Snail bait and the dangers it poses towards pets

20th Jul, 2021

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By Shea Cox DVM, CVPP, CHPV, May 2012, Updated April 2021 

Gardeners around the country use snail bait to keep plant-munching snails, slugs and their ilk out of gardens, forgetting that it’s really poisonous. It constitutes the most common poisoning agent in my community.

Unfortunately, this bait is extremely toxic when ingested by pets. During the spring and summer months, I treat pets poisoned by snail bait at least once a week.

The toxic substance found in snail bait is a compound called metaldehyde. Malicious poisoning is generally not the issue. The majority of metaldehyde toxicities are accidental, either due to lack of knowledge of its dangers or thinking that the compound has been properly stored or applied. Dogs are notorious for getting into things that they shouldn’t or into places you think they can’t!

Snail bait is formulated in chewable pellets that are flavoured with molasses, apple and bran to attract the snails. Unfortunately, our dogs find the bait a tasty treat as well. Snail bait is also available in liquid and powder formulations, which can get onto paws and be licked off with normal grooming. Additionally, many of these products also contain insecticides, which make the exposure potentially even more toxic.

Snail bait is highly toxic, and even small amounts are enough to cause poisoning in dogs: less than a teaspoon per 10 pounds (4.5kg) of body weight can cause life-threatening clinical signs in your pet. Snail bait can hurt dogs and can be fatal.

What are the symptoms of snail bait poisoning in dogs?

Signs of metaldehyde poisoning begin quickly after the bait is ingested. Generally, the first clinical signs observed are anxious behaviour with mild twitching. This progresses to uncontrollable and severe twitching, followed by seizures and possibly death if not treated promptly. 

Severe twitching equates to constant muscle contractions, and this can raise body temperature so high that permanent brain damage can result. This clinical course has led to the colloquial emergency room term of “shake and bake syndrome”.

Making the metaldehyde toxicity diagnosis

Generally, the appearance of the twitching patient is characteristic, and a diagnosis can be made even if there’s no known history of snail bait exposure. A radiograph may be recommended to try to evaluate stomach contents.

If this is a known exposure, remember to grab the package containing the snail bait so that your veterinarian can evaluate the active ingredients.

What is the treatment for snail bait toxicity?

There’s no direct antidote for snail bait toxicity. Treatment is aimed at controlling the clinical signs, and swift veterinary treatment is absolutely critical.

Treatment includes possible induction of vomiting, supportive care with IV fluids, medications to control the twitching or seizures, “stomach pumping” and enemas to help rid the body of the toxin, and charcoal to help absorb any substance that remains in the body.

At home, hose down your yard with water to dissolve any remaining bait and restrict your dog from the area for a two-week period.

Will my dog return to normal following toxicity?

Recovery is largely determined by how much poison was ingested, how quickly therapy was initiated, and the general health of your pet.

While this is a serious type of poisoning, most pets fully recover if treated promptly and properly. If your dog isn’t successfully treated for snail bait poisoning, death can occur within four to 12 hours.

I love my dog, but I also love my beautiful garden; what are alternative ways to keep snails at bay?

For the above reasons, I don’t use toxins for snail control in my yard. I try a more natural route and accept that some of my greenery will have “snail art” throughout the leaves. But I also realise that this approach isn’t for everyone. So, what are the options?

Wrapping self-adhesive copper barrier tape (available in many garden supply stores) around the rim of plant pots or containers deters slugs and snails with a tiny positive electric charge that’s given off by the tape.

One of my favourite alternatives is to purchase predatory snails known as Decollate Snails. These snails don’t pose a health hazard to pets, birds or other mammals, and they’ve been used in gardens and landscapes throughout the temperate regions of the United States for nearly 150 years. This famous predator snail comes out of the leaf mulch or soil at night and eats the eggs of slugs and snails as well as feeding on the young snails. The Decollate Snail can live for two years and lays a small number of eggs on a regular basis, so there should always be many new protectors in your garden.

You can also purchase various commercial snail traps. There are also many “home-made” snail trap options as well. For more information, watch this video  demonstration of how to control slugs organically, helping to protect your garden without fear of harming your pets.

As always, prevention is better than cure.

I hope this article has raised your awareness of the dangers of snail bait. If an accident does happen, it’s critical to seek veterinary attention immediately. If you suspect snail bait ingestion, please go directly to your veterinarian and do not waste time on home remedies – swift treatment can make the difference between life and death. Call them before you leave or while you’re driving there to explain what’s happened so that they expect you and can take your pet through to be examined right away.

Every minute counts!

Testimonial story…

Courtesy of

BEWARE – Snail bait can be lethal!

Shared with permission from Jo-Ellen Hannaway who had this terrible experience. It’s a heart-breaking story but perhaps, by sharing it, it will help to save lives.

With a heavy heart, I write this, as it’s very personal and we’re still very raw, but I feel the need to warn people and potentially save lives.”

Out of sight, out of mind
About two years ago, I was in the hardware store buying flowers and plants and I saw a packet called Snailban. I have many snails in the garden eating our flowers, so I bought two packets. Our gardener at the time then put the Snailban under the braai with my husband’s pool chemicals. Never again did I even think of it.

Last Friday, we went to Pietermaritzburg for a doctor’s appointment and stayed over with family that night. Our housekeeper, Lungi, fed our dogs and left at 4PM that Friday afternoon. As we were coming home the following morning, I told her that she needn’t come in on Saturday to feed them as we’d be there.

The recording was too unbearable to watch

To our utter shock, when we arrived home, five of our six dogs were dead, their bodies all over the garden and one floating in the swimming pool. At first, we thought we’d been burgled. Why else would our animals be dead? Someone must have done this! Poisoned them?

Then my husband found the empty Snailban packet on the veranda.

We have CCTV cameras at home, and when we watched the footage, we looked on in horror as our four-month-old inquisitive German Shepherd puppy went digging under the counter in the braai area and found this packet that we didn’t even know was still there. He shook it and it ripped, and then they all ate of it.

Only our Jack Russell Terrier, Yogi, kept barking at them, warning them not to do it… but they finished it all. From 4PM until 8PM, our babies suffered a long and terrible death; the recording of it was too unbearable to watch.

It tastes delicious

I’ve now read up on Snailban and found that it’s very, very poisonous. But not only that: it’s coated in molasses and tastes delicious to young children and animals. 

I have so many questions. If this product can kill five dogs in four hours, it’s extremely poisonous... how can this product be sold on a shelf and not at a co-op where you must sign for it and the dangers explained? What if it was a toddler? I fully acknowledge that the dangers are explained in small print on the back of the packet, but we hadn’t read it yet as it hadn’t been used, and not everyone will read the small print.

And how strong does a poison really need to be to kill snails? So strong that one small packet can kill five dogs?
I’m sharing our story as our hearts are broken and we hope that this will help other people. If you have that horrible stuff in your possession, make sure it’s locked away. I’ve since learned that there are many safe, natural ways to get rid of snails and will definitely go that route in the future.

In loving memory of…

Tinkerbell the Jack Russell Terrier, nine years old;

Paris, the German Shepherd dog, eight years old;

Mr Biggles the Toy Pomeranian, five years old;

Angel the Toy Pomeranian, four years old;

Duke the German Shepherd dog, just four months old.