Many people take advantage of the warm spring and summer months to cultivate and tend to their garden. Whether you are growing food, ornamental plants, or colorful flowers, seeing the fruits of your garden labor is extremely rewarding. However, garden pests can make a successful harvest a challenge. Snails and slugs are the bane of many gardeners and you may be tempted to purchase a bait or multi-use insecticide to get rid of them and other flower-eating pests. Most commercial snail and slug baits are toxic to pets and can be fatal without treatment. Our Animal Emergency Care team wants to ensure your four-legged garden partners are safe outside and we describe slug bait toxicity signs, treatment, and prevention.  

What is slug bait toxicity in pets?

Most commercial slug and snail baits available at garden shop supply stores contain the chemical metaldehyde which is extremely toxic to dogs, cats, and wildlife, although the toxicity mechanism is not fully understood. Many baits also contain other insecticides which can increase the potency and toxicity to pets. Snail and slug baits are typically formulated as pellets, granules, powders, and liquids, and contain either molasses or bran to attract garden pests. Many pets, especially dogs, are attracted by the sweet flavoring and mistake these pellets for kibble. Pets who walk through gardens containing the bait in liquid or powder form are also at risk for toxin ingestion if they groom or lick their powder-covered paws. Less than a teaspoon of bait that contains metaldehyde can be toxic to pets and may be fatal without treatment.   

Slug bait toxicity signs in pets

Slug bait toxicity signs can occur between 30 minutes and three hours after ingestion. Pets are at risk for liver failure two to three days following exposure. Toxicity signs depend on the amount ingested and may include:

  • Anxious behavior
  • Muscle tremors or twitches
  • Fever
  • Hypersensitivity when touched
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Difficulty breathing or respiratory failure
  • Uncoordinated walk
  • Seizures
  • Rigidity
  • Collapse

Slug bait toxicity diagnosis and treatment in pets

Your pet needs immediate veterinary care if they have slug bait toxicity signs to have the best chance of recovery. Diagnosis is based on their history of slug bait ingestion and clinical signs. Your veterinarian may recommend testing stomach contents or urine for metaldehyde. Additional diagnostic tests may include a complete blood count and serum biochemistry test to check overall organ function, and rule out any underlying medical problems or infections. No specific antidote is available for metaldehyde poisoning. Treatment may include:

  • Inducing vomiting
  • Monitoring heart rate and blood pressure
  • Monitoring body temperature 
  • Gastric lavage to remove remaining slug bait
  • Activated charcoal for toxin absorption
  • Intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration and electrolyte imbalances
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Anti-seizure medication
  • Liver protecting medications

Pets who are treated immediately for slug bait toxicity will usually recover. However, pets who do not receive immediate treatment or who have ingested large amounts of metaldehyde that has affected their liver and neurologic function have a low survival chance.

Financial planning for treatment of slug bait toxicity in pets

Pets undergoing slug bait toxicity treatment often require an extended hospital stay and several checkups, which can be expensive. Pet health insurance like Trupanion will ensure you can cover the costs for your pet’s emergency care for an accidental poisoning. Trupanion can pay your veterinary clinic directly which eliminates the need to submit paperwork and wait for reimbursements. Additional alternative payment options include Care Credit, Scratch Pay, pet health savings accounts, and short-term loans. 

Slug bait toxicity prevention in pets

Ensure that all slug bait and insecticides are stored out of paws’ reach. Many poisonings occur when pets ingest pellets with their enticing flavor that are stored in the home. Fence off backyard gardens treated with any metaldehyde-containing baits. Alternative pet-safe methods for garden pest prevention include:

  • Placing lava rock or shells around plants to deter slugs
  • Placing copper bands around plants
  • Planting lavender, mint, or rosemary herbs 
  • Using safer slug bait that contains iron-phosphate instead of metaldehyde

If you suspect your pet has ingested slug bait or if they are showing slug bait toxicity signs immediately bring them to Animal Emergency Care or call your family veterinarian. #AECprevents

Sources: 

https://veterinarypartner.vin.com/default.aspx?pid=19239&id=4951893

https://veterinary-practice.com/article/metaldehyde-poisoning-in-the-dog

https://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/poison/metaldehyde/

https://www.merckvetmanual.com/toxicology/metaldehyde-poisoning/overview-of-metaldehyde-poisoning