'My little mate': Farmer loses dog to mouse plague poison

·News and Video Producer
·4-min read

Heartbroken farmers have been losing their dogs to poison bait laid down to combat the mouse plague decimating NSW.

Mice have infested paddocks, homes and sheds for several months across the western part of the state, costing an estimated $500 million at the farm gate and leaving land owners little choice but to resort to poison.

Pets have become ill from either nibbling at the bait directly, or through secondary poisoning from eating poisoned mice.

Tamworth farmer Mark Walters and his dog Occy during the drought in December, 2019. Source: Michael Dahlstrom
Tamworth farmer Mark Walters and his dog Occy during the drought in December, 2019. Source: Michael Dahlstrom

While zinc phosphide – the poison generally used in paddocks – has a short half-life once consumed, baits used around the home often contain bromadiolone which can stay in an animal's system for weeks.

The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) told Yahoo News Australia that vets in affected areas have been treating secondary poisonings in pets for months.

“It’s not just companion animals at risk, our native species like carpet snakes, owls, birds of prey are also at risk from use of anticoagulant rodenticides in domestic settings,” the AVA said.

Talking about dog death too hard for farmer

Tamworth farmer Mark Walters has had tonnes of crops affected by the mouse plague, although he has largely managed to keep the vermin out of his home. 

He is one of many farmers who have lost a dog to rat bait poisoning.

Occy died just before Christmas and recounting this loss is still too difficult for Mr Walters to bear. 

After faithfully staying by his side through a decade of drought, Occy supported Mr Walters as he set his sights on overcoming the mouse plague. 

After consuming bait near his home, Occy began haemorrhaging and despite being rushed to the vet, they were unable to save him.

“They were the block baits, he just ate them, I don’t know why,” Mr Walters said.

“I got so upset. It upsets me now. He was my little mate, he lived with me in the house.

“You know how it is with animals, especially dogs, you just get so bloody attached to them.

“Talking about this is a bit too hard.”

Concern about government's deadly mouse poison plan 

In a bid to combat the mouse plague, NSW Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall has sought permission from the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority to use bromadiolone on a massive scale across acres of paddocks.

While there is widespread agreement that more needs to be done to tackle the plague, it is the government's proposed use of the second generation poison across a large area which is causing concern. 

Mr Marshall has conceded that his proposed application of the poison will result in the deaths of animals other than mice, however he and the NSW Department of Agriculture have not responded to repeated requests for comment about the plan from Yahoo News Australia.

With animal deaths climbing from rodenticide use around buildings, the fear is broad acre application of bromadiolone could see fatalities skyrocket. 

Edith Cowan University’s Dr Robert Davis warned last week that using the poison on paddocks could lead to “a local extinction cascade”.

While there is widespread agreement that more must be done to tackle the mouse plague, many are concerned about the government's plan to use bromadiolone. Source: Supplied
While there is widespread agreement that more must be done to tackle the mouse plague, many are concerned about the government's plan to use bromadiolone. Source: Supplied

Bromadiolone is heavily restricted in many other countries including the United States and can only be used by registered pest controllers.

In Australia, its crop perimeter permit expired in 2016 and was not renewed, and there are often guidelines around its use around agricultural buildings. 

Under the pig industry's current recommendations, farmers are advised to seek the services of a pest exterminator before using second generation rodenticides as they require "strict handling to reduce the chance of contamination". 

Scientists, NSW Farmers, AVA, wildlife carers, traditional Indigenous hunters and environmentalists have all voiced hesitation about accepting the proposed wide-scale use of the poison, with many saying it poses a threat to pets, livestock and wildlife.

The AVA said they are "concerned" because bromadiolone has a long half-life and association with secondary toxicity in animals.

"The consequences of its use to non-target species, especially wildlife, are likely to be significant. If it is approved for use, then protocols for treatment (or prevention) of toxicity will be needed," the AVA said.

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