Snail Bait Poisoning in Pets
You are familiar with the saying “April showers bring May flowers”, right? While all the spring moisture helps our gardens and lawns grow and bloom after the winter weather, it also brings out the snails and slugs. These critters can destroy your garden and flower bed, so many gardeners will treat the area with snail bait to kill the snails and slugs. To make the bait attractive to snails, bran or molasses is often added, which also attracts dogs and cats and entices them to eat the poison. Keep reading to learn more about snail bait, its toxic component, symptoms your pet may exhibit, and what you should do if you suspect your pet ingested it.
What makes snail bait toxic to pets?
Most snail bait contains the ingredient metaldehyde, which is toxic to dogs and cats. In Europe, metaldehyde is also used in camping lanterns and stoves.
Metaldehyde’s toxic mechanism is not fully understood, but it’s thought to affect an inhibitory neurotransmitter. This substance can cross the blood-brain barrier and lead to increased central nervous system excitation, lower the seizure threshold, and lead to increased body temperature (hyperthermia) as a result of excessive muscle activity during the seizure or prolonged tremors. The body’s electrolyte levels are altered and the internal organs can begin to fail as the cells start to die.
What symptoms might I see if my dog ingested snail bait?
Symptoms can develop within 30 minutes of ingestion, but may not be seen for 3 hours or longer.
- Increased heart rate
- Increased breathing rate or panting hard
- Stiff gait or posture
- Rhythmic movement of the eyes back and forth or up and down (nystagmus)
- Dilated pupils
- Transient blindness, up to 3 weeks
- Tremors or seizures
- Increased body temperature (hyperthermia)
- Severe arching of the neck and back (opisthotonus)
As the toxin works in the body, it can lead to liver failure, inability of the body to stop bleeding, and death in many cases.
What should I do if I think my pet has ingested snail bait?
If you think your dog or cat ingested snail bait or ate a snail/slug, bring them to the vet clinic immediately! If your pet isn’t showing any clinical symptoms, your vet will induce vomiting to try to remove as much snail bait as possible from their system. Once your pet vomits, they can be given an anti-nausea medication and then doses of activated charcoal to help absorb any remaining poison.
If your pet is already showing symptoms, such as tremors or seizures, they may need to be fully sedated or placed under anesthesia to stop the seizures. Your vet may then perform a gastric lavage to remove the material from the stomach safely.
IV fluids are often given to help keep the body temperature in a normal range, maintain organ perfusion and “flush out the system”. IV fluids also contain electrolytes to help manage those levels.
Your vet will also monitor your pet’s blood work to be sure there are no signs of liver failure, other organ damage, coagulation ability (ability to stop bleeding), and electrolyte levels. Liver failure can develop up to 3 weeks post-exposure, so you may need to come back into the clinic a few times to assess the liver enzymes.
Are there better ways to control snails and keep my pets safe?
There are alternatives to metaldehyde snail baits. Look at the ingredients and try to use an iron-based snail bait as these are less toxic. Alternatively, picking up and manually disposing of the snails or slugs by crushing them or putting them into a container and covering them with salt to dehydrate them are the safest options!
Have more questions about snail bait toxicity in dogs and cats?
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