When poison is tastier than the antidote

  • Carole with the syringe she uses to administer the life-saving antidote to Sparkle-the-Pig, an 800-pound sow, enjoying the mud. Courtesy of Carole Soule

For the Monitor
Published: 9/14/2020 11:12:50 AM

Sparkle-the-Pig came trotting into the barnyard at about 1 p.m.  Sparkle and her grandmother, Charlotte, share a pasture about 800 feet down the hill from the barnyard. They sleep in an old horse trailer with two fenced acres to roam in. Both pigs are friendly and well trained. With the gentle tap of a stick, each will go left, right, or straight ahead.

We used to have more pigs, but we decided it’d be easier to manage two huge sows than 20 to 30 piglets. Smaller piglets seemed to know when there’s no “zap” in the electric fence, and they often escape. Not so with Charlotte and Sparkle, who each weigh about 800 pounds. They are slower than piglets, fear the fence, and won’t bolt for freedom even if it’s off. Or so I thought.

Three things motivate a pig: food, romance, and a belly rub. Sparkle, a white Tamworth sow with brown spots, was searching for a partner when she found her way out of her pasture. To keep her from getting into the horse grain, I put her in the holding pen while investigating how she escaped. I didn’t learn how she got out, but I did discover an empty poison container.

Pigs need to eat grain, and where there is grain, there are rodents. We reluctantly use poison to control rodents and had stashed it, we thought, out of reach. Unfortunately, Sparkle found the container, opened it, and ate its contents. I immediately called my veterinarian, who gave me the ASPCA “Poison Hot-Line” number.

The first thing the hot-line operator told me to do was to get Sparkle to vomit. How would I do that? Put my finger down her throat? No, a small dose of hydrogen peroxide and 15 minutes of walking was supposed to get her to barf. If that didn’t work, try it once more. No luck twice.

The next step was to administer an antidote, Vitamin K-1; 34 tablets a day for 30 days = 1,020 tablets! This is an obscure vitamin. There’s not much of it around. Some scrounging around was necessary. My veterinarian found 100 tablets at CAVES (Capital Area Veterinary Emergency and Specialty) in Concord, and her office ordered another 100 to give me time to find more. After receiving written approval from my veterinarian, an online store, Chewy, shipped the rest. When I ordered, the operator, filling out some digital form, could find categories for dogs, cats, even hamsters but none for a pig. So in the interest of completing the transaction, she listed Sparkle as a horse. (The farm has a riding steer; maybe we should saddle up Sparkle.)

I had the antidote, but now to convince Sparkle to consume the life-saving tablets. When I put them in her food, she ate around them. I rolled them in peanut butter and stuffed them in her mouth. She spit them out. The poison was tasty, but not the antidote.

Then I tried another technique. I smashed the tablets into powder, mixed them with yogurt, and used a syringe to squirt the mixture into her mouth. That she liked and grunted with pleasure as she sucked up the medicine-mix. Later I mixed the powered tablets with cream to keep the syringe from clogging. After each treatment, she gets a delightful squirt of whipped cream. It’s not a sure thing, but the antidote might save her.

Throughout this saga, Sparkle did not seem in distress. This is a slow-acting poison, and if I see symptoms like skin bruises or blood in Sparkle’s urine, it’s time to call the veterinarian again. For now, she is her normal piggy-self; slow to get out of her bed of hay in the morning but quick to snort down her breakfast once she’s up.

I asked my veterinarian if all poisons have antidotes. She said, “No. There is another poison used for rodents, called bromethalin that has no known antidote. Pets could die as a result.” How about children? They would be at risk, too. If you want to learn more about poisons without antidotes, check out this article: shorturl.at/ajnJ9.

Any way, Sparkle’s saga continues. At this writing, she still has 14 days and more than 450 more tablets to take. We brought her grandmother up to the barnyard to keep her company. They sleep in the holding pen and roam with the cows during the day.

If you want to give your good wishes to Sparkle, you can visit her at Miles Smith Farm on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 25 and 26. Because of COVID-19 concerns, you’ll need to make an appointment. If you’d rather, you or your child can ride a cow, walk a calf, snuggle a bunny, pet a goat, or brush a donkey. Find out more at learningnetworksfoundation.com/book-now.

(Carole Soule is co-owner of Miles Smith Farm, milessmithfarm.com, where she raises and sells pastured pork, lamb, eggs and grassfed beef. She can be reached at cas@milessmithfarm.com.)

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