Vet warns pet owners as baiting tragedies increase

Heartbreak: Best mates Max and Millie were on holiday in the Margaret River region when a walk through the forest led to tragedy.
Heartbreak: Best mates Max and Millie were on holiday in the Margaret River region when a walk through the forest led to tragedy.

In January of this year, Margaret River veterinarian Amy Forsythe received an early morning phone call from the panicked owners of two dogs visiting from Perth.

"Max, a young male chocolate Labrador, had who started running around in a panic fit and started to convulse at 3:30am," Dr Forsythe told the Mail.

Max is believed to have ingested a toxic 1080 poison bait, also known as sodium fluoroacetate, which are laid in the Leeuwin Naturaliste national park to protect native species from the threat of foxes.

Pet owners have a legal responsibility to ensure their dogs are securely confined at all times... Obviously accidents happen and dogs sometimes escape their properties, but my message to dog owners would be that ensuring your pets are safe and secure on your property is the best way of protecting them from any risk, including the risk from1080 baits.

Sharon McTaggart, AMR Shire

"The owners were tourists from Perth and were staying only eight minutes out of town, but unfortunately Max passed away on the journey.

"Luckily, they had also brought Millie, their young yellow lab to the clinic who after five minutes of being there started showing the same signs of toxicity - general unawareness, vocalisation and started to seizure.

"We kept Millie under a general anaesthesia for 12 hours, performed a gastric and colonic lavage (pumped her stomach), and a myriad of medications until she was stable enough to return home for further supportive care."

Many native animals have developed a high degree of tolerance to 1080 while foxes, and domestic dogs and cats are very sensitive to the poison.

While Millie is now doing very well and has not sustained any long term injury, Dr Forsythe said she had seen an increased number of largely avoidable fatal 1080 poisonings in the community.

"Of about six cases this year only two have survived and those are the ones that have been called us and not just woken up to a deceased family pet," she said.

"It's an issue for pet dogs and tourists visiting the region and those that live within the community.

"It's a misconception that the baits will always have instant and acute symptoms - most signs start 6-12 hours after ingestion and are rapidly progressive from there.

"The dogs will act oddly, be unaware of normal surroundings or their owner, start vocalising, have erratic running fits then progress to seizure activity and death.

"The size of the dog does not make a difference - ingestion of 1080 is always a lethal dose."

In the case of Max and Millie, the pair had been walked on leads through a section of the Boranup Forest earlier in the day and their owners had not seen them eat anything on the way.

In a sad twist, Dr Forsythe's dog had enjoyed a play at the beach with Max and Millie the morning before they were taken ill.

"Both were such healthy, fit and lovely dogs," she said.

"The story highlights that it doesn't matter if the dogs are on lead, it doesn't always reduce the risk.

"I'm not sure if it was lack of awareness of the area being baited for these clients, simply not seeing the signs.

"Others I fear have a mentality of 'it won't happen to me'.

"Most dogs I have personally seen have been walked through this part of the region but I'm sure it's also an issue on private properties where baits are laid.

"If you absolutely must walk dogs in a 1080 known area or if unknown then a breathable basket muzzle should be worn.

"However, most areas baited are national parks and pets aren't permitted regardless."

Sharon McTaggart, Coordinator Ranger Services at the Augusta Margaret River Shire, said the best way to protect pets was to keep them secured on properties.

"Dogs should not be able to wander from their properties and pet owners have a legal responsibility to ensure their dogs are securely confined at all times, unless they are in a designated exercise area," Ms McTaggart said.

"Obviously accidents happen and dogs sometimes escape their properties, but my message to dog owners would be that ensuring your pets are safe and secure on your property is the best way of protecting them from any risk, including the risk from1080 baits."

The Shire does not lay baits in the region, however trained landholders can purchase bait products containing 1080 after they have obtained baiting approval from an authorised officer of the Department of Agriculture Food, Western Australia (DAFWA).

Dr Forsythe said in cases like Max and Millie's, it was essential to get animals suspected of being poisoned to a vet immediately, even without symptoms.

"If someone suspects that their dog has ingested 1080 but is still clinically well - a veterinary consult is advisable to induce vomiting and discuss potential outcomes.

"The key difference in survivable clinical cases seems to be how quickly therapy can be administered once signs are apparent. Bundle the dog into a car as safely as possible - it isn't easy, use a big blanket to protect yourself - and call the on-call vet on the way."

This story Vet warns pet owners as baiting tragedies increase first appeared on Augusta-Margaret River Mail.