LOS ANGELES -- With spring in full bloom, many people are applying sun block and heading to their gardens to plant seasonal flowers, fruits and vegetables. But amongst the daffodils, tulips and tomatoes, a deadly poison could be lurking, posing a potential health threat, or even death, to beloved family pets. During the spring and summer in the moist, temperate regions of the Western United States, snails and slugs create an unwanted nuisance for gardeners. In an effort to protect their plants from mollusks that enjoy feeding on new seedlings, gardeners often use snail bait to kill the pests -- without realizing the hazard this poison can pose to dogs.
"Snail bait toxicity leads to many emergency veterinary visits during the warmer months, with some of our hospitals reporting as many as three cases a week during the season," said Todd Tams, D.V.M., DACVIM and Chief Medical Officer for VCA Antech, Inc. "Pets that ingest even very small amounts of metaldehyde, one of the major ingredients in snail bait, must be treated immediately by a veterinarian because it can result in serious symptoms, including seizures, coma and even death," he added.
Snail and slug bait is commonly formulated in pellets, which can resemble dry dog food. Adding to the danger, the poison can be flavored with molasses, bran or apple meal to attract snails, and this flavoring can be appealing to household pets as well. Although snail bait is also found in powder and liquid forms, this type of formulation can get onto pets' paws and be licked off during normal grooming.
Ingestion of the poison can result in metaldehyde toxicity. Symptoms can begin as early as 30 minutes after ingestion, or up to six hours later, and can include drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, panting, anxiety, accelerated heart rate, dilated pupils, seizures, coma and death. The most obvious sign of poison ingestion is muscle tremors and/or twitching.
Owners suspecting their pets may have ingested the poison are urged to contact a veterinarian as soon as possible for proper care and treatment. Depending on the amount of metaldehyde ingested, the average hospital treatment time for a poisoned pet is between 12 and 24 hours or longer.
"While there is no direct antidote for metaldehyde toxicity, we aim treatment at controlling the symptoms, which can involve general decontamination (inducing vomiting if less than four hours since ingestion, then giving an oral charcoal slurry), hospitalization with intravenous fluids, intravenous methocarbamol therapy -- a strong muscle relaxer -- and sedation," explained Chris Bonnell, D.V.M., Medical Director for VCA SE Portland Animal Hospital. "With quick intervention and proper veterinary treatment, most pets recover fully from snail bait poisoning," he added.
To protect pets from this hazard, Dr. Tams recommends using snail bait products that are nontoxic, for both pet owners and non-pet owners. "Although there may not be any pets in your home, toxic chemicals in your garden may affect other people's pets," added Dr. Tams. Pet owners also need to be aware that while they may use nontoxic alternatives in their own gardens, their pets may be at risk for exposure to metaldehyde in neighbors' yards and gardens as they take their dogs for walks around the neighborhood.
In addition to using nontoxic snail bait, pets can be protected from the hazards of poisoning with safe snail traps that fend off the pests. Traps can be baited with beer (studies show that fermented yeast in beer is an excellent attractant, and nonalcoholic beer seems to work best) or "slug dough," a mixture that includes molasses, cornmeal, flour, water and yeast that is effective yet harmless to dogs. Other experts point to iron phosphate (a compound that occurs naturally in soil) bait, or even coffee as nontoxic alternatives to deter snails.
Whatever options gardeners choose to ensure a beautiful and thriving garden, it is important to keep pet safety in mind. While pesky slugs and snails can threaten to damage new plantings, toxic snail bait poses a serious and deadly threat to pets' lives. With a number of effective alternatives available, gardeners can choose nontoxic products to ensure the safety of their own dogs as well as neighbors' pets.
VCA Antech, Inc. (Nasdaq:WOOF), operates the largest network of freestanding, full-service animal hospitals across the country and employs more than 1,200 qualified veterinarians at over 320 animal hospitals in 36 states. VCA Animal Hospitals offer a full range of general medical and surgical services for companion animals, as well as specialized treatments including oncology, ophthalmology, cardiology and neurology. Dedicated to the provision of compassionate and comprehensive veterinary care, VCA also provides advanced diagnostic services.
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