Metaldehyde is the active component contained in bait for slugs and snails. It is also a potent neurotoxin to both dogs and cats, as well as most other mammals and birds. The baits are usually flavored with bran or molasses to attract the snails. They can also resemble the typical “pellet” shape of dog food, making it very attractive for dogs to consume. Other formulations can include liquids and powders and may also be combined with other toxic insecticides.
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Snail Bait Poisoning (Metaldehyde Toxicity)
Dogs usually obtain access to the products through ingesting part/all of improperly stored containers or through normal grooming behaviors after walking through a recently treated yard. Toxicity only requires a small amount to be ingested; one teaspoon per 10 pounds can be enough to cause problems. Most dogs will consume much more than this.
Clinical signs usually begin within 1-3 hours after ingestion and typically start with mild tremors which rapidly progress to more severe tremors, seizures, and possibly death. Other symptoms can include elevated heart rate, anxiety, vomiting, diarrhea, and liver failure. Unfortunately, there is no known antidote for metaldehyde toxicity. Treatment consists mainly of aggressive decontamination procedures (induction of vomiting, stomach pumping, and activated charcoal) as soon as possible after exposure. If clinical signs have already begun, anti-seizure medications and muscle relaxers will usually be required. If treated quickly and aggressively, animals can recover in 2-3 days. It is important to note that if products have been applied to the yard, it should be hosed with water to dissolve any remaining metaldehyde pellets and animal kept off for at least 2 weeks.