A massive cull of pet cats and dogs in the UK during WW11.
Out of the blue the other day Margaret from Tasmania sent me an email.
I happened to come across this rather sad but interesting story.
Thought you might like to read it.
– Margaret (from Tasmania)
The email contained a link to this very sad information.
The little-told story of the massive WWII pet cull
By Alison Feeney-Hart
BBC News Magazine
12th October, 2013
At the beginning of World War II, a government pamphlet led to a massive cull of British pets. As many as 750,000 British pets were killed in just one week. This little-discussed moment of panic is explored in a new book.
The cull came as the result of a public information campaign that caused an extraordinary reaction among anxious Britons.
In the summer of 1939, just before the outbreak of war, the National Air Raid Precautions Animals Committee (NARPAC) was formed. It drafted a notice – Advice to Animal Owners.
The pamphlet said: “If at all possible, send or take your household animals into the country in advance of an emergency.” It concluded: “If you cannot place them in the care of neighbours, it really is kindest to have them destroyed.”
The advice was printed in almost every newspaper and announced on the BBC. It was “a national tragedy in the making”, says Clare Campbell, author of new book Bonzo’s War: Animals Under Fire 1939 -1945.
Campbell recalls a story about her uncle. “Shortly after the invasion of Poland, it was announced on the radio that there might be a shortage of food. My uncle announced that the family pet Paddy would have to be destroyed the next day.”
After war was declared on 3 September 1939, pet owners thronged to vets’ surgeries and animal homes.
“Animal charities, the PDSA, the RSPCA and vets were all opposed to the killing of pets and very concerned about people just dumping animals on their doorsteps at the start of the war,” says historian Hilda Kean.
Battersea Dogs and Cats Home opened its doors in 1860 and survived both wars. “Many people contacted us after the outbreak of war to ask us to euthanise their pets – either because they were going off to war, they were bombed, or they could no longer afford to keep them during rationing,” a spokesman says.
“Battersea actually advised against taking such drastic measures and our then manager Edward Healey-Tutt wrote to people asking them not to be too hasty.”
But Campbell cites an Arthur Moss of the RSPCA who, “gloomily pronounced that the primary task for them all would be the destruction of animals”.
In the first few days of war, PDSA hospitals and dispensaries were overwhelmed by owners bringing their pets for destruction. PDSA founder Maria Dickin reported: “Our technical officers called upon to perform this unhappy duty will never forget the tragedy of those days.”
In Memoriam notices started to appear in the press. “Happy memories of Iola, sweet faithful friend, given sleep September 4th 1939, to be saved suffering during the war. A short but happy life – 2 years, 12 weeks. Forgive us little pal,” said one in Tail-Wagger Magazine.
The first bombing of London in September 1940 prompted more pet owners to rush to have their pets destroyed.
Many people panicked, but others tried to restore calm. “Putting your pets to sleep is a very tragic decision. Do not take it before it is absolutely necessary,” urged Susan Day in the Daily Mirror.
But the government pamphlet had sowed a powerful seed.
“People were basically told to kill their pets and they did. They killed 750,000 of them in the space of a week – it was a real tragedy, a complete disaster,” says Christy Campbell, who helped write Bonzo’s War.
Historian Hilda Kean says that it was just another way of signifying that war had begun. “It was one of things people had to do when the news came – evacuate the children, put up the blackout curtains, kill the cat.”
It was the lack of food, not bombs, that posed the biggest threat to wartime pets. There was no food ration for cats and dogs.
But many owners were able to make do. Pauline Caton was just five years old at the time and lived in Dagenham. She remembers “queuing up with the family at Blacks Market in Barking to buy horsemeat to feed the family cat”.
And even though there were just four staff at Battersea, the home managed to feed and care for 145,000 dogs during the course of the war.
In the middle of the pet-culling mayhem, some people tried desperately to intervene. The Duchess of Hamilton – both wealthy and a cat lover – rushed from Scotland to London with her own statement to be broadcast on the BBC. “Homes in the country urgently required for those dogs and cats which must otherwise be left behind to starve to death or be shot.”
