Dog's death shows unintended consequences of poison on Alberta farms
Health Canada considering ban on strychnine due to risk of harm to wildlife, pets
Cody Proud didn't think much of it when his puppy, Ruby, came upon a deer leg in the bushes while out walking on a friend's farm near Cochrane earlier this year.
But about half an hour later, it became apparent something was very wrong.
"We had gone back to town and stopped to grab a quick bite to go and when we came back to the truck she was on the floor, unresponsive, not breathing and totally seized," Proud told the Calgary Eyeopener on Friday.
The leg Ruby had come across had likely been laced with strychnine. The poison is used on some Alberta farms to control gopher and ground squirrel populations, but Health Canada is looking at banning the substance because of the potential to harm non-targeted animals. Public consultations are now underway.
Health Canada says it has received reports of poison leading to the deaths of a badger, a weasel, foxes, antelopes, dogs, deer, horses, a bear cub, mice, rats, moles and various birds, spokesperson Sindy Souffront told CBC News in an email.
"Health Canada conducts a 'causality assessment' of incident reports and these incidents ranged from 'possible' to 'highly probable' that strychnine was the cause of these deaths."
In Proud's case, the poison is the suspected culprit in the traumatic loss of a beloved pet.
After Ruby fell ill, Proud said he rushed her to the nearest veterinary hospital, where staff suspected strychnine poisoning. She was immediately sedated and put on five seizure medications overnight but by the next morning it was clear Ruby's chances of recovery were slim.
"They tried to lower one dose of one medication the next morning and the seizures came right back," Proud said. "There was no way to control them."
Ultimately, Proud made the difficult decision to put Ruby down.
"We had to. There was a very low possibility that she would even come out of it, and if she did, having any sort of brain function would be a low chance as well."
Although there is no test to confirm that Ruby consumed strychnine, Proud said vet staff noted her symptoms lined up with the effects of the poison.
Ruby's death shows how easily strychnine can be consumed by unintended targets, he said, adding his friends had no idea the leg was on their property.
"I can only believe that somebody in the area was trying to use that leg to kill coyotes and it was brought onto that land by either a coyote or a raven or a big bird of prey," he said.
Proud said that given the risk to pets and other wildlife, he supports a ban on the toxin.
"It's banned in a lot of other places and they have a lot of different means of controlling the ground squirrel population, so I think it's something that Alberta should move forward with."
According to Souffront, Health Canada "regularly reviews approved pesticides to make sure they continue to be safe for use. Following a re-evaluation of strychnine, Health Canada is proposing to cancel the use of strychnine to control ground squirrel populations to protect non-target animals, including species at risk, from strychnine-related poisonings."
Strychnine is currently authorized for use in Alberta by provincial officials to control large predators like coyotes, wolves and bears "when livestock and threatened wildlife populations, like caribou, have been killed or there is risk to people."
Farmers in Alberta and Saskatchewan may also use strychnine to control ground squirrels and northern pocket gophers, Souffront said. Alberta and Saskatchewan are the only provinces where the substance is not banned.
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With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.