At least six dogs have died as a result of poisoning in the past three months, according to local veterinarians.
Most of the dogs are believed to have ingested the poison in the South Sound area, but there have also been instances of poisoning in East End and Bodden Town.
‘We’ve seen in the last few months a number of dogs coming in with paraquat poisoning,’ said veterinary nurse Joanna Laws at the Island Veterinary Clinic.
She said the animals appeared to be suffering classic symptoms of paraquat poisoning – shortness of breath, laboured breathing, and an inability to eat.
Vets at the Cayman Islands Animal Hospital treated a dog called Bumble last week for what they suspect may have been a poisoning case, though they were unable to establish what kind of poison was used and say there was a possibility that the dog may have died from other underlying causes.
Bumble, a three-year-old dog who had been adopted from the Humane Society, died after undergoing treatment in intensive care for a week.
Vet Colin Manson, who treated the dog, said it was difficult to establish exactly what kind of poison she had ingested and toxicology tests were extremely expensive. ‘It’s not like in CSI where you take a test and get a result straightaway.
‘There are a range of different products that are potentially toxic, as well as toxic plants, that target different systems,’ he said, adding that unless an owner has seen the dog ingest a substance, the symptoms may not present until later, depending on what kind of toxin the animal has ingested.
Keep dogs on leads
Lana Watler of the Animal Clinic said owners should ensure their dogs are on a lead outside. ‘I’ve been here 13 or 14 years and we see this type of thing happen. It’s not an isolated event that happens. There are leash laws here and it’s for the best if people follow them.’
Paraquat is a herbicide commonly used by farmers and is imported for use on island by the Department of Agriculture under the brand name Gramocil. It is also imported by other private users.
Brian Crichlow, assistant director of the Department of Agriculture said Gramocil is deliberately formulated to contain an emetic, a chemical that induces vomiting if accidentally ingested. He said it also included chemicals referred to as stenches, which are designed to make the chemical smell and taste unappealing.
‘As an additional precaution the Department of Agriculture lists Gramocil as a restricted use pesticide and only sells the product to bona fide farmers. This is done so as to reduce the chances of misuse or abuse of the product,’ Mr. Crichlow said.
Misuse or abuse
He added that evidence showed that where paraquat poisonings had occurred, they appeared to be the result of either deliberate misuse or abuse of the product or accidental poisoning.
‘Used correctly paraquat remains a safe and effective tool in the arsenal of the farmer for the control of weeds in crop production,’ he said.
‘Paraquat is a contact herbicide with very little residual effect as it breaks down rapidly on contact with soil and as such poses far less risk to the environment than many other longer lasting herbicides, especially in areas like Cayman with high water tables.’
The Recreation, Parks and Cemeteries Unit stopped using paraquat after the unit’s manager, Jonathan Jackson, blacked out after inadvertently inhaling it a year and a half ago.
He said a member of staff had been spraying an old batch of the weed killer and when he visited the site and inhaled the paraquat, he lost consciousness because he had a high sensitivity to chemicals.
Since that incident, Mr. Jackson banned the use of the weed killer and now the unit uses another herbicide called Roundup in cemeteries, but not in parks or on roadsides.
‘We certainly don’t want any kids being involved with any spraying we may put down. We don’t want any adults inhaling it either, especially in cemeteries, where there are a lot of visits,’ he said.
He added that he suspected that if dogs were being poisoned by paraquat that it may be being done deliberately.
Ms Laws also queried whether the poisonings could be malicious. ‘It could be from eating grass that’s been treated with paraquat, or it could be intentional. Somebody could be putting it in some meat and the dogs are wandering around and eating it. We don’t know. It could be malicious or not,’ Ms Laws said.
She said the only way to test if a dog had been poisoned by paraquat is to do a blood test as the poison could pass through the dog’s digestive system in 30 minutes.
She said the last dog seen in the clinic that had died of poisoning was a few weeks ago and the owner did not want a blood test done.
Paraquat poisoning is always fatal and there is no treatment, even if the dog is brought to a vet immediately. The speed at which the dog dies is determined by how much it has ingested.
In May, two dogs that appeared to have been poisoned by paraquat were left at the front door of the Humane Society.
President of the Humane Society Carolyn Parker warned owners to keep their dogs indoors. ‘If they’re inside, you know what they’re eating. It’s that simple,’ she said.