Some parts of the United States see this toxicity more than others simply because of the climates in those specific areas. Southern US, Pacific Coast states and the Hawaiian Islands all have issues with the slippery, slimy garden creatures that are the reason for using this toxin.
metaldehyde. This is also found in some brands of solid fuel for camp stoves. If ingested, prompt veterinary intervention is needed to save these animals. The longer the delay in treatment, the worse the prognosis and the risk for death is ever so much higher.
Why is this attractive to domestic animals?
To make the baits appeal to the snails and slugs, bran and molasses are often added. These ingredients are very tasty and appeal to our furbabies as well as other wildlife. So if you live in an area where you have to battle the slippery creatures, it's best to find alternatives to the baits that are commonly used. If you rent, or are in a community that happens to hire a gardener/grounds keeper make sure you ask what they use to get rid of the pests.
Why is it so toxic?
Metaldehyde is a neurotoxin, which means the primary symptoms tend to be associated with the nervous system such as tremors, hyperexcitability and seizures. Other symptoms include:
- excessive drooling
- uncoordinated walking
- hyperthermia (increased body temperature)
- tachypnea (increased respiratory rate)
How does it cause the neurotoxicity and why is it so deadly?
The exact mechanism of action is of course unknown, just like with many of the toxins we've discussed over the last few weeks. It's believed the acidity of the stomach enhances the affects but no studies have found this conclusively. Metaldehyde can cross the blood brain barrier easily, to it does interfere with the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and serotonin. When this occurs, the overall effect is to lower the seizure threshold making it easier for a seizure to occur.
The tremors induced by metaldehyde interference with the neurotransmitters will ultimately cause the animal's body temperature to rise. Temperatures over 107 degrees will cause all organ systems to experience damage at the cellular level. Metaldehyde also interferes with electrolyte and acid/base balance in the body which leads to CNS depression and tachypnea. Liver failure can occur in within 2 or 3 days of ingestion.
How is it treated?
There is NO antidote! Treatment is early, aggressive supportive care with your veterinarian or at an emergency veterinary hospital. If the ingestion took place less than 30 minutes prior to presentation to the vet, they can induce vomiting. After that point, your pet may already be experiencing some symptoms that would make vomiting contraindicated. The stomach will need to be decontaminated by a different route..stomach tube and lavage. This is basically what they do in hospitals when a human has to have it's "stomach pumped."
The rest of the therapy includes many of the same elements as with the other toxins. Activated charcoal is used in multiple doses to help bind the toxin and prevent it from resorbing as it passes through the intestines. Intravenous fluids are used to help keep the liver and kidneys happy during the decontamination process. Medications are given to control tremors, seizures and correct any electrolyte imbalances that may be evident based on blood work results. It's imperative that the liver and kidney function tests are monitored closely with repeated lab tests.
Recovery depends on how much of the bait was ingested and how quickly therapy was initiated. The general health of the patient BEFORE the ingestion also plays a big role in how fast they recover. As little as one teaspoon of the pellet form for a 10 pound animal can be deadly. For some pets, just licking it off their paws after walking through areas where the baits have been distributed is enough to make them quite ill.
Do yourself a favor. If you have a snail or slug problem, look for alternatives to get rid of them. A few examples include
- pet and human hair
- egg shells
Here's some links to articles that are great resources for you. Check them out. You won't be sorry you did!