“Being a duchess she had a bit of money and established an animal sanctuary,” says historian Kean. The “sanctuary” was a heated aerodrome in Ferne. The duchess sent her staff out to rescue pets from the East End of London. Hundreds and hundreds of animals were taken back initially to her home in St John’s Wood. She apologised to the neighbours who complained about the barking.
But at a time of such uncertainty, many pet owners were swayed by the worst-case scenario.
“People were worried about the threat of bombing and food shortages, and felt it inappropriate to have the ‘luxury’ of a pet during wartime,” explains Pip Dodd, senior curator at the National Army Museum.
“The Royal Army Veterinary Corps and the RSPCA tried to stop this, particularly as dogs were needed for the war effort.”
Ultimately, given the unimaginable human suffering that followed over the six years of the war, it is perhaps understandable that the extraordinary cull of pets is not better known.
But the episode brought another sadness to people panicked and fearful at the start of hostilities.
The story is not more widely known because it was a difficult story to tell, says Kean.
“It isn’t well known that so many pets were killed because it isn’t a nice story, it doesn’t fit with this notion of us as a nation of animal lovers. People don’t like to remember that at the first sign of war we went out to kill the pussycat,” she says.
It’s very difficult to make one’s mind up. As was written there were no food ration cards for pets.
But at the same time this huge pet cull was too much, too soon.
As was written, “The story is not more widely known because it was a difficult story to tell, says (Hilda) Kean.
“It isn’t well known that so many pets were killed because it isn’t a nice story, it doesn’t fit with this notion of us as a nation of animal lovers. People don’t like to remember that at the first sign of war we went out to kill the pussycat,” she says.”
It was a most interesting link albeit a very sad one.
One of the most frequent questions dog and cat owners get asked is how old is he or she. The pet that is!
And one of the most frequent concerns we have for our pets is how long will they live, as in what is their natural life span. Certainly, most of us realise that the larger dogs live slightly shorter lives but is that borne out in practice.
Well a recent professional article on The Conversation blogsite answered those questions.
How old is my pet in dog years or cat years? A veterinarian explains
Clinical Instructor of Veterinary Medicine, Mississippi State University
July 23rd, 2019
“Just how old do you think my dog is in dog years?” is a question I hear on a regular basis. People love to anthropomorphize pets, attributing human characteristics to them. And most of us want to extend our animal friends’ healthy lives for as long as possible.
It may seem like sort of a silly thing to ponder, born out of owners’ love for their pets and the human-animal bond between them. But determining a pet’s “real” age is actually important because it helps veterinarians like me recommend life-stage specific healthcare for our animal patients.
There’s an old myth that one regular year is like seven years for dogs and cats. There’s a bit of logic behind it. People observed that with optimal healthcare, an average-sized, medium dog would on average live one-seventh as long as its human owner – and so the seven “dog years” for every “human year” equation was born.
Not every dog is “average-sized” though so this seven-year rule was an oversimplification from the start. Dogs and cats age differently not just from people but also from each other, based partly on breed characteristics and size. Bigger animals tend to have shorter life spans than smaller ones do. While cats vary little in size, the size and life expectancy of dogs can vary greatly – think a Chihuahua versus a Great Dane.
Human life expectancy has changed over the years. And vets are now able to provide far superior medical care to pets than we could even a decade ago. So now we use a better methodology to define just how old rule of thumb that counted every calendar year as seven “animal years.”
Based on the American Animal Hospital Association Canine Life Stages Guidelines, today’s vets divide dogs into six categories: puppy, junior, adult, mature, senior and geriatric. Life stages are a more practical way to think about age than assigning a single number; even human health recommendations are based on developmental stage rather than exactly how old you are in years.
Canine life stages
Veterinarians divide a dog’s expected life span into six life stages based on developmental milestones. These age ranges are for a medium-sized dog; smaller dogs tend to live longer, while larger dogs tend to have shorter life expectancies.
0 – 0.5
Birth to sexual maturity
0.5 – 0.75
Reproductively mature, still growing
0.75 – 6.5
Finished growing, sexually and structurally mature
Dog breed and its associated size is one of the largest contributors to life expectancy, with nutrition and associated weight likely being the next most important factors for individual dogs.
