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23 July 1998
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry is reminding animal owners to heed warnings about aerial drops of 1080 and other poisons to prevent the accidental deaths of dogs and livestock.
In many parts of New Zealand, the drive to reduce possum numbers is underway, using poisons such as 1080. Warning notices are posted around most poisoning operations and warnings of aerial drops are published in the Public Notices column of local newspapers.
"Possum control is a vital part of tuberculosis control. It has to be done," Marjorie Orr of MAF Quality Management’s Animal Welfare Services Group said. "The amount of TB in cattle and deer will be reduced as a result, and native forest areas will benefit too.
"Operators must be licensed to use 1080, and they make every effort to keep accidental deaths to a minimum. This includes publishing the intention to lay poison and posting notices around the area to be poisoned giving the dates of the operation and the poison used."
Dr Orr said 1080 is generally mixed with bait such as carrot or cereal to attract possums or rabbits. Unfortunately the bait may also be eaten by dogs and livestock, and dogs may be secondarily poisoned by scavenging poisoned carcases. Accidental deaths can be avoided if domestic animal owners understand the risks and take sensible precautions.
"Although 1080 usually disappears within a few weeks as the bait and the poisoned carcases decompose, it is best to keep dogs and stock away from poisoned land for at least 8 to 10 weeks, " Dr Orr said. "However, in very dry or very cold weather there is a risk that 1080 will persist for longer in the stomach and intestine of dried up carcases."
Dr Orr said there was a case on record in which a dog in a very dry area died of 1080 poisoning 5 months after the poison operation. "For this reason, dog access to poisoned land should be delayed beyond 10 weeks, until such time as at least 10 cm rain has fallen, to ensure complete disintegration of carcases and breakdown of the poison." Muzzling dogs and feeding them before going near poisoned land and keeping them under observation can also reduce the risk of scavenging, she said.
"Cases of accidental 1080 poisoning of dogs are not uncommon, although cattle and sheep poisonings are unusual. The dog cases generally occur when dogs have strayed onto poisoned land or when owners have taken dogs into poisoned areas without heeding the warnings. Stock deaths occur when air drops have accidentally fallen on pasture or when stock are allowed access to paddocks adjacent to poisoned blocks.
"Generally the signs of 1080 poisoning do not develop for at least half an hour, and sometimes several hours, after ingestion. So, if an owner suspects that a dog has eaten poison or a poisoned carcase, it is important not to wait to see if signs develop, but to make the dog vomit right away."
Ideally, she said, this meant immediate treatment by a vet or giving it an emetic capsule to make it vomit (available from some pest control agencies), but if this was not possible there were various home-made treatments which can be given to cause vomiting. "These include drenching with a very concentrated solution of household salt in warm water, or giving a walnut-sized crystal of washing soda coated in butter.
"Veterinarians say that when dogs have been poisoned by 1080, they usually become frenzied or behave as if terrified in the minutes or hours before death, which can be very distressing for everyone involved. 1080 is relatively more poisonous for dogs than for other species, being ten times more toxic for dogs than for rabbits. Unless the dog can be made to vomit before the poison is absorbed from its stomach, 1080 poisoning is invariably fatal."
Most Regional Councils will provide information leaflets on request about poisoning operations, and information about specific operations can be obtained from the approved operator involved. Muzzles can be purchased at various outlets including veterinary clinics, and the open wire types which allow dogs to pant are best.
Dr Marjorie Orr, Invermay Animal Health Laboratory
Ph: 03 489 3809 Fax: 03 489 7988