Spring is Coming! Gardening Safety for Pets
We are all so happy that spring has finally (almost) arrived! This week has been so warm, and many people are out at the garden stores getting ready for the growing season. Spring is also a time when we begin to see more toxicities in the veterinary clinic, as pets like to get out and “help” with outdoor projects. We have several poison emergency cases every spring, and it is heartbreaking (and wallet-straining) to treat cases that are absolutely preventable.
SLUG BAIT KILLS
One of the most toxic garden products is slug bait. The active ingredient in most slug bait is metaldehyde, and the pellets (or granules or liquid) is often pleasantly flavored to attract snails. This also makes it tasty for pets, and it only takes a tiny dose to kill your pet. The most common early sign of metaldehyde poisoning is tremoring, and the dog quickly becomes hyperthermic (feverish) and may progress to having seizures, rapid heart rate, salivation, and even respiratory failure. Death occurs if treatment is not immediate, and may occur even after all measures have been taken.
Warfarin is an anticoagulant used in rat traps (think D-Con), and is another common poisoning we see in the warmer months. Warfarin and other anticoagulants cause internal bleeding and if you suspect you pet has eaten warfarin or has ingested rats or mice killed by the poison, they should be seen immediately. Signs of toxicity include pale gums, weakness, bruising, bleeding from the nose, blood in the stool or urine, coughing, and abnormal breathing. Because anticoagulant rodenticides inhibit the ability of blood to clot, treatment with Vitamin K1 is initiated to promote clotting factor development. Blood transfusion may be required for some patients.
SPECIAL WARNING – MOLE/GOPHER BAIT
We all get those lovely mole mounds in the yard now and then, and moles seem to know just where to go to cause the most damage. One common mole bait is in the shape of worms (think gummy worms, with a bite!). The “worms” are buried for the moles to encounter and eat. Dogs also find them to be a fun prize, and will dig down and eat them. The poison used is called bromethalin and causes severe neurological signs: brain swelling, uneven pupils, seizures, and death. There is NO ANTIDOTE for this poison. Treatment consists of dosing with activated charcoal to inhibit absorption, and supportive care, including IV therapy, must be early and aggressive.
Another type of mole bait uses zinc phosphide as the poison. Again, there is NO ANTIDOTE, and this pelleted, powdered, or peanut-shaped poison causes a release of poisonous gas when it contacts stomach acid. In dogs (poor dogs, they are more likely to get into poisons than cats), the gas released can cause the stomach to balloon and twist, causing bloat to occur as the poison affects the system. Not only is it dangerous to the dog, but when vomiting is induced to help expel any product in the stomach, the phosphide gas is also released and can sicken those who are trying to treat the pet.
PROTECT YOUR PET
It can be tricky to find the safest products on the market, because store shelves are loaded with options and the ingredients are unfamiliar. Even products labeled “Pet Friendly” or “Pet Safe” may cause problems if enough is ingested. We recommend limiting or eliminating chemicals from your household, garage, and shed. Some of our favorite remedies?
SLUGS: Use copper ribbon (or copper wire) around planters and raised beds. Pour beer (the cheap stuff – save the NW microbrews for the barbecue!) into a tuna can or cat food can and set into the ground, and the slugs will go for it. Just be sure your dog can’t get to the beer, or you’ll have a new problem instead!
RATS: The best way to control rats and mice is to remove access to the food that attracts them. Use containers with tight-fitting lids for storage of food, grains, etc. Seal off any entrances bigger than ¼” to prevent mice from entering as well. The traditional “mouse trap” is a good tool, as long as it is hidden from your pet. While the snapping trap might physically hurt your pet, it is less dangerous than poison. If poison is used, be sure it is inaccessible to pets. If repeated use of poison is necessary, that means the food source (dog food, bird seed, etc) is not adequately stored. Take the time to inspect the containers for damage and replace as necessary.
MOLES/VOLES/GOPHERS: There are killing traps available, but it is important to keep them away from kids and pets. Trapping moles in the spring helps reduce the population by eliminating breeding moles before they multiply out of control. Perhaps a nicer way to prevent moles in you yard is by planting borders that repel moles. Daffodils are beautiful and very common here, and they are a good example of a mole-repelling plant. Plants in the Allium genus also repel moles. These bulbs include garlic, onion, chives, leeks, and more. Allium can also refer to the flowering onion plant, an ornamental bulb that is pretty and functional.
Even with the best intentions, accidents still happen. If you suspect your pet has eaten poison, call the clinic right away. Bring the packaging with you to the clinic to help determine the best treatment. When in doubt, please call us for advice!
We all love to spend time outdoors, and our animals love to spend time with us. Pests will continue to adapt to the latest and greatest poisons, and these poisons get more and more dangerous at every turn. Consider a “green” approach, and you will be reducing hazards while you also reduce the size of your toxic footprint.