Shakey-Shake, My Dog Got Into Snail Bait!
Dog and cat tremor-inducing toxin due to exposure to metaldehyde based snail/slug baits.
Hooray! The rains have finally come to southern California but the damp environment is bringing out slugs and snails. Here at ASG, we have seen a few pets come in after accidentally eating commercial metaldehyde baits. Unfortunately, all mammals are susceptible to metaldehyde toxin and these blue, green or brown pellets have a sweet smell. Dogs are most commonly exposed due to normal foraging behavior in the yard, on off-leash walks or by getting into sheds or garages. Gardeners will apply these baits near vegetation to attract and kill molluscs and reapplication every few weeks is necessary since water dilutes them. Even if you are not using them, your neighbors may be. As a side note, it is also a component of meta-fuel campfire stove tablets (technically illegal in the US but you may run into them).
Why is it a problem?
Metaldehyde is no joke as it has no antidote. If not recognized promptly, toxicity can be severe and sometimes fatal to our companions. It is reported as one of the top 10 poisonings reported to the ASPCA poison control and pet poison helpline in the US. Metaldehyde is also known as a shake and bake toxin as the increased muscle activity can trigger heat stroke injuries. Signs develop as soon as 30 minutes to 3 hours after ingestion.
Main signs include:
- Muscles tremors
- Seizures and sometimes convulsions
- Liver failure
- Anxiety and drooling
- Incoordination when walking
- Fast breathing
Signs related to hyperthermia that can worsen prognosis:
- Disseminated intravascular coagulation
- Multiple organ failure
What to do when your pet is exposed
If you know that your dog ate snail bait material, get it out of their bodies and quickly! Dogs don’t always respond to over-the-counter vomiting aids and there are no known OTC medications for your cat. Your veterinarian however, has some reliable medications. As vomiting only empties about 60% of the stomach contents, your veterinarian may also administer activated charcoal to bind to toxin remaining in the stomach. If you’re stuck and can’t get to your vet or are not sure what to do, call poison control for further advice (both have minimal consultation fees).
- ASPCA Pet Poison Control – (888) 426-4435
- Pet Poison Helpline – (800) 213-6680
What to when signs are present
If aggressive and prompt treatment is initiated, outcome can still be favorable but can become costly in severely affected animals. Depending how much your pet ate, how long signs have been present and what the body temperature is, hospitalization may be 1-3 days minimum. Vomiting is contraindicated when tremors are present so your vet will talk with you about x-rays, gastric lavage, labwork and hospitalization. The seizures and tremors can sometimes be so severe general anesthesia is needed. Liver damage can be delayed so monitoring is needed in hospital and again after discharge. As long as the liver is ok, there are no long term effects.
How to prevent the problem:
Like all toxins, prevention is really the best treatment; fortunately, baits present on the ground can be watered down. Also, other snail and slug treatments are available. The following websites have some great detailed overviews.
Following her lifelong passion for animals, Dr. Elizabeth Craig become a registered veterinary technician at Charlotte Specialty Emergency Hospital while completing her undergrad studies. Realizing that nursing animals back to health was her life’s calling, she worked at Tuft’s University’s Small Animal ICU in Grafton, Massachusetts for two years post-graduation. She then attended Atlantic Veterinary College of Prince Edward Island, where she received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 2009.