There are a large number of ant baits, or ant killing products on the market and the toxicity of these products varies significantly depending on the active ingredient (both the chemical and amount), the amount ingested and the type of animal involved. Some common ant bait products that the Animal Poisons Centre is consulted about include Ant Rid bait stations, Ant Rid liquid, Kiwicare products, Combat ant killing bait strips, Pest Xpert products, Talon ant killer gel and Mortein nest kill ant baits.
Many of these ant bait products contain a sweet attractant such as honey or sugar to attract and encourage ants to eat the poison. Unfortunately this is also very attractive to our pets, with dogs often ingesting all of the available bait that they can access.
So what are the common poisons that are found in ant baits?
Most commonly used domestic insecticides these days are of low toxicity. The days of arsenic, organochlorines and organophosphates are (mostly) gone. However, not all ant bait or insecticide exposures are without concern, and every now and then the Animal Poisons Centre is involved in the management of pets that become very sick from exposure to such products.
Boron compounds are particularly common and are found in products such as AntRid and some Kiwicare products. They are relatively safe to pets with small ingestions, however large amounts can result in severe gastroenteritis and possibly kidney injury.
Fipronil is another common insecticide found in ant killing products. Fipronil is a neurotoxin but the amount found in most domestic baits is not usually enough to result in problems in dogs and cats. Rabbits are particularly sensitive to fipronil and all exposures should be regarded as potentially life-threatening.
Some ant killing sprays contain pyrethroid insecticides. Such examples include bifenthrin, permethrin, esfenvalerate and tetramethrin. Pyrethroid insecticides can result in neurotoxicity in dogs and cats if enough is ingested, concentrated products (products that need to be mixed or diluted before use) are far more concerning. Cats are highly sensitive to pyrethroid insecticides and can get very sick from small exposures.
Other poisons commonly found in domestic ant baits include abamectin, hydramethylnon, indoxacarb, thiamethoxam and pyriproxyfen and these have variable effects depending on the concentration and amount ingested.
There is a lot that goes into risk assessing your pets insecticide exposure and it is always best to call the Animal Poisons Centre or your vet for expert advice. Some factors that will be considered include the bait, it’s constituents, the concentration or amount of active ingredient(s) that have been ingested, the species of your pet, your pets weight and in some cases the inactive ingredients of the product. Some pets, usually dogs, may also ingest product packaging and this can put them at risk of gastrointestinal obstruction.
As mentioned before, dogs are attracted to many ant killing products because of their sweet taste. It is essential to make sure that baits are kept away from curious paws and only placed out in areas where your dog cannot access, such as up on high ledges. Always follow the packet instructions. For liquid products such as AntRid, ensure only the recommended amount is placed out for the ants. Keep all pesticide products stored away in a safe area (locked away if possible) and don’t forget to put primary packaging away immediately after using.
Whilst there are always exceptions to a rule, cats are in general much more fussy eaters than dogs. They are unlikely to ingest large quantities of bait placed out but may be exposed by walking over treated surfaces and then grooming themselves. If you have a feline companion, we recommend avoiding the use of pyrethroid containing insecticides where possible. You can always call the Animal Poisons Centre to check if the product you intend to use contains this type of insecticides.
The Animal Poisons Centre can be contacted on 1300 869 738 (Australia) or 0800 869 738 (New Zealand). The service is free for all pet owners and it is worth calling us for any exposure or suspected exposure to a poison.