It is spring in California, and people are starting their gardens. Gardens have a way of attracting unwanted guests. Snails and slugs rank high on the list of pests that most gardeners would be happy never to see.
Many people therefore purchase innocuous looking boxes of snail and slug bait. The boxes contain seemingly innocent granules containing an ingredient called metaldehyde. The granules can be placed in gardens to keep them snail- and slug-free.
But those granules are far from innocent. The other day at the emergency hospital a client brought a box of snail bait for me to evaluate. She also brought her Labrador Retriever, who was suffering from massive seizures after consuming a small portion of the box’s contents.
The side panel of the box contained a warning, about a third of the way down, in print that was almost too small to read: “May cause fatal reactions if consumed by dogs.”
May?!! If I had my way, boxes of snail bait containing metaldehyde would be imprinted with a giant skull and crossbones. The warning would be printed in bold all caps, would take up half of the box, and would read something like this:
THIS PRODUCT CONTAINS METALDEHYDE, A POTENT NERVE POISON. DOGS THAT CONSUME THIS PRODUCT WILL DIE HORRIFIC DEATHS UNLESS THEY RECEIVE RAPID VETERINARY ATTENTION. THIS PRODUCT IS FORMULATED TO BE PALATABLE TO DOGS.
The client who brought the dog and the snail bait to the emergency hospital had purchased the product not knowing that it could be toxic to her dog. She felt horribly guilty that her beloved pet, after six hours of intensive treatment, still was at risk of death.
But it wasn’t her fault. Nobody could be expected to find and read the measly warning printed on that box.
When I was a child, my father would put saucers of beer in the garden. Slugs and snails crawled in and drowned (after, I assume, getting too drunk to navigate their way out). The strawberries thrived, and no non-molluscs were harmed.
But if push came to shove, I’d let the snails have their way with my garden before I’d ever think about purchasing snail bait made with metaldehyde.