When it comes to eating, dogs have twice as much desire and about half as much common sense as they need. This "oral fixation" gets them into a lot of trouble.
Perhaps your dog is in the backyard right now -- snooping around for something to taste. Of course, once he finds a delicious treasure, it's only a matter of seconds before he decides to eat it.
Snail bait poisoning and moldy walnut poisoning are very serious and life threatening. Both toxins cause similar clinical signs -- specifically, muscle twitching and tremors. This increased muscle activity often progresses to violent seizures. Seizures cause the body temperature to soar into the danger range (105?- 108?). Pets poisoned by high enough doses of snail bait or moldy walnuts may suffer brain damage or die.
Portions of last year's walnut crop are waiting to be unearthed by your dog. If you have a walnut tree nearby, you probably know it, because once dogs discover yummy walnuts, they can't wait to eat more of them.
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Over the winter, uneaten walnuts have been rained on and covered with dirt. Cool, moist conditions are necessary for walnuts to mold and become poisonous to dogs.
Moldy walnuts must not taste any different, because dogs don't mind eating them! Perhaps they're so excited to find a walnut that they're willing to overlook an "off" flavor? The walnut mold is not visible, so it is best to regard any walnuts from last year's crop as being potentially toxic. Walnuts shouldn't be part of your dog's normal menu anyway -- walnuts are very fattening for dogs, and cracking the shells causes many broken teeth.
The most popular active ingredient in snail bait is very unkind to dogs. It is called "metaldehyde," and you should be aware if it is in the snail bait that you use. Melaldehyde causes muscle twitching and tremors that can progress to seizures. This can happen within minutes of snail bait ingestion, or it can take up to a few hours.
If your dog has eaten a low dose of snail bait, he might just have a few strange muscle twitches. However, it doesn't take long for little muscle twitches to become big muscle twitches -- and convulsions.
After spreading snail bait, you should water it down, and then keep your dog out of the yard for a few hours. Make sure that the snail bait is spread evenly, and that there aren't clumps of poison waiting to be discovered.
If your dog starts twitching and tremoring, it is best to get him into the clinic as soon as possible. It is also helpful to know if your dog ate snail bait, or if moldy walnuts were on the menu.
Because these two poisons cause similar clinical problems, the treatment for them is also similar. In many cases, veterinarians place an IV catheter and give the pets IV fluids. This will help to reduce damage to the liver and kidneys.
Additionally, many pets are sedated with strong tranquilizers for hours to prevent the muscle twitching from becoming convulsions. If your vet can keep the body temperature from going up into the danger range, there's a good chance he or she can save your pet.
Dr. Jon Klingborg is a veterinarian at Valley Animal Hospital in Merced. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org