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Organophosphate insecticides, warfarin (rat poison) and ground glass have all been used, usually mixed with strong tasting foods such as minced meat, sausages and raw meat. All poisons are incredibly painful to the animals that ingest them: fortunately there are antidotes to organophosphates and warfarin (if discovered in time) but nothing can be done for an animal that has ingested ground glass – other than to put the animal down to alleviate the agony of having its gut ripped apart. Even more worrying is the use of strychnine – a substance which should not be on sale anywhere for any reason. There are no antidotes, although in theory the immediate administration of glycine might work – an agonizing death occurs within 20 minutes, with the animal convulsing repeatedly. In an ideal world, an animal thought to have been poisoned should be taken straight to a vet – however, as there is no vet here, we have to provide our own first aid.

Symptoms of poisoning & treatment

  1. Organophosphates: salivating, running eyes, diarrhoea, papillary constriction, muscle twitching, asthmatic breathing, trembling, convulsion, coma. On finding an animal exhibiting any of these symptoms, the first thing to do would be to give an emetic such as a saline solution or baking soda dissolved in lukewarm water (30 – 60 ml). After inducing vomiting, activated charcoal tablets will delay the absorption of poison from the gut. However, an emetic should not be given to an animals showing signs of trembling, staggering or collapsing – administration may cause inhalation pneumonia. Atropine should then be administered either i.v., i.m. or sub cut (in descending order of speed of action). This is available in 1ml vials – 1ml for cats or small dogs, 2 – 3 ml for larger animals.
  2. Warfarin: this damages the vitamin K-dependent blood clotting mechanism. Sometimes there will be no signs or symptoms for 2 – 3 days. Then, red or purple patches appear on the body or gums, denoting internal bleeding. The gums and mucous membranes appear very pale. The animal may haemorrhage from any or all of the body’s orifices as well as internally. Vitamin K (Konakion) should be given to help clot the blood: 5 – 20 mg depending on the size and weight of the animal, with treatment continuing for some days after the initial dose.

An animal poisoned with insecticide and ground glass is very sensitive to light and noise. However, before determining which poison has been used, it is advisable to keep any animal covered and as quiet as possible.

If the animal has died, take action!

Greek Law # 1197 (1981) states “ whoever kills, harasses or ill-treats animals covered by the present legislation, or abandons them, is punishable by article 8 of the penal code.

Greek Law # 2017 (1992) states “no-one should subject an animal to pointless pain, suffering or distress. No-one should abandon a pet.

The implementation of these laws lies with the Ministry of the Interior (i.e. the municipalities) and the Public Order Ministry (i.e. the police). Any incidences of poisoning should therefore be reported to the police and the mayor’s office. It is not necessary to know who the poisoner is, a report should be filed against unknown persons: insist that the report is put in the log book!

If it is known who the poisoner is, they can be prosecuted but it is necessary to supply the following: a) a statement from a witness; b) the name and address of the poisoner; c) a toxicology report of the cause of death (from an officially recognized laboratory). In practice on Alonnisos, every single report of poisoning to the police has been ignored! If you see someone putting down poisoned food try to find an independent witness to corroborate what you have seen. Gather the poisoned food and arrange for it to be sent for toxicology. The incident should be reported within 24 hours and the case can, in theory, go before a prosecutor within 48 hours.

How to avoid animals being poisoned

· Neuter the neighbourhood strays to avoid new victims being born
· Try to find homes for unwanted puppies: they will not survive if abandoned on the streets
· Protect your own pets: garden fences are no barrier to poisoners!
· Do not abandon your pet: it is against the law, it will not survive on the street, it will probably be poisoned!

Be prepared!

Carry a first-aid kit containing the following: bottled water, salt, atropine, syringes, vitamin K – and make sure you know how to administer them!.