At least 12 dogs have been poisoned in the past month on Grand Cayman, and it is believed one of the culprits is the weed killer paraquat.
Island Veterinary Services reports this number of cases, but there are additional cases out there, said Veterinary Technician at the Walker’s Road vet’s office, Joanna Parrish.
The areas in which the poisonings seem to be most prevalent are Windsor Park and Beach Bay in West Bay.
Pet owners are being urged not to let their animals roam outside of their own yards.
‘The majority of these cases are turning out to be from weed killer paraquat,’ explained Ms Parrish.
‘It’s very nasty. It attacks the liver and kidneys and most of the dogs come in here totally collapsed, and can’t even breathe.
‘It’s a horrible death for the dog and the majority don’t survive it. Their blood doesn’t clot and they bleed out their mouths and nose and have diarrhoea,’ she explained.
High toxicity and lack of an antidote have seen paraquat banned in many countries.
‘We really would like to ban this awful substance,’ said Ms Parrish.
There have been previous calls to ban this substance in Cayman.
The Department of Agriculture, as the main supplier of pesticides to the sector, has taken measures internally to minimize the potential for the abuse of this product. This was explained in a response to The Caymanian Compass on the status of the chemical in the Cayman Islands.
‘The Department does not import or sell Gramoxone, the most common and abused form of paraquat. Instead the Department imports Gramocil, which includes paraquat in its active ingredients but which also has an emetic substance added which induces vomiting if the product is accidentally swallowed. In addition the product contains other ingredients designed to make the smell and taste as repulsive as possible.
‘Gramocil is on the Department’s restricted product list and is only sold to registered farmers who have received the appropriate training in the Safe Use and Handling of Pesticides.
‘All farmers purchasing Gramocil must be on an approved list and must sign the restricted pesticide register before receiving the product.’
Animals need to ingest the substance to suffer from poisoning. They may ingest it directly or indirectly. For instance, they may eat the dead carcass of an animal that has already died from paraquat poisoning and become poisoned this way, explained Ms Parrish.
It has not been established whether any of these recent poisoning cases have been intentional. However, Ms Sally Young, Veterinary Assistant at Island Vet believes some of the cases were deliberate.
‘These poisonings have happened all of a sudden so that leads me to believe they’re deliberate,’ she said.
The response from the Department of Agriculture says, ‘It is always extremely regrettable when an animal is poisoned, especially when, in nearly all previous cases, this has been the result of a deliberate act of some individual or individuals. The abuse of legitimate agricultural chemicals for this purpose is equally disconcerting as it negatively affects the public perception of the agricultural sector and farmers who work hard to put quality food on our tables.’
But as Dr. Brenda Bush from Island Veterinary Services pointed out, it may also be that people’s fences are still down since the hurricane and their dogs are wandering onto other people’s property.
However, not all cases of recent poisoning have been from paraquat.
‘We have had some other cases of poison: dogs coming in with caustic burns on their tongues and different symptoms to that of paraquat poisoning,’ said Ms Parrish.
The DoA points out that in the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan there could be any number of household or industrial products, for example coolant from vehicle radiators, scattered in the environment, which could, if eaten, accidentally poison a dog or cat.
‘At this time pet owners must exercise particular caution with their pets and try at all times to prevent them from roaming outside of their own yards.’
The DoA goes on to say that it has and continues to work diligently to combat the abuse of agricultural chemicals through both education and regulation. In the area of education, the Department routinely conducts training courses on the Safe Use and Handling of Pesticides for persons in the agriculture, horticulture, nursery and landscaping sectors. These courses are targeted at the end users of these products and emphasise not only the safe use of these products but also dangers of misuse and the importance of correct product selection and application methods to achieve the best results with minimum environmental impact.
Paraquat still remains an economical and effective tool for farmers and when used as intended, there is less potential environmental impact than most available alternatives, says DoA.
‘The key is to eliminate the abuse of these products rather than the products themselves. A key part of this also lies with pet owners who must take responsibility for controlling their pets and preventing the all-too common situation where these pets become such a nuisance to their neighbours that they take the unfortunate and incorrect decision to take matters into their own hands rather than referring them to the appropriate authorities.’