Snail bait poisoning in dogs

Snail bait poisoning (Metaldehyde poisoning) in dogs can lead to respiratory failure and death if not treated urgently.

For most of us Spring brings pure joy; warmer weather and new growth everywhere. But, as buds and bulbs spring into action, so do snails and slugs and in an effort to stop these pests from eating everything in sight, gardeners resort to snail and slug bait.

Unfortunately, snail and slug bait is extremely toxic when ingested by pets.

Snail bait is available in pelleted form, but also in powered and liquid form which can cause poisoning if the dog licks it off its paws. It is readily available at nurseries and supermarkets and is a very common type of poisoning seen by vets.

Snail bait poisoning: symptoms

Small amounts of poison are enough to cause a clinical effect and symptoms start to manifest fairly soon after ingestion.

• Initially, the dog might show a mild twitch, which will worsen in severity until the dog is seizuring.

• Due to the increased and constant muscle contractions, the animals’ body temperature will rise to dangerous levels which can cause brain and organ damage and if left untreated, can eventually lead to death.

• As is often seen with seizures, the animal might also have a rapid heart beat, diarrhoea, vomiting, rigidity of the limbs and respiratory failure.

• In some cases, the liver may also be damaged and the animal will need liver support.


“There is no antidote to snail bait and treatment is aimed at stopping the seizures and muscle contractions and to provide supportive care to the body via a drip and other medications as indicated,” says Country Animal Clinic veterinarian Dr Lindi van den Berg. “If you suspect that your dog has eaten the snail bait less than an hour before, vomiting can be induced to empty the stomach. Once the animal has severe symptoms, it is too late and also risky to induce vomiting.”

If indicated and if the patient is stable enough, it will be placed under general anaesthetic and the stomach contents washed out, although often by the time the dog is seizuring, most of the poison is in the intestines and much has been absorbed already. Activated charcoal is given to the patient to try and bind the poison still present in the intestines and prevent further absorption.

Snail bait poisoning is very serious, but with swift action and treatment a favourable outcome is possible.

Lucky Bingo survives snail bait poisoning

Bingo Engelbrecht lives with his mom and dad, Tanya and De Villiers, in Somerset West. When his parents innocently put blue pelleted snail bait around their pot plants they had no idea Bingo would take such a liking to them. “The pot plants are raised from the ground but he actually jumped up to get at them,” says Mr Engelbrecht. “Some of the pellets were stuck on the leaves but he was actively looking for them as though they smelled like food.” About an hour after eating the pellets, Bingo started walking funny and shaking. The Engelbrechts searched the internet for info on snail bait and realised how serious the situation was. They then called Country Animal Clinic and were advised to immediately try to make Bingo vomit by feeding him a ball of washing power. Once he’d vomited, they rushed him into the clinic. Their quick actions saved Bingo’s life.

Safer ways to get rid of snails and slugs

There are several pet-friendly home remedies you can employ to rid your garden of snails and slugs.

The beer trap

Half bury a plastic cup in the soil close to your plants and half fill it with beer. Tempted by the smell of beer, the slugs will fall into the cup. This is only effective for a small slug problem or a small garden as controlling a large infestation can be quite expensive because the beer needs to be replaced daily.

Copper tape

When a snail or slug’s mucus touches copper it produces a tiny electric shock. Place copper tape around the rim of your pot plants to keep slugs and snail at bay. To  keep the tape effective, clean it regularly with vinegar to avoid tarnishing.

Egg shells and nutshells

Crushed egg shells and nutshells work as a great home remedy because snails and slugs don’t like moving across sharp objects. Break the egg shells into smallish pieces and place around the plants you want to protect. An added bonus is that calcium from the egg shells helps enrich the soil as they decompose.

Petroleum jelly

The slippery texture of petroleum jelly makes it difficult for a snail or slug to grip onto a surface. Apply in a band around the rim of your flower pots, containers, and even the stalks of your plants.


Snails and slugs hate ground coffee. Sprinkle grounds (not instant coffee granules) around your plants. Fresh coffee is more effective than instant, and the higher the caffeine content the more effective the solution. If you don’t have any coffee beans at home ask your local coffee shop for their leftover grounds.


Seaweed, both fresh and powdered is a good home remedy for slugs due to its salt content, and it’s great for soil as well!


Place empty citrus rinds (peel) upside down on the ground, leaving enough clearance for the snail or slug to enter. The rind gives the pest food, and a damp environment to hide. Leave overnight and dispose of the snails or slugs in the morning.

Natural predators

Birds, beetles and frogs are natural predators for snails and slugs. Install bird feeders, insect hotels and a pond to encourage these natural predators into your garden.

Slug repelling plants

Some plants like rosemary, fennel, anise, rue and wormwood are great slug repellants. Plant among fruit and vegetables to avoid slug damage.


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