Queenie, an adorable Australian Cattle Dog mix, came in late on a Thursday evening to see Dr. Kristi Peterson as an Urgent Care appointment. The 5 month old puppy was wracked with tremors. Her owners discovered a broken container of snail bait and suspected Queenie may have gotten into it.
Snail bait poisoning is one of the most common poisoning agents of dogs in California. The toxic ingredient in snail bait is called metaldehyde. While metaldehyde is toxic for both cats and dogs, it is typically seen in dogs. Most snail baits that contain metaldehyde are flavored with molasses which makes it a very enticing snack for dogs. Cats do not have a taste receptor for sweet flavors and therefore less likely to want to eat snail bait.
Metaldehyde affects the nervous system. Symptoms of ingestion include anxiety, vomiting, diarrhea, excessive panting and/or drooling, uncoordinated walk, muscle tremors, convulsions, hyperthermia, and increased sensitivity to touch, light and sound. Often you will see anxiousness and restlessness followed by tremors and convulsions that, if left untreated, can progress into full blown seizures. Constant muscle contractions can elevate the body temperature to the point where permanent organ and brain damage can occur. When left untreated, snail bait toxicity can lead to death within 4 to 12 hours.
Dr. Peterson took Queenie’s vitals and medical history upon examination. Her temperature was not elevated and besides the tremors she was not exhibiting any other symptoms. Luckily, it appeared she had only ingested a small amount of the snail bait. There is no antidote for snail bait toxicity so Dr. Peterson had to treat and control Queenie’s symptoms.
The first step in most toxicity cases is usually to induce vomiting and try and get any residual poison out of the stomach. This has the highest chance of success when it is done as soon as possible after ingestion. Unfortunately Queenie did not vomit up any snail bait. Next, Dr. Peterson gave an injection of methocarbamol – a drug that acts as a muscle relaxant in order to control tremoring. This was followed up with charcoal administration to absorb the poison in Queenie’s system and IV fluids. Queenie needed to stay in the hospital with our Patient Care team overnight in order to continue her treatment and observation.
In cases of severe snail bait toxicity, patients will sometimes not respond to an initial treatment of methocarbamol and charcoal. These patients need to begin a CRI regimen. CRI stands for Constant Rate Infusion and it is basically the veterinary equivalent of a medically induced coma. Fortunately, Queenie responded incredibly well to her therapy.
By the following afternoon her tremors had ceased and she was feeling much better. Dr. Peterson performed a recheck physical exam and was extremely pleased with what she saw. After just one day of hospitalization and treatment, Queenie received the seal of approval to go home with her loving family!