Brewing Beer at Home: Risk of Hops Toxicity in Pets

At my dinner table, my family frequently asks me about my workday. Most days I share crazy or funny stories about my patients. Regrettably, on a few days, I share tragic stories. This case that I am about to share with you is one of those tragic stories that every pet owner dreads to hear.

Meet Charlie, a historically happy and healthy seven year-old Labrador retriever. Charlie, like most Labradors, would eagerly eat anything that looked like it was edible. Joining the popular trend to brew beer at home, Charlie’s parents decided to try it and purchased some hop pellets one Sunday afternoon. Hops are dried flowers of the Humulus lupulus plant used as a bitter flavoring and stabilizing agent in beer. They left the hop pellets on their kitchen counter and went to work the following morning. When they later returned home that evening, they discovered that Charlie was very anxious, panting and showing significant abdominal pain. They soon discovered vomit on the living room floor containing partially digested hop pellets. They estimated that Charlie had ingested about a handful of hop pellets. They contacted the local emergency clinic and were told to bring him right over.

At the emergency clinic, Charlie’s initial body temperature was significantly elevated at 106 degrees Fahrenheit (normal range is 100-101.5 degrees Fahrenheit) and his heart was racing at over 180 beats per minute (normal heart rate is 60-120 beats per minute). The veterinary team of doctors and technicians tried to lower his body temperature with intravenous fluids, drug therapy, and cold-water enemas but Charlie’s temperature continued to climb to 109 degrees Fahrenheit. He became non-responsive and my clients elected to euthanize him.

The actual ingredient or mechanism in hops that causes malignant hyperthermia (extremely high body temperatures) is not exactly known. We do know that some breeds are more sensitive to this toxicity — like greyhounds, Labrador retrievers, Dobermans, Border collies and English Springer spaniels — however, all dogs can be affected. Death may occur within three to six hours after ingestion of hops if aggressive veterinary care is not received. Despite heroic efforts, some dogs do not respond to treatment, like in the case of Charlie.

If you or friends are brewing beer at home, please share with them the risk of hops toxicity in their pet. I recommend storing this ingredient in closed containers in cabinets not accessible to your pet. I hope sharing this heart-wrenching story prevents another pet death from ingestion of hops.

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