On Friday evening our glorious, vibrant two year-old Airedale terrier Vita nearly died from eating the poison metaldehyde found in slug pellets.
She came into the kitchen as we were having supper and I noticed that her back legs were beginning to tremble. Within ten minutes she was thrashing on the floor. As I struggled to find a local vet who would come out Tod was yelling “come on, she’s dying”. I drove, breaking speed limits, as he held her in his arms while her legs kicked so hard her claws tore through the fabric on the back seat of the car. She was burning hot, her tongue lolled from her mouth, she gasped and panted and she poured saliva. Tod begged her to fight it and stay with us.
We sat in the car park at the vets waiting for him to arrive, terrified that every minute that passed increased the likelihood that she would die. She lay thrashing on the surgery floor as the vet calmly pumped her with anaesthetic – the only way to stop the seizures that were racking her body. He explained that her brain would go on firing but that with the anaesthetic her muscles would not respond. He also gave her a diuretic to push the poison out of her body as fast as possible. That night she stayed at the vets on a drip
Saturday we brought her home. Our strong, energetic dog could hardly move. She lay in her own urine, gasping for water, hardly able to raise her head to the bowl, her confused eyes half-closed. Her faeces were runny and black – a sign that they contained blood. I slept that night in the kitchen with her, every two hours giving her water to help rehydrate her and get the poison out. Sunday she was a little better, but still barely able to move, constantly soaking her bedding and turning her head away as we tried to persuade her to eat. We kept the washing machine running all day as we changed her towels, trying to keep her dry and comfortable.
Yesterday, at dawn, she was so weak I thought we were going to lose her. Then Tod carried her out onto the lawn and I watched in amazement as her tail went up and her nose went down. We applauded as she did her first wee standing upright and, like Bambi, front legs splayed, back legs bent and rickety, she made her first wobbly tentative steps. Breakfast was joyous as she wolfed down a small portion of chicken and vegetables.
She is still weak and her legs are everywhere. Short distances leave her panting and she's inclined to sit down abruptly. But she’s alive! And getting stronger. This evening she positively ran a few steps as Tod let her out in the dark before supper and he had to grab a torch to go after her - such joy!
We will have blood tests done in a couple of weeks to see what (if any) long-term damage has been done to her liver and kidneys and she will be supported in every way possible to help her heal.
We were fortunate. Metaldehyde / slug pellet poisoning can leave a dog blind. Her bright eyes watch us from where she lays on her mat in the kitchen. If it had been strychnine / mole poison or warfarin / rat poison, she would now be dead. If she had not come to us immediately and had instead lain down outside, she could have died. Metaldehyde kills in four hours from ingestion.
We have been naïve and careless. We are totally organic and have no poisons around our house or garden, but we let her roam. She is the best of terriers and (for a terrier) remarkably obedient. She comes when she’s called so she is not fenced in. She strays into our neighbouring farmers’ fields hunting small rodents.
On Thursday in the field next to us our neighbour had a hopper behind a tractor as he trundled backwards and forwards over the young green shoots of his winter wheat. On Friday about six in the evening I saw Vita on the edge of his field doing what terriers do best, digging, and thought nothing of it. By eight in the evening she was dying. I had assumed the hopper contained fertiliser, in fact it was pesticide to kill the slugs.
We have learnt the hard way. We will now fence her in and will have her on a lead as we cross our neighbours’ fields to protect her from poison so powerful that it takes no more than a mouthful to bring a young, active dog to death’s door. A poison that is being spread now (and every spring) across fields filled with the young seedlings of food that we, in turn, will eat.
It has been a hard and bitter lesson - but we also have the joy of a dog who is still alive.