But this still doesn’t answer the question of how old your individual animal is. If you’re determined to figure out if Max would be graduating from high school or preparing for retirement based on how many “dog years” he’s lived, these life stages can help. Lining up canine and human developmental milestones over the course of an average life expectancy can provide a rough comparison.
How old is Buddy in ‘dog years?’
By matching up human and canine life stages, vets can approximate how many ‘dog years’ your pet has lived. Horizontal axis shows calendar years; vertical axis shows ‘dog years.’ Because different sized dogs have different overall life expectancies, small, medium, large and giant dogs age at different rates.
In a similar manner, the joint American Association of Feline Practitioners-The American Animal Hospital Association Feline Life Stage Guidelines also divide cats into six categories: kitten, junior, prime, mature, senior and geriatric. Since most healthy cats are around the same size, there’s less variability in their age at each life-stage.
How old is Fluffy in ‘cat years?’
By matching up human and feline life stages, vets can approximate how many ‘cat years’ your pet has lived. Horizontal axis shows calendar years; vertical axis shows ‘cat years.’
Figuring out how old Buddy is in dog years or Fluffy is in cat years allows a veterinarian to determine their life-stage. And that’s important because it suggests what life-stage-specific health care the animal might need to prolong not just its life, but also its quality of life.
Physicians already apply this very concept to human age-specific health screenings. Just like a normal human toddler doesn’t need a colonoscopy, a normal puppy doesn’t need its thyroid levels checked. An adult woman likely needs a regular mammogram, just like an adult cat needs annual intestinal parasite screenings. Of course these guidelines are augmented based on a physician’s or veterinarian’s examination of the human or animal patient.
And as is the case for people, your pet’s overall health status can influence their “real age” for better or for worse. So next time you take your pet to the veterinarian, talk about your animal’s life stage and find out what health recommendations come with it. Watching out for health abnormalities and maintaining a healthy weight could help your cat live long past the literal “prime” of its life.
So it all comes down to life stages and not years.
As with humans.
I find that the most interesting aspect of today’s post.
The Best Friends website has a useful article under their 2025 Goal aim.
It follows nicely yesterday’s post.
No-Kill for Cats and Dogs in America’s Shelters
You believe that animals deserve compassion and good quality of life. You also love your community and want to take action for the pets and people in it. Here’s how.
Last year, about 733,000 dogs and cats were killed in our nation’s animal shelters, simply because they didn’t have safe places to call home. Together, we can change that and achieve no-kill for dogs and cats nationwide by 2025.
Is your community no-kill?
Explore lifesaving nationwide using the interactive tool below and see which shelters in your community need your support. When every shelter in a community achieves a 90% save rate for all cats and dogs, that community is designated as no-kill. This provides a simple, effective benchmark for our lifesaving progress.
This dashboard presents a dynamic data set that is being updated regularly with the most current information available. We welcome your feedback to help ensure that our data is the latest and most accurate information.
Common elements of a no-kill community
All no-kill communities embrace and promote:
Collective responsibility: We hold ourselves accountable for the welfare of pets in our animal shelters and communities.
Individual community members are willing to participate in lifesaving programs.
State and local government are poised to support those programs.
A transparent shelter staff is working with their community to save more lives.
Progressive lifesaving: We value compassionate and responsible actions to save animals.
Decision-making is data-driven and anchored by best practices in the field.
Quality care is provided to every pet and quality of life is a priority.
Programs are designed to save the animals most at risk of being killed.
Programs are designed to tackle the root of the problem rather than the symptoms.
True euthanasia: We recognize that, for some animals, euthanasia is the most compassionate choice. This is why the no-kill benchmark for save rate is 90% and not 100%. In some cases, shelters may not meet the 90% benchmark, but do meet the philosophical principles of no-kill, which are:
Ending the life of an animal only to end irremediable suffering.
Ending the life of an animal when the animal is too dangerous to rehabilitate and place in the community safely.
End-of-life decisions are made by animal welfare professionals engaging in best practices and protocols.
These community maps are the first of their kind in animal welfare. They represent an enormous undertaking on the part of compassionate organizations and individuals throughout the country and a commitment to collaboration and transparency from more than 3,200 shelters across the country.
