SEA HARES

SEA HARES

Aplysia spp., more commonly known as sea hares or sea slugs are marine gastropods that pose a significant coastal hazard for pets in Australia. Sea hares have a soft rounded body with long upper head tentacles which are thought to resemble a sitting rabbit or hare. With large ‘wings’ known as parapogia that assist them in swimming, they can be found gliding across rocks in small pools and amongst seagrass. During the summer months, sea hares are known to aggregate in large numbers in shallow water to reproduce, sometimes leading to mass beaching incidents. Companion animals, most frequently dogs, can be severely poisoned by mouthing or ingesting beached sea hares.

There are many species of sea hares that can be found along the coastline of Australia, with canine exposures to Aplysia gigantea (a species found in Western Australian waters) being well described. Soon after exposure, dogs may develop drooling and vomiting. As the poisoning progresses, animals can begin panting and neurological features such as unsteadiness on the feet, hyperexcitability and tremors may occur. In severe cases, poisoned animals can develop respiratory distress, seizures or cardiac arrest. These signs are generally seen within 2 hours of exposure but can be delayed.

Exposure to these animals can potentially be life-threatening and early veterinary assessment is recommended in all cases where animals have come into contact with or ingested a sea hare. Dog owners are reminded to remain vigilant when taking their pets to the beach. If you come across a mass beaching event of any poisonous or venomous marine animal, please contact the Animal Poisons Helpline so that we can send out an alert to notify other pet owners.

The Animal Poisons Helpline provides free advice to pet owners in Australia and New Zealand and can be reached on 1300 869 738 (AU) or 0800 869 738 (NZ). If you don’t already follow the Animal Poisons Helpline Facebook page, follow now to receive live animal poisons alerts and updates. If you are a member of a veterinary team in Australia or New Zealand, you can join the Animal Poisons Centre For Vets Facebook group which is regularly updated with toxicology tidbits and poisoning trends. We thank the Western Australian Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development for supporting this post.