Not so pet-friendly snail pellets…

Chloes’ owner came home from work one day to find, to her horror, Chloe sitting with a torn up box of iron-based snail pellets. Chloe, a young kelpie cross, thought it was her lucky day when she found the box of yummy, rusty red pellets had been left outside following some gardening the previous day. There were very few pellets left and so her owner rushed her to her vet who referred her to the AEC.

Iron-based snail pellets contain potentially lethal amounts of iron and unfortunately they are marketed as being “pet friendly”. The manufacturer can label the product in this way because it is not toxic if eaten in small amounts, such as those found scattered on the garden. This is in contrast to the more traditional green or blue snail pellets that contain a very potent toxin that affects the nerves. Eating the green or blue pellets causes a rapid onset of drooling and tremors even when eaten in small amounts.

Unfortunately for Chloe, she had eaten at least half a box of the iron-containing pellets. Iron toxicity causes widespread damage throughout the body via a process called oxidation. Symptoms can include vomiting and diarrhoea which can seem to go away after 12-24hrs, then return with a vengeance a day or so later. Unfortunately by this stage, liver or heart damage is often inevitable and together with shock and gastrointestinal bleeding, can cause death. Given the quantity that Chloe has eaten, she was at risk of going into multiple organ failure and dying if she did not receive treatment.

Chloe was admitted to hospital to rapidly remove as many of the pellets from her stomach and intestinal tract as possible. Procedures to remove the toxin from the body are always the mainstay of treatment of toxins. Her tummy was washed out under anaesthetic, as was her colon. We then had to deal with any toxin that was already absorbed into the system. Chloe was placed onto an intravenous infusion of desferrioxamine. Desferrioxamine is an agent that binds the excess iron in the system so it can be safely excreted from the body.

A blood sample collected when Chloe was admitted was sent to an external pathology lab to measure her iron level. This confirmed that Chloe had dangerously high iron levels circulating in her blood. A second blood sample collected the day she went home showed that her iron level had been reduced to a safe level with the combination of washing the toxin out of the system and binding any absorbed toxin with desferrioxamine. Thanks to Chloe’s owner’s quick thinking and her prompt treatment, she went home after 24 hours with no long-term ill effects.

All forms of snail pellets are best avoided in households that contain pets. It is also useful to know that human iron supplements contain potentially toxic levels of iron for dogs if eaten in large quantities. These tablets are often sugar-coated and thus attractive to dogs.

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