The little kitten had never known a mother’s love, but soon, two unusual moms would step forward to help her grow up strong.
Found at such a young age, Nala had to be placed with a foster family to have the best chance of survival. When Jamie Myers saw a plea for help on Facebook, she jumped at the chance to take in the kitten. She was fostering a cat who had recently lost a number of her babies and knew Nala would fit right into the little family.
“She was about a week and a half younger than my group, so I said, ‘My mama is pretty wonderful. She’s been very accepting so let’s see if she can’t nurse,'” Myers told The Dodo. “Nala nursed straight away and mama took her in instantly. She started licking her, and grooming her and showing her acceptance and love.”
By the time the mama cat and her babies were ready to be adopted, Nala still wasn’t quite big enough to find her forever home. “She did everything later than the rest of the group,” Myers said. “When they all opened their eyes, she still had her eyes closed, and when they started toddling about, she was still latched onto Mama nursing.”
Nala was alone once again — but not for long. Myers had taken in a dog named Izzy who had recently had puppies. Izzy’s paws were full nursing her own litter, but she was still determined to adopt the lone kitten.
“The mama dog kept trying to get Nala and pick her up and put her in with the rest of her babies,” Myers said. “She just thought one of the babies was out and missing — she kept trying to put it back and put it back.”
Izzy became more and more insistent that Nala belonged with her, so eventually, Myers decided to take a chance. “The kitten could not walk across the floor without Izzy getting up from nursing to hunt her down,” Myers said. “She was trying to tell us, ‘This little creature belongs in my family.’”
To help the mama dog settle down, Myers placed Nala in Izzy’s pen and supervised their interactions. A remarkable change occurred as soon as Nala joined the group, and Myers knew that she had done the right thing for both dog and kitten.
“As soon as we put Nala in with her babies, she settled and was happy and all was right in her world again,” Myers said. “And Nala just all the sudden had all these little warm bodies for snuggles and love, and a new fur mama to care for her, and she just fit in with her second foster family.”
Nala quickly adjusted to her new routine with her dog family: “She would get in and out of [the pen] on her own. So when she was done snuggling, she’d get out and go eat her kitten food and play for a little while, and then she’d go right back in,” Myers said. “Whenever she wanted to sleep, she was always in there sleeping with them.”
With the love and care of her three foster families — dog, cat and human — Nala grew bigger and was finally ready for adoption.
But for Izzy, Nala finally leaving the house was bittersweet. Luckily, Myers knew just what to do to settle Izzy down again.
She agreed to foster a bonded pair of kitten sisters desperately in need of some love and attention. And Izzy couldn’t be happier, Myers noted: “Now Izzy has two more kittens she’s loving on.”
Izzy proves a mother’s love knows no bounds — no matter the species.
This is an interesting tale. The last statement: “no matter the species.”, is almost certainly not true. But this dog has shown that this kitten is to be loved.
I’m not sure that a mother elephant would be able to raise a baby snake, for example, but it doesn’t take anything away from the story!
Not all heroes wear capes — but when it comes to helping animals in need, some really do.
That’s what one homeless pit bull named Koko learned when the Caped Crusader himself changed her life forever.
Koko arrived at the Pet Resource Center of Tampa as a stray. Day after day, she waited patiently for a family to choose her. But, before that day could come, she was put on the euthanasia list. With an hour left to live, Koko was pulled from the shelter by her foster mom and months later found a forever home in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
The only problem? She had no way of getting there.
Enter the Dark Knight — otherwise known as Chris Van Dorn, founder of the animal rescue nonprofit Batman4Paws.
An eight-hour road trip dressed in an elaborate Batman costume is all in a day’s work for Van Dorn. “I would say I’m just the middleman,” Van Dorn told The Dodo. “The real heroes are the people giving these dogs a good, loving home.”
Koko is one of many dogs and cats whom Van Dorn has helped transport from overcrowded shelters to the safety of their forever homes.
And while dressing as Batman isn’t necessary to save an animal’s life, it has helped Van Dorn open up a dialogue about the importance of adoption and fostering.
The costume just makes everybody happy and smile,” Van Dorn said. “It’s special to see Batman walking around, and when they find out that he’s doing a good deed in the world they get even more excited.”
