Strychnine is the most usual poison as it is readily available. Dog owners should try to take precautions to lessen the risk to their pets.
The common vehicle for the poison is some form of meat, usually cooked and cut into small pieces. Sausages and chicken carcasses have been used also in the past.
Where possible the dog should be confined at night and before letting it out in the morning inspect the property for the presence of any unusual food substances or parcels which may contain meat. If any are found collect them and inform the police.
Symptoms of strychnine poisoning appear rapidly after the dog has eaten the poison. Depending upon the fullness of the stomach, the first signs can be detected from 30 minutes to one hour after swallowing it.
At first the dog appears restless, apprehensive and might walk stiffly. If handled, the muscles of its neck and abdomen are very tense. Soon violent muscular spasms occur, which cause the dog to extend its legs rigidly and arch its neck.
It tends to fall on its side during these episodes and while affected by violent contractions, it will stop breathing and its pupils will dilate. Loud noises, bright lights or handling of the dog stimulate further seizures.
The intervals between the episodes of muscular contractions become shorter and shorter. Eventually the heart and respiration are completely depressed and death follows while the animal is in a prolonged spasm.
Treatment of strychnine poisoning is usually successful, but is dependent on getting the dog to a veterinarian before the heart and respiration are irreversibly affected.
First-aid treatment should be aimed at keeping the dog as quiet as possible. Any attempt to make it vomit by forcing emetics into its mouth will only trigger more violent spasms.
The dog’s ability to swallow is impaired, so liquids are liable to find their way into the air passages. The dog should be handled very gently and be as quiet and calm as possible.
Ring your veterinarian to make sure he is able to see the dog, as rushing to the premises unannounced only to find he is away will only waste valuable time.
Veterinary treatment consists of giving an intravenous injection to counteract the muscle spasms. When these are under control, measures are taken to eliminate the poison from the stomach. The dog is then hospitalized so that more anti-convulsive drugs can be given should muscle spasms recur.
A less acute, but nevertheless serious, form of poisoning occurs when dogs eat snail baits containing Metaldehyde. “Defender” in pellet and powder form contains this poison. Muscle tremors leading to severe spasms and convulsions occur when much of the poison has been absorbed.
This form of poisoning is very common at this time of the year. Inquisitive puppies readily pick up the brightly colored green baits if left alone in the garden.
Quite often old dogs that have never previously shown any interest in the baits will suddenly let curiosity get the better of them and become poisoned.
It is wise to confine the animal inside when distributing the snail killer and do not concentrate it in piles but spread it evenly according to the manufacturers directions.
The treatment of Metaldehyde poisoning is very similar to strychnine poisoning and can only be carried out by a veterinarian.