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Snail & Slug Bait Toxicity in Pets

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If you witnessed or strongly suspect your pet ingested products that contain metaldehyde (such as snail or slug bait), this is considered an “ORANGE” – or urgent case – on our Fast Track Triage system. We recommend calling ASPCA Animal Poison Control at 888-426-4435 for help determining if your pet consumed a toxic amount and for guidance on what to do next. If veterinary care is advised, call your family veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital ahead of your arrival.

Note that if your pet is experiencing active seizures/cluster seizures, suddenly collapses, or is experiencing respiratory distress, these are considered “RED” – or true emergencies – on our Fast Track Triage system. We advise you to seek immediate veterinary care. Please call ahead of your arrival so the veterinary team knows to expect you!

  • If your pet is currently experiencing seizures, keep them safe. This may include blocking off stairs or sides of furniture.
  • A seizing pet is not aware of his/her surroundings. They can continue to seem “out of it” for minutes to hours afterwards and behavior can be unpredictable. 
  • To avoid being bitten, do not place hands near your pet’s mouth.
  • To transport your pet to the car, roll the pet onto a blanket, and then lift the blanket.

With spring comes gardening season. In certain areas, snails and slugs are very annoying garden pests. One of the most common ways to prevent and treat infestations is with snail and slug bait. But if your pet has access to your garden, it’s important to take extra caution before using any pesticides! From early symptoms to treatment options, here’s what pet parents need to know about snail and slug bait toxicity in pets!  

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Metaldehyde Toxicity 

The toxic ingredient in snail and slug baits is metaldehyde, an organic chemical compound. Baits are generally formulated as pellets, liquids, powders, or pastes. To attract snails and slugs, the pellets are flavored with molasses – which can also be very tempting to dogs! In the United States, the pellets generally contain 2% or 5% of metaldehyde. Also, note that some camp stove and lamp fuels, particularly products from Europe where they use metaldehyde blocks, may contain 90% metaldehyde – making them extremely toxic! 

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How Poisoning Occurs 

Once the bait is eaten, the metaldehyde is absorbed through the GI tract. The exact mechanism of action is unknown, but it’s speculated to affect GABA receptors in the brain, lowering the nervous system’s threshold for seizure.  

Symptoms 

Typically, symptoms of metaldehyde toxicity begin within 30 minutes to a few hours after the bait is eaten. However, there are some reports of symptoms appearing as late as 24 hours post-exposure.  

Most pet parents notice tremors first. Muscle tremors can become very severe and begin to increase body temperature – potentially causing significant overheating (hyperthermia). Pets may become mentally depressed and experience seizures. These symptoms could progress to coma and death.  

In addition to tremors, other common early symptoms include:  

  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting 
  • Drooling 
  • Restlessness
  • Rapid Heart Rate
  • Rapid Breathing 

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Treatment 

If your pet experiences muscle tremors or you know with certainty your pet was exposed to snail or slug bait, seek immediate veterinary care from your family veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital. On your way to the vet, you can call a pet poison helpline such as ASPCA Animal Poison Control for help determining if your pet ate a toxic amount, as well as advice on how you can help your pet during transport. Your veterinary team can use that case number to consult with the pet poison helpline’s board-certified toxicologists.  

There are no tests that are accessible in the animal ER to specifically confirm metaldehyde poisoning. Metaldehyde tests can be run on stomach contents, urine tissue, or liver tissue, but results can take days to receive, and treatment cannot be delayed! Depending on your pet’s condition, treatment options may include: 

  • Inducing Vomiting 
    • If your pet receives treatment early enough, the veterinary team will induce vomiting. (Note: DO NOT induce vomiting at home with hydrogen peroxide due to the significant risk of stomach ulcerations). They will also test bloodwork to look for increases in liver enzymes and changes in electrolytes.  
  • Flushing the Stomach 
    • If your pet is NOT conscious or it is deemed too risky to induce vomiting and a significant amount of bait was eaten, a stomach tube may be used to flush the pet’s stomach contents. 
  • Symptom Management 
    • Since there is no specific antidote to metaldehyde toxicosis, the veterinary team will focus on managing specific symptoms.
      • If a pet is experiencing tremors or seizures, those will be treated directly with the appropriate medications. 
      • IV fluids will be administered to help address abnormalities in electrolytes, as well as to help treat hyperthermia. 
      • Speaking of hyperthermia, if the body temperature is high enough, for long enough, clotting disorders may occur. The veterinary team will need to monitor bloodwork for changes in blood clotting times, electrolytes, and liver values while pet is hospitalized.  
  • Intravenous Lipid Therapy 
    • In certain cases, intravenous lipid therapy may be recommended.  This is not an antidote, but there are reports in veterinary research literature that indicate it can bind the toxin and prevent its effects. Intravenous lipid therapy is not without potential side effects, so it’s not automatically used in every case.  

A pet’s prognosis depends on how much bait was eaten, as well as how promptly treatment was started. If your pet survives the first 24 hours post-ingestion, he or she is generally expected to recover. 

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When using any baits or pesticides on your lawn or in your garden, always follow the product’s instructions closely and deny your pet access to that specific area for the product’s recommended amount of time – up to several weeks for some products. We highly recommend investing in options that are “safer” for pets, such as baits that contain iron instead of metaldehyde. Also, store all pesticide products in areas that are non-accessible to pets. If you witnessed or strongly suspect your pet ate slug or snail bait, seek veterinary care. Then, hose down your lawn or garden to remove any remaining product.  

Dr. Bruns, ER vet, emergency veterinarian, Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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