“It kind of just came as a way to embody all the good I wanted to do in the world,” he added, “and make it easy for people to talk to me right off the bat.”
Van Dorn grew up watching the Batman animated series and began volunteering with animal rescues when his family adopted an Australian shepherd named Mr. Boots. When it came time for Van Dorn to start his own rescue organization, he decided to do it as Batman with, of course, Mr. Boots occasionally stepping in as Robin.
Every superhero has a secret identity, and for Van Dorn, wearing a mask was an intentional way of keeping the focus on his mission of saving animals.
“When I was first starting out, I was keeping everything really anonymous,” Van Dorn said. “I would sign everything ‘Bruce Wayne’ and not put my real name out there … My catchphrase is, ‘It’s not who I am underneath but what I do that defines me,’ and I still hold that true today.”
His cover was blown when GoFundMe honored his campaign, naming him as their GoFundMe Hero for May. Van Dorn hopes soon to put his private pilot’s license to good use by purchasing a plane so he can fly the animals to their forever homes every week.
But for the time being, he’s using his Batmobile, and making a difference whenever he can.
“Actions speak louder than words and I’m just doing my best to empty the cages,” Van Dorn said. “And I challenge anyone to go to their local shelter because it’s a depressing place, but if you can help out in any way — whether that’s to foster a dog or adopt a dog or just volunteer your time, then you should go out and do it.”
This is one amazing guy. Simple and straightforward!
We are home and settled in for the holiday week, but in some ways, I feel like I’m still in Tennessee. The pull is so strong. The stories down there break my heart but they also fire up my desire to fix this situation.
It is SO fixable. It does not need to be happening. There are more than enough of us to help the women struggling to help the dogs in western Tennessee. Once more, there are more than enough homes for those dogs, too.
From Kim Kavin’s excellent, well-researched book, The Dog Merchants:
“The notion that America’s homeless dogs face an ‘overpopulation problem’ does not match up against the available statistics. Supply is not exceeding demand. Americans want about 8 million dogs a year as new pets, while only about 4 million dogs are entering shelters….If just half the Americans already getting a dog went the shelter route, then statistically speaking, every cage in US animal control facilities could be emptied. Right now.”
And Tabi and Amber and Kim and Anne and Laura wouldn’t spend their every waking moment fighting to keep animals alive.
I’m not trying to guilt those of you who chose to buy your dog, particularly if you bought that dog from a reputable breeder and/or intend to show your dog. What I am saying is that if the next time you decide you’d like another pet (especially a cat), you’d consider looking at your local shelter or rescue.
And the next time a friend of yours or just an acquaintance tells you they adopted a dog from a shelter or rescue, thank that person for choosing to save a dog.
I’ve been home for five days now and already I’ve heard of more heartbreaking stories landing in the lap of both Karin’ 4 Kritters and Red Fern. Puppies abandoned and struggling, three dogs rescued by a woman who has them kenneled on her front porch to keep neighbors from poisoning them, dogs and puppies simply dumped. I can’t keep count of how many are in desperate need of rescue, so I asked for a summary from Laura (who handles transports from the area for OPH and many other rescues across our country).
The list here of calls for help in one day is:
– 3 pups dumped at Red Fern (that may go to Greenfield pound) – the picture of the ear with ticks is one of these puppies.
– 2 choc pups dumped in the country that they put at the city pound for now
– 2 pittie teens they’re being asked to take. (Crockett and Tyke)
– 3 strays in Sharon, TN that a lady caught because the neighbors were threatening to poison them because they’ve been running loose for months.
– pittie pup in Greenfield that the owner wants to surrender because it’s getting to be “too much”
– 2 three month old pups someone is asking her to take
– a 6 month injured beagle. The owner was going to “put it on the street” so her brother went and picked it up but he thinks it has a broken rib and it’s in pain and he doesn’t have money to treat it so he wants to dump it on Tabi.
That’s just in a day. Multiply that times all the little towns and counties all over western Tennessee that rely on rescues like Red Fern and Karin’ 4 Kritters and their minimalist dog pounds. Places where there is no safety net and dogs are suffering and dying daily. Places where there is no real, reasonable, low-cost access to spay/neuter. Places where dogs (and cats) are not valued or loved, and where their local government will not spend money because it’s ‘just a dog’ or ‘just a cat.’
