Losing a dog to poisoning is devastating, especially when it is wholly avoidable if slug pellets are used properly, says David Tomlinson

I can’t think of 
a worse way to lose a fit and healthy dog than through poisoning, 
as I was reminded by Lyn Monk at the Game Fair last month.

Slug pellets can be lethal for dogs

Her lagotto Romagnolo bitch ate slug pellets during a walk on farmland in Kent. There was apparently a small pile 
of the bright blue pellets at the side 
of the field — an accidental spillage. Lyn saw her dog eat the pellets, realised at once what had happened and rushed the animal straight to the vet. Despite the fact that the vet knew the type of pellet and followed the correct procedure for such treatment, the dog died 48 hours later.

Dog deaths due to slug pellets not uncommon

  • Official figures suggest that about 10 dogs a year are known to be killed by slug pellets
  • The real figure is probably much higher, as vets may well treat a dog displaying symptoms of metaldehyde poisoning — metaldehyde is the highly toxic poison used in most slug baits — but have no proof that this was the cause of the dog’s sickness.
  • In these cases, the cause of death is usually described as possible or probable.
  • About three per cent 
of a slug pellet is made 
up of metaldehyde.
  • The number of pellets 
a dog has to eat 
for the effect 
to be fatal varies, but as a general rule it is about 
100 milligrams 
for every kilogram 
of the dog’s weight.
  • For a spaniel that would be about a tablespoon of pellets.
  • There has long been concern about dogs and other mammals eating slug pellets, so the manufacturers are required to add denatonium benzoate, commonly known as Bitrex, a bitter-tasting substance, in a bid to make the pellets unpalatable to dogs and wildlife. However, dogs will often bolt food down before they have tasted it.

The law on slug pellets

  • All commercial users of slug 
pellets must have received adequate training and guidance in correct use.
  • Importance is given to avoiding any spills, such as placing 
a plastic sheet under the spreader when filling in the field.
  • Any spilt pellets must be cleaned up immediately, as the real danger to both dogs and wildlife is when there is a pile of pellets.

Farmers are also asked to erect warning signs if pellets have been spread near a public footpath, but that is not much help to those of us working gundogs. Nor is the advice I found from one National Farmers’ Union spokesman, who suggested that dogs should always 
be kept on leads while on farmland.

Protecting dogs

  • Always be aware of the possibility of encountering slug pellets while working or exercising dogs.
  • Slugs are a serious problem in crops like cereals, oilseed rape, potatoes, vegetables and sugar beet.
  • Slugs don’t like dry, sandy soils, but thrive in damp conditions, especially on clay.
  • Most farmers are reluctant to use pellets, but are more likely to do so after a spell of unusually wet weather.
  • You might not use pellets in your garden, but how about your neighbours’ gardens? Letting your dogs free in a friend’s garden is potentially dangerous.

And a final word on rat poison

Earlier this year a friend lost his 
much-loved working springer spaniel to suspected rat poisoning. The dog’s death remains a mystery as my friend declined to have a post-mortem, but the symptoms — collapse, vomiting blood and difficulty breathing — indicated strongly that poison was 
the cause of the dog’s illness. It was 
a reminder to me, as a dog owner, 
of the need always to be aware of 
the risks of poisoning.