility of a perforated bowel. A blood series showed no signs of other problems except for a slight anemia, probably from the blood loss. A specialist was consulted about the possibility of doing a colonoscopy; but this was ruled out as unnecessary since we already knew what the problem was.

The important thing was to eliminate the problem quickly and treat the condition. In the end surgery was avoided by using a series of enemas to "float" out the pieces. This was done over the next twelve hours and the technique worked. The bowel was not perforated and the bleeding stopped. Rader was able to come home 24 hours later and she recovered quickly while on a special diet.

But the scare about walnuts remains. Now at least once or twice a week I walk a "walnut patrol" and every time I find a handful. As quickly as I pick them up, the squirrels drop more.

Now that the crisis is over and I have time to think, there is one thing that still baffles me... Rader's initial reaction -- 36 hours of depression and loss of appetite before the bleeding and vomiting began. What caused this? Apparently, the shells had not started tearing her up. They were still making their way through the system. I keep wondering if it was some kind of toxic reaction to the shells. I know that the various parts of walnuts and walnut trees are poisonous. Maybe the same an be said for the hard shells.

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