We seem to have ‘solved’ the problem in the northeast and many metropolitan areas, but we are far from a solution in the rural south and Midwest. We cannot forget them.
The need is so real. Something has got to change. Someone has got to let these dogs out.
Thanks for reading and for caring.
If you’d like to help, page back through these posts for contact information, but if you’d really like to help, TELL someone. Spread the word – I remain convinced, that the problem is not that people don’t care, it’s that they don’t know. Please help us tell them.
Bear in mind that the above list is for One Day!
Is it true that people don’t know about this?
A team of veterinary researchers recently revealed a complete cure for metaldehyde toxicity in dogs; it’s called hemodialysis-hemoperfusion — a procedure used to remove kidney toxins from the blood
Metaldehyde is a chemical found in many snail and slug baits and is highly toxic to dogs, cats and wildlife; metaldehyde poisoning in dogs is common worldwide and about 25% of affected dogs don’t survive
A 10-pound dog can show signs of poisoning after eating as little as 1 ounce of a slug/snail bait containing 3% metaldehyde
Dogs who receive early, aggressive and appropriate supportive treatment for metaldehyde toxicity can fully recover within a few days, however, treatment is difficult and costly
Dogs explore the world with their noses and often, their mouths. In addition, most are indiscriminate eaters. This combination can lead to all sorts of challenges for dog parents — some funny, some gross, and unfortunately, some that are potentially deadly.
The latter category includes a long list of toxic substances found both indoors and out that most dogs will sniff and perhaps taste, given the chance. One of these poisons goes by a name many of you have probably never heard of: metaldehyde, a chemical used to kill slugs and snails.
Metaldehyde is highly toxic to mammals and birds and is the sixth most common substance veterinarians ask about when they call the 24-hour Veterinary Poisons Information Service, a worldwide emergency hotline. There is no known antidote for metaldehyde toxicosis, and supportive treatment is complicated and costly. Death occurs in approximately 25% of poisoning cases involving dogs.
Veterinary Research Team Uncovers a Complete Cure
Lucky for us, a team of veterinarians at the University of Munich became concerned about the number of poisonings and the prognosis for dogs with metaldehyde toxicity. They did some outside-the-box thinking and decided to see if a technique called hemodialysis-hemoperfusion — a procedure used to remove kidney toxins from the blood — might be an effective treatment.
The Morris Animal Foundation funded a grant that allowed the researchers to test their theory on plasma samples contaminated with metaldehyde. They were able to successfully reduce concentrations of the toxin in the samples, so the next step was to see if the technique would work on an actual dog.
Enter Jimbo, a Jack Russell Terrier who sampled slug bait containing metaldehyde. By the time he was brought to the university research team, Jimbo was having one seizure after another, without fully regaining consciousness. The team quickly performed hemodialysis on the dog, and within 24 hours he was back on his feet and on his way home.
As of this writing, the veterinary team has treated 10 dogs with their novel therapy and all 10 had a complete recovery. Their research findings will be published in the not-too-distant future for use by the global veterinary community.
Common Brands of Bait Sold in the US
As I mentioned earlier, metaldehyde is a chemical most commonly found in slug and snail baits. The baits usually come in granule form, but can also be found in liquid, powder, meal, gel/paste or pellet form. The baits are designed to release metaldehyde for about 10 days to two weeks under moderately moist conditions.
Bran or molasses is usually added to the baits to make them more attractive to snails and slugs, which also makes them appealing to dogs. Baits sold for home use in the U.S. generally contain between 2% and 5% metaldehyde. According to veterinarian Dr. Ahna G. Brutlag of the Pet Poison Helpline, the products most commonly reported to the hotline in this country include:1
Ortho Bug-Geta Snail & Slug Killer and Ortho Bug-Geta Plus Snail, Slug & Insect Killer
Corry’s Slug & Snail Death
RainTough Deadline Slug & Snail Killer
Force II Deadline Slug & Snail Killer
Lilly Miller Slug, Snail & Insect Killer Bait
Other U.S. brands include Antimilace, Cekumeta, Meta, Metason, OR-CAL, Slugger Snail & Slug Bait, Ortho Metaldehyde 4% Bait, Slug Pellets, Slugit Pellets and Slug-Tox. Surprisingly, in Europe, slug and snail baits can contain up to 50% metaldehyde. The chemical is also used in small heating systems (e.g., camping stoves) and lamps. The Japanese use metaldehyde in color flame tablets that are ignited for entertainment purposes.
