This post isn't related to the threat of snail bait to your garden, but rather you pets. Earlier today we rushed one of our cats, Diesel to the Veterinary emergency room with a suspected poisoning.
I am quickly going to list the warning signs as a reference for anyone searching for the symptoms that might match these:
Initial (early) symptoms (within one hour of snail bait ingestion):
- Restlessness and fidgety
- Easily scared by normal things, such as other cats sneezing or the wind blowing loudly
- Over reactive, for instance when you pet them they are overly appreciative of the attention than normal
Progressive symptoms (about 2-3 hours after ingesting snail bait):
- Exceedingly restless and scared, cannot sit still or calm down
- Doesn't want to be picked up, but still likes petting and attention
- Looking for dark places to hide, such as in a dark room or under furniture
- Body tremors, swaying and excessive salivation (drooling)
[When I noticed the tremors and salivation, we set out to catch Diesel and take him to the Vet, but this was not easy as he thought that we were chasing him and I think that he was having hallucinations by this point.]
While we were trying to catch him we noticed several of the following symptoms:
- Some disorientation; he still managed to run and jump, but you could see that his co-ordination was not normal
- Trying to vomit
- Confusion; he doesn't seem to recognise you or realise that you are trying to help
- Increased heart rate
- Sweating severely; we noticed that he left wet paw prints on the tiles
- Increased hallucinations, with hissing, fighting and fleeing involved [at this stage he scratched and bit everything and everyone as if we were attacking him].
By this time we managed to get him in the cat carrier and on the way to the Vet. He was panting loudly (almost gurgling) and was still fighting and hissing at things inside his box. I put a towel over his box and we spoke to him in soft tones all the way to the Vet which seemed to calm him down, but he was still fighting and hissing at things in his box every so often.
Severe symptoms (about 4-12 hours after ingestion of snail bait):
- Loss of consciousness
As I am typing out the progression of symptoms you would almost say that it is hard to miss, but snail bait poisoning goes from 'strange behaviour' to 'he needs help now!' in 30 min! First we thought that something had frightened him outside and that he was still scared and would calm down once he realised he was safe. He was fine at around 09h00 then went outside, at 09h30 he was back and being a bit fidgety but not anything out of the ordinary as he has such 'busy' moments at times. At around 10h00 he had moved to the kitchen and ate a bit, went to go sit on the chair, but became increasingly restless. [This was due to his stomach cramping and we recall that he licked his stomach]. We checked him for wounds, but found none and his pupils weren't dilated, yet he was a bit over-reactive and freaky still.
I looked up his symptoms on the internet (at about 11h00) and found that fight trauma or a big scare outside are all in line with his symptoms thus far including the diarrhoea and that we should try to calm him down. I got up to go look for him (likely 11h30) and found him in the window sill where he was behaving increasingly strange. Then I noticed that he was swaying, shaking and drooling. We tried to catch him, but he didn't want to be held, he hissed at us and ran away hiding in my room at first where the curtains were closed [They become light sensitive when poisoned]. We tried to catch him several times again, but he scratched and bit so fiercely that he got away several times. [We didn't want him to run so much, because if it were poisoning, which at this stage we were unsure of, running makes the poison metabolise quicker and symptoms progress a lot faster]. At least he stayed in the house or around the house so we eventually managed to get him in the box (at around 12h15). He had a fever, was sweating, panting and had a very high heart rate at this point.
We explain all his symptoms to the vet (the nurse took one look and rushed him to the treatment room), afterwards we told her that we believe he got poisoned about 3 hours ago. She said that he was in a bad way and that his chances are 50/50 and that they will treat the symptoms, but should he make it through the night he will be OK. We phoned the vet when we got home after some more research and told them we suspect snail bait poisoning, which they were already started treating him for. Now we just need to wait to hear about his condition, but I think that he'll pull through as he is still quite young and healthy.
Additional information about Snail bait and its related poisonings:
- Snail bait contains metaldehyde or methiocarb, unfortunately there is no antidote for metaldehyde, but atropine is given to treat methiocarb poisoning.
- The manufacturers of snail bait use bran, molasses, apple flavouring and corn, most of which resemble the taste and ingredients of pet food.
- Most snail bait comes in pellets, which our pets are conditioned to eat. Apparently they do add a bittering agent to the food, but this does not deter all pets.
- Snail bait poisonings are accidental and most occur during the spring and summer months when the bait is used to protect seedlings in the garden.
- Snail bait is notoriously fast acting (a few hours), whereas rat poison toxicity can take a few days.
- The first 12 hours are crucial during snail bait poisonings and unfortunately pets will eat them again even when they were poisoned the previous time.
I don't use any chemical or synthetic pesticides in my garden and always promote the use of safe/organic alternatives and given what had just happened to Diesel I am even more resolute to keep it that way. We believe that Diesel might have eaten some of the bait whilst in one the neighbours' gardens.
There are several alternatives to snail bait:
- Snails are mostly active during the night. So you can search for them with a torchlight and collected them in a bucket. You can destroy the snails or feed them to the birds.
- You get adhesive copper tape, over which the snails won't go, and can be applied to the stems or bases of plants.
- Salt perimeters are a bit crude and dis-tasteful, but rather this than pet poisoning.
- Crushed up egg shells at the base or plot perimeter will also deter snails from entering.
- Beer traps. Place some beer in a bowl and sink it into the ground so that it is level with the soil. Snails are attracted to this, fall in and drown. Beer traps are not selective and might capture other insects.
We do not have snails in our garden, so I have never tested any of the above-mentioned alternatives (I know that the salt works, as my parent used to use it in our previous house). It is always best to look for non-toxic alternatives to pest control than to run the risk of poisoning your pest (or some one else's) or your family.
I hope that this article will help any other pet owners to more quickly identify the symptoms (as most of the initial stage symptoms are not mentioned) or to prevent future poisonings. Please remember that all pets metabolise toxins differently and that your cats symptoms might not be the exact same progression or order.
- Update 1 October 2014 -
We had a chat with the Vet who treated Diesel and he said that he suspected that he had been poisoned by Two-step (Albicarb, a carbamate pesticide). He said that it was likely intended as a malicious poisoning of the neighbour's dogs and Diesel might have come across a piece of meat laced with the poison.
After some research on the toxin, I found that the symptoms of pesticide poisoning, (such as carbamates and organophosphates) have very similar to snail bait and that their treatments are the same (atropine, which is a counter-acting drug and not really an antidote). I will leave this post as is for snail bait poisonings (or any pesticide for that matter) and have included the Two-step poisoning as well. The big problem is that pesticide poisoning has similar symptoms to many other problems (such as anxiety) and have overlapping symptoms that makes the identification and diagnosis of one particular poison very difficult. Therefore I will again encourage gardeners to seek non-toxic or organic means for pest control and if you do decide to use pesticide, to use them responsibly, read the instructions and make sure you know their toxicity or possible poisoning symptoms.
For more information on the status of Two-step poisoning in South Africa, the United States and Spain, please see the following article:
Arnot et. al. 2011. Treatment rationale for dogs poisoned by albicarb (carbamate pesticide). Journal of the South African Veterinary Association. 82: (4).
The article also mentions that Two-step has a bitter additive, but mentions that most animals do not taste bitter and thus it doesn't deter them from eating the stuff (similar to snail bait).
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