Beware of Snail Bait Poisoning in Dogs and Cats

With spring here, many of us are heading outdoors to rejuvenate our winter-ravaged yards and gardens. We will enjoy the sunshine after being cooped up during the dreary winter months. As all dog and cat owners know, our faithful companions want to be with us when we are outside because they are anxious to spend a little time in the sunny outdoors during the spring time, too. That means that while we concentrate on the shrubs, grass, and mulch, we can’t forget about them.

MyPetED Blog Image Snail Bait Poisoning in Dogs and Cats

Please be careful to avoid snail bait poisoning in your dog or cat!

Our dog, Scout, was “helping” me in the yard just this week. He and I were preparing the soil for our vegetable garden. Actually, Scout was digging faster than I was. We grow traditional vegetables, but for years we’ve also planted artichokes. Our success rate is abysmal! Finally, this week I found 3 baby artichokes on our only surviving plant! I was really excited until I noticed the slimy, fat slugs crawling around my precious artichokes.

After a fast trip to the garden store, I carefully set out a granular preparation to ward off these nasty slugs. That made me think about Scout and how this snail bait might affect him, so here is my take on protecting plants from these creatures… and protecting dogs and cats from slug and snail bait.

Metaldehyde Toxicosis (slug and snail bait poisoning in dogs and cats)

The chemical name for the product in most snail deterrents is metaldehyde. This is an organic compound that has been used for years by gardeners to control mollusks. There are several variations of metaldehyde-containing slug baits. Commercial products come in a liquid form, pellets (the kind I used), powder, and granules.

Most cases of poisoning occur after dogs or cats eat snail bait.

Many forms of metaldehyde based products contain bran and molasses to make them palatable for the slugs and snails. Unfortunately, dogs and cats like bran and molasses, too, so they eagerly consume the bait. Pets can also ingest the product if they get it on their skin after walking through treated areas of the yard and subsequently lick it off their fur.

Signs of Metaldehyde Toxicosis (snail bait poisoning in dogs and cats)

Dogs and cats that ingest snail bait usually become agitated and nervous. They may drool from the mouth and become uncoordinated. Some pets suffer muscle tremors or seizures. Others have a racing heart rate and increased temperature.  The body temperature can become so high that organs are permanently damaged. These signs appear 1 to 4 hours after ingesting the bait. The problem is, by the time pet owner notices these signs, the dog or cat is already in danger.

Diagnosing metaldehyde toxicosis is difficult, since these symptoms imitate those associated with other illnesses. Plus there is no specific toxicologic test readily available. To make things worse, some snail baits contain arsenic or organophosphates in addition to metaldehyde which can complicate the diagnostic process.

Veterinarians have to depend on the pet owner to report any possible exposure to metaldehyde. Often, diagnosis is based on finding pellets of snail bait in the stomach via gastro-endoscopy (placing a scope in the dog’s or cat’s stomach).

Treatment for snail bait poisoning in dogs and cats

The saddest news is that there is no specific antidote for metaldehyde poisoning. If the ingestion was recent, medication may be administered to induce vomiting and reduce the amount of toxin absorbed from the GI tract. If the pet owner doesn’t know when the dog or cat may have eaten the snail bait, other gastrointestinal drugs such as activated charcoal may be given to minimize absorption of the toxin.

Without a good antidote, treatment is focused on maintaining equilibrium while the toxin is eliminated from the body. It may take several days for the toxin to be metabolized, so pet owners should be prepared for a lengthy hospital stay.

While hospitalized, the veterinarian will work to minimize clinical signs by giving medication to control tremors and seizures. Intravenous fluids maintain hydration and regulate electrolyte balance.  Water baths, alcohol placed on the foot pads, or cool water enemas reduce high temperatures. Patients who have difficulty breathing may receive oxygen therapy, with some dogs and cats suffering such serious respiratory distress that they have to be intubated.

As with all toxicity cases, prompt treatment is vitally important when dealing with slug and snail bait poisoning in dogs and cats! Metaldehyde toxicity can be fatal, but if caught early, aggressive therapy can save a pet’s life.

Preventing snail bait poisoning

Pet owners can prevent metaldehyde toxicosis and protect their pets with simple precautions.

  1. Keep  snail bait in a tightly sealed container and place it out of the reach of pets
  2. Watch your dog or cat closely while you apply snail bait.
  3. Keep dogs and cats out of treat areas of the yard for at least 2 weeks.

With a little extra effort, we can protect our pets from outdoor hazards. Scout was under close supervision while I applied the snail bait and the artichoke plant is off limits! Now, I look forward to enjoying our garden and our dog… and eventually maybe even an artichoke or two.

Have you ever heard of snail bait poisoning in dogs and cats? We welcome your story.


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