Signs of Metaldehyde Toxicity
Dogs typically eat slug bait either off the ground or from a container. We don’t yet know how metaldehyde causes toxicity, only that it’s extremely deadly. A 10-pound dog can show signs of poisoning after eating as little as 1 ounce of a typical bait containing 3 metaldehyde.2 The chemical is also toxic to cats, though cases of poisoning are rare. It can also affect wildlife.
If your pet ingests bait containing metaldehyde, signs of toxicity will develop quickly, typically within the hour. The first sign is usually vomiting, because the toxin irritates the lining of the stomach. Next come neurologic signs, which can include anxiousness, increased heart and respiratory rates, excessive drooling, a stiff or drunken gait, and in some cases, hypersensitivity to touch.
As the toxicity progresses, there are muscle tremors that often trigger a high fever that can lead to organ failure. Nystagmus (rapid back-and-forth movement of the eyes) may also occur.
Symptoms of metaldehyde toxicity continue to progress for several hours after the bait is ingested, ultimately resulting in lethargy and weakness, continuous muscle tremors or seizures, loss of consciousness and death if the dog doesn’t receive aggressive, appropriate treatment in time.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Diagnosis of metaldehyde toxicity is most often based on clinical signs and suspected exposure to slug bait. It’s possible to test the stomach contents for the presence of metaldehyde, but the results won’t be back quickly enough to be of any benefit in saving the dog.
Veterinarians typically run a number of diagnostic tests (i.e., complete blood cell count, serum chemistry profile, urinalysis, etc.) to rule out other possible causes for a pet’s symptoms, as well as to find possible complications resulting from the poisoning that also require treatment.
Veterinarians will induce vomiting in dogs brought to them within an hour of ingesting metaldehyde who aren’t showing any neurologic signs. They’ll also be given activated charcoal to bind the metaldehyde still in the intestines, decreasing further absorption. If you can’t get your dog to a clinic within an hour, your veterinarian may instruct you to induce vomiting at home before leaving.
In dogs whose conditions aren’t stable enough to safely induce vomiting, the stomach can be emptied using gastric lavage, a procedure requiring anesthesia and a tube that is passed through the esophagus to the stomach. The tube is used to drain the contents of the stomach, flush it with fluids and place activated charcoal in there to bind whatever metaldehyde remains.
Dogs who undergo gastric lavage will need to stay in the hospital for several hours to receive additional doses of activated charcoal and be closely monitored for signs of toxicity. If signs develop, a longer hospitalization will be required. Supportive care while hospitalized can help keep your dog comfortable and deal with certain effects of the toxin such as tremors, seizures and blood abnormalities. Intravenous (IV) fluids will be given and your pet’s body temperature will be closely monitored.
Prognosis and Prevention
Most dogs with metaldehyde toxicity who receive early, aggressive, appropriate treatment recover fully within two to three days. However, treatment can be expensive, especially in severe cases requiring sedation or anesthesia. Since the cost of treatment can be prohibitive, and since metaldehyde poisoning isn’t something any loving pet parent wants their dog to endure, prevention should always be the goal.
My recommendation is to avoid using slug and snail baits containing metaldehyde and/or other toxic chemicals. If you want to protect your garden from the critters, consider using broken shells, lava rock or other alternatives to snail and slug bait.
Veterinarian Dr. Catherine Barnett of VCA Hospitals also suggests using copper bands around plants, or adding lavender, mint or rosemary plants to your garden. You can also fill shallow cans with beer to attract and drown slugs.3 You can find additional nontoxic solutions at this link.
It’s yet another reason why one should wherever possible keep the whole of one’s property clear of all chemical products. And try as hard as you can to stop your dogs and cats from ‘straying’ onto your neighbour’s land.