Dear Oly ER,
Spring has sprung, and so has my garden! Unfortunately, the slugs and snails have been using my pretty greens as an all-you-can-eat buffet! I heard that slug bait can be bad for dogs. Is this true? What are the symptoms if my dog got into this stuff? What do you recommend I use instead?
-Slimed in Southbay
This is really a great time of the year to be outside working in your yard and garden with your pets… until you step on a slug! Slugs are a nuisance because of the walking obstacle, but slugs can also decimate a growing garden, leaving only a slime trail.
The first thing to keep in mind is that not all products are created equal, but all slug baits are toxic to slugs and should be considered potentially toxic to dogs and cats. The most common products contain “Metaldehyde” as the active ingredient. This is very toxic for domestic animals to ingest and they are usually quite drawn to it! The signs of toxicity may include panting, anxiety, salivation, tremors and seizures, and can usually be seen within 20 minutes of consumption. A 10-pound dog will be affected by ingestion of as little as 1 tsp of the product, and this can be fatal if not treated appropriately. “Pet Safe” slug bait usually contains iron phosphate as the active ingredient, which is also potentially toxic if enough is ingested. However, dogs do not tend to be drawn to it, and harm only comes after large doses. Any animal that ingests any slug bait should be evaluated medically as soon as possible.
I enjoy gardening quite a bit and I use the products that contain Iron Phosphate. I store it where my pets absolutely cannot access it, and I have taken great measures to prevent the dogs from slithering into the garden space where it is applied. Other less common methods to control slugs and snails include application of copper tape around planter boxes (repels slugs), keeping ducks (which eat slugs, but also eat garden plants), and placing shallow saucers with beer in the garden space (which dogs can also get into).
In closing, there are no completely safe and effective products. Use the safest product that is right for you (avoid “metaldehyde”), keep any product and securely apart from your pets, be familiar with the active ingredients and keep the package handy in case of accidental ingestion. Finally, keep the phone numbers of your local animal ER and your primary care practice close at hand, just in case, and call to get advice immediately after you suspect possible exposure. Let’s keep those green thumbs green and all pets away from slug baits. Happy gardening!
Blaire Burggren, DVM, Olympia Pet Emergency