A Wood River Valley dog died last week as a result of what could have been poison-laced meat, veterinarians and local officials said Monday.
The dog, a 6-year-old American Staffordshire terrier named Skylar, was said to be out hiking in Lake Creek north of Ketchum with her owner, U.S. Forest Service employee Cera Hopkins, when the dog found what appeared to be meat with a strange odor.
“It almost looked like bread or cookie dough,” said Sun Valley Animal Center Veterinarian Randy Acker. “It had a sweet smell to it.”
That sweet smell was possibly from xylitol, an artificial sweetener that is relatively common for human consumption—found in chewing gum—but that is poisonous to dogs.
Roy Johnson, the veterinarian who treated Skylar, said the dog had a plummeting blood-sugar level and elevated liver enzymes, both symptoms of xylitol toxicity.
“It is [only] alleged, but the symptoms she had were consistent with what we have experienced with xylitol toxicity,” he said. “It’s a very effective liver toxicant. It caused acute liver failure with some pretty typical symptoms.”
Skylar’s liver failed. Though the dog was sent home briefly, she died at the Sun Valley Animal Center last week.
Johnson said that with cases such as this one, it’s very difficult to treat the dog. He said the toxin had been ingested five to eight hours before Hopkins noticed symptoms and rushed Skylar to the clinic, and they may not have been caused by eating the meat.
“It could have been anything,” he said. “The dog could have eaten a couple of chewing gum packages. It’s common enough, but we always think chewing gum. It’s rarely this aggressive.”
“It is [only] alleged, but the symptoms
she had were consistent with what we
have experienced with xylitol toxicity.”
Sun Valley Animal Center
Johnson said, though, that roughly a dozen “meatball-type” pieces of meat mixed with something sweet were found near where the dog had been. The meat was taken by the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office, which turned it over to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
Jerome Hansen, the department’s Magic Valley regional supervisor, said the specimen was shipped to the University of Idaho’s toxicology lab for analysis. He said it will take at least a week to get results.
Blaine County Sheriff Gene Ramsey said the dog was likely not the intended target of any poison.
“It was probably used as bait for a scavenger, a coyote or a wolf or something,” he said. “When dogs run into these things, they’ll eat it. It’s sweet.”
Xylitol became notorious for its potential to poison wolves in 2010, when anti-wolf activist and author of the Lobo Watch blog Toby Bridges urged elk and deer hunters to sweeten gut piles with xylitol. But Idaho Wildlife Services State Director Todd Grimm said the number of hunters using xylitol is probably low compared to the number who talk about it.
“The mere fact that there aren’t a lot of dogs showing up poisoned is an indicator that there’s not a lot happening,” he said.
Grimm said it’s illegal to kill wolves using toxins such as xylitol.
“There are no toxicants approved to take wolves,” he said. “Anytime poisoning of wolves is happening, it’s illegal activity.”
The investigation is still pending, though Acker said he believes analysis will confirm that the meat was being used as poison bait.
“I do believe it was a real malicious poisoning,” he said. “It’s a real baited and killed dog. That bait is gone, but are there more out there?”
Ramsey recommended that people walk dogs on a leash, especially in the Lake Creek area. Johnson said dog owners should call a veterinarian at the first sign of lethargy, vomiting or diarrhea—the first signs of any type of toxicity.
Kate Wutz: firstname.lastname@example.org