We may not always notice a snail or slug slowly crawling through yards and gardens, until you find a telltale slime trail going up a wooden fence, across a sidewalk, on the side of your house, or in your garden. Snails and slugs live and hunt under the cover of darkness. They can be found in moist dark areas like under logs, rocks, flower pots, in leaves or mulch, or in crevices. Snails and slugs aren’t poisonous to pets, but they do present other kinds of dangers for dogs that can be harmful to them. When a dog sees something crawling on the ground that piques his interest, investigating it with his mouth is a natural reaction. Sometimes it seems like the grosser it is to us, the more likely a dog will grab it in his mouth. These slimy creatures may pass by us unnoticed, but dogs are much more observant than we are.
Snails and slugs, which are essentially snails without a visible shell, belong to a class of mollusks called Gastropoda. Slugs do have shells, but they are so small it’s either on the end of the tail or internal. These mollusks are found on land, in the sea, and in freshwater environments, and have been around for millions of years. You can find land snails and slugs worldwide, except in Antarctica. They live in deserts, woodlands, marshes, around ponds, in the tropics, at sea level, and on mountaintops. Gardeners consider these mucus covered creatures as pest, but they are actually beneficial to other animals, birds, reptiles, and insects that use them as a food source. Snails and slugs eat pretty much anything, including decaying plants and animals, fungi, algae, and plants. Usually active at night during periods of high humidity or after a rain, you can find them out during the day searching for food when it’s raining.
In the United States and Canada there’s around 1,000 different species of land slugs, including some that jump, and around 500 land snail species. Both snails and slugs leave a shiny silvery colored slime trail wherever they go, which is easy to see at night when you shine a flashlight on it. The slime is a lubricating mucus secreted from a gland at the front part of their foot. It helps keep their body moist, reduces friction and makes it easier for them to crawl over any type of terrain without injuring their soft body, including sharp objects. The mucus produces a suction that allows them to hold on to things even when they are upside down. It insulates them, and helps to keep dirt and germs away from their body.
Neither snails or slugs are toxic to dogs, but ingested snail shells can cause an upset stomach. The real danger is when a dog or cat eats a snail or slug that’s consumed poisoned bait, or finds where the poison is at and eats it. Metaldehyde is a common active ingredient in commercial slug and snail bait. It can also be found in some fly baits, and is sometimes used in fuel for camp stoves. When used as bait, it comes in pellets, liquids, powders, and granules. Not only is this active ingredient extremely toxic to dogs, it’s poisonous to any animal that ingests just a small amount of it. Dogs are more apt to eat it than cats, but felines have also been poisoned after consuming bait. To attract snails and slugs to the bait, bran or molasses is added to it, which also attracts dogs, cats, and other animals.
Symptoms of metaldehyde poisoning will begin to show within one to four hours after ingestion and includes: vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, twitching, tremors, seizures, panting, agitation, very high body temperature (hyperthermia), and rapid heart rate. If you think your dog or cat ate snail or slug bait, don’t wait for symptoms to show, seek professional help immediately. The sooner treatment begins the more likely a pet will recover. Recovery will depend on a dog’s general health, how much poison he ate, and how quickly treatment is administered. Left untreated a pet that ingested metaldehyde will suffer respiratory and liver failure.
Lungworm is a worm dogs can get from eating snails or slugs that are carrying eggs or infected after having contact with a slime trail. This parasite is more common in European countries, but cases have been reported in Canada and the United States. Coughing, difficulty in breathing, bronchitis, or other respiratory issues can be caused by lungworms. Symptoms include: coughing, rapid and heavy breathing, easily tired, collapse, weight loss, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, blood clotting problems, bleeding in the eye or nose, hematoma, excessive bleeding from small cuts, depression, paralysis, seizures, pain along the spine, staggering, and loss of vision. Left untreated, death will occur.
Never assume your pet is safe just because you don’t put out snail or slug bait. If one of your neighbors use commercial bait your dog or cat is still at risk of finding some and consuming some of it, or eating a snail or slug that ate poison. There are safer natural ways of dealing with an infestation of snails or slugs.
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