Snail and slug pellets come in two major types; Metaldehyde (green) and Methiocarb (blue) snail pellets cause similar clinical signs when ingested by pets. The iron EDTA pellets (often red but sometimes purple) are also available and are advertised as “pet safe”. These types should really be renamed as “pet safer” as they can still cause severe gastrointestinal signs and red blood cell damage.
Even very small quantities of snail pellets are toxic. Dogs are most commonly involved, but cats present with this toxicity from time to time. Some cats are fussier about what they ingest, whereas dogs can eat half a box before they have even tasted what they are eating! Baits that are advertised as having a bittering agent in them rarely deter dogs that eat quickly, as they don’t register the flavour until it is too late. These pellets are often cereal based (to attract the snails) which unfortunately also attracts dogs.
Dogs may retrieve the box from a shelf in a garden shed, or from a high surface, and they can also ‘hoover’ freshly laid pellets from the garden. Sadly, some pets do not survive long enough to be presented to a veterinarian, especially if their owners are not home to notice their symptoms.
- Wobbly gait (ataxia)
- Dilated pupils
- Vomiting, Diarrhoea
- Muscle twitches and tremors
- Heat stress (hyperthermia) or low body temperature (when in shock)
Snail bait toxicity can be fatal if untreated – seek veterinary attention immediately.
What to expect at the vet
Early or mild exposure with patient able to walk and swallow normally:
Medication will often be given to induce vomiting (emesis).
Administration of activated charcoal based substance to bind any toxin that has already moved into the small intestine.
IV fluids to encourage toxin excretion via the kidneys and replace fluid losses from vomiting, diarrhoea and panting.
If your pet is severely affected (i.e. seizures, collapsed, unable to walk or swallow):
Intravenous (IV) medications to control seizures if indicated.
Gastric lavage (stomach pumping) under general anaesthetic.
Enema to try and empty the large bowel of toxin.
Administration of activated charcoal solution via the stomach tube after stomach pumping.
The prognosis for patients who have ingested snail pellets is generally good. Most patients that require their stomach pumped recover and go home within 12 hours of admission. Some patients may need extended hospitalisation if they have suffered complications such as aspiration of stomach contents into the lungs (aspiration pneumonia) or heat stress. Unfortunately, without treatment the severely affected patients will not survive.
All pets that have ingested snail baits should be prevented from future access to baits, as the adverse experience will not deter them from eating the baits again. When it comes to snail pellets the best prevention is not to use them. There are many alternatives to snail baits such as copper wire. If your council allows it, chickens and ducks are a great natural snail killer, and are a really natural recycling tool as well!
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