Snail Bait Poisoning

Snail Bait poisoning occurs when pets eat snail or slug bait that contains metaldehyde. The bait may be eaten directly from the packet or from where it has been applied around plants in the garden.

Pets will readily eat baits made from metaldehyde since it is often combined with food products such as soybeans, rice, oats, or apples to attract the snails.

Therefore, you should only store and apply this product in areas where your pets (or children) cannot possibly have access.

All species are susceptible to metaldehyde poisoning (lethal dose 100-300 mg/kg) but dogs are the species most frequently poisoned.

What are the signs of metaldehyde poisoning?

Metaldehyde is a fast-acting toxin and the most common signs of poisoning are convulsions, continuous shaking, bizarre behaviour, and an unsteady gait. Unfortunately, many other diseases can have these same signs.

Therefore, it is very important that you provide as much detail as possible about the animal’s previous possible exposure, and about the environment. Inform your veterinarian if there are chemicals to which the animal could gain access. Be specific regarding brand names and bring product labels or containers with you to your appointment.

How is it diagnosed?

The vomit, stomach contents, or blood can be analyzed for metaldehyde. However, since it may take several days before results are available, your veterinarian will have to make a preliminary diagnosis based on the history and signs. Metaldehyde baits are usually green or blue in colour.

Can it be treated?

There is no antidote for metaldehyde poisoning. However, medications can given to control the seizures and to help remove the poison from the digestive tract. Depending on the time since ingestion, your vet may induce vomiting or perform a gastric lavage (stomach pump). Activated charcoal may be given to absorb the remaining toxins.

Do not attempt to make your dog vomit at home unless instructed by your vet over the phone. Never induce vomiting once the animal is exhibiting seizures.

Intravenous fluid therapy will also be required to correct acidosis (high levels of acid in the blood) & dehydration.

What is the prognosis for metaldehyde poisoning?

The prognosis depends on the volume of metaldehyde that the animal ate and on the length of time between eating the poison and starting treatment. Take your pet to your veterinarian immediately if you suspect that it ate snail or slug pellets/flakes.

Death usually occurs in 4-12 hours if the animal is not successfully treated. In those that survive initially, liver disease can sometimes develop 2-3 days later. Animals that do recover may have diarrhoea, memory loss, or temporary blindness.

Are there any safe snail baits?

Some snail baits are said to be environmentally and pet safe, such as baits containing iron phopshate or commercially available traps using malted barley to lure the snails inside.

Alternatively, there are products like copper barrier tape or create your own snail barriers using crushed eggshells or even sawdust sprinkled around the plants.

You can also make your own snail traps using margarine tubs filled with beer placed around susceptible plants. Sugar syrup, wine or any yeast product is equally effective.

– Last updated 16 November 2012
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