For emergency advice on poisoning please go straight to this article:
What should I do if suspect my pet has eaten a poison bait?
RSPCA Australia has campaigned strongly for research into alternatives to 1080 poison for the control of pest animals so that it can be replaced with a more humane poison or, better still, for humane non-lethal methods to be developed and adopted. Recently, scientists have developed two new poison baits, one for foxes (FOXECUTE®) and one for wild dogs (DOGABAIT®) containing a compound called para-aminopropiophenone (PAPP) which can be used in place of 1080 in some circumstances. Baits containing PAPP appear to be more humane than 1080 as the toxin acts faster and appears to be less aversive, but PAPP still has the potential to cause some suffering.
PAPP works by reducing the amount of oxygen in the blood by affecting haemoglobin levels in poisoned animals, causing them to become increasingly tired, lose coordination and lie down. Affected animals then lose consciousness and die due to lack of oxygen to the brain and heart. The time from bait ingestion to first symptoms is generally around 30 minutes, and death usually occurs within one to two hours. Prior to death, some animals may experience anxiety and distress from being unable to move while still being conscious. Dogs that ingest baits may vomit, especially during the later stages of poisoning. There is also the risk that poisoned animals are exposed to possible predation or exposure from climatic extremes during this period.
Baits containing 1080 (sodium flouroacetate) work in a different way, as this toxin shuts down the energy supply to tissue and organ cells including the heart and brain. The initial obvious symptoms of 1080 poisoning are retching, vomiting, anxiety, disorientation, shaking, frenzied behaviour, manic running, vocalisation and drooling. Once the poison enters the central nervous system affected animals will experience convulsions, uncontrolled paddling and muscle spasms, followed by total collapse and death. During periods of prolonged convulsions animals may be conscious between fits and experience pain or anxiety. There is also potential for animals to injure themselves over this period. Symptoms usually appear within 3 hours of bait ingestion with death occurring 2-10 hours later. Thus, the effects of 1080 in causing pain, distress and death appear to take much longer than with PAPP.
Members of the dog and cat families are highly susceptible to PAPP compared to most other species such as native mammals and birds. However, the dosage rates in DOGABAIT® and FOXECUTE® baits are a risk to some native animals such as quolls and bandicoots, as well as crows and large reptiles, particularly lizards and goannas. Precautions must be in place to mitigate the risk to non-target species before baiting commences, including avoiding baiting if these species are present. One aspect that may reduce the risks of PAPP poisoning of native species is that aerial baiting is not permitted and that single baits must be buried at distances no less than 500 metres resulting in relatively few baits being available. Buried baits should pose a lower risk to birds and small mammals. Fortunately, PAPP degrades relatively quickly in the environment and is not considered a risk to animals eating poisoned animals (known as secondary poisoning).
Danger to pets and working dogs
Both 1080 and PAPP baits are meat based and specifically designed to be attractive to dogs, so it is vital that owners take special care to ensure their pets or working dogs do not access baits by containing their dogs during baiting programs.
RSPCA Australia recommends restraining dogs by keeping them indoors or in secure runs rather than muzzling for extended periods, especially for dogs who are unaccustomed to wearing a muzzle, which can be distressing. Domestic cats should also be contained when baiting is known to occur.
Unfortunately there is no antidote to 1080. In the case of PAPP, there is an antidote, methylene blue, however its application is extremely limited as, in order for it to be effective, it must be administered intravenously by a veterinarian preferably within 30 minutes of a PAPP bait being ingested, which in most cases will be extremely difficult to achieve. There is also a risk of toxic effects from the antidote itself unless the dosage is carefully controlled and monitored. Thus, the only way to avoid the potential effects of poisoning is to prevent dogs or cats from having access to baits.
Future use of 1080
Unfortunately, there are no current plans to cease the use of 1080 as a pest animal control method in Australia. Whilst the development of PAPP baits means that 1080 can be replaced in some areas, it is likely to be mainly used in peri-urban and agricultural areas because of the risks to native non-target species. As PAPP baits must be buried, 1080 will continue to be used in aerial baiting programs where this occurs.
Until 1080 is phased out, RSPCA Australia supports compliance with best practice to avoid unnecessary use of 1080 baits and to reduce non-target impacts. This can be achieved through the implementation of the codes of practice (COPs) and standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the humane control of pest animals produced by the NSW Department of Primary Industries and funded by the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Heritage.
You can read more about best practice management of different species at the following links: