By Carl Palazzolo, DVM, Long Beach Animal Hospital (LBAH)
Photo courtesy of Fotoatelier Hamburg.
With the warmer weather and people tending to their gardens more, slugs and snails are on people’s minds, and it’s time for a timely reminder about a springtime toxic danger. Snail-bait is a poison commonly used to rid gardens of these snails. Unfortunately, snail bait is highly toxic to wildlife, and to your pets.
Metaldehyde is the active and toxic component of snail bait. It comes in liquid, dust, granular or pelleted formulations. The metaldehyde component makes up anywhere from 1.5 percent to 5 percent of the formulation. The bait tastes great to animals, so they easily consume it in large quantities.
Neurologic symptoms can begin as early as one hour after ingestion. Initial symptoms include:
- severe muscle tremors
- ataxia (incoordination)
If left untreated, these symptoms can progress to:
- excess salivation
- convulsions (seizures)
The diagnosis is made based on the sudden appearance of the above symptoms with any recent use of or contact with snail bait. Upon physical exam, the following symptoms might be noted:
- hyperthemia (high fever)
- hyperesthesia (sensitivity to touch)
- tachycardia (high heart rate)
- tachypnea (high respiratory rate)
Death can follow if the animal is left untreated or if a large amount of metaldehyde is ingested. These symptoms can also occur with other poisonings like strychnine, so a good history is important.
Pets that are ill from poisons are closely monitored for EKG abnormalities, heart rate, oxygen saturation, respiratory rate, and temperature.
A blood panel is needed to look for abnormalities, especially in the electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and chloride.
Treatment consists of induced vomiting if caught early enough. Stomach contents might have an apple cider type of smell, so examination of the stomach contents can help in diagnosis.
Stomach lavage and activated charcoal can be used to help with further absorption. Intravenous (IV) fluids to support the liver and kidneys are also used to increase metabolism of the poison.
Fluid treatment is critical to support the liver and kidney, help reduce fever and correct electrolyte imbalances, and help metabolize the poison. The fluids are modified based on response to treatment, the blood panel and the monitoring of important parameters like heart rate, temperature and oxygen saturation.
Injectable sedatives and general anesthesia are used to control seizures. Muscle tremors are controlled with a muscle relaxant called methocarbamol. Other medications to correct acidosis and electrolyte disturbances might also be used.
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