Rodent management has been a frustrating problem for humankind for thousands of years. Wild rodents can consume and damage crops, destroy fiber and paper products, bring disease and invade our homes if left unchecked. Rat poisons as well as traps are extensively used to control populations all over the world. Rodenticides can be obtained in hardware stores, the grocery store and online as well.
While we all want to minimize our family’s exposure to rats, we don’t want to escalate a hazard to the dogs in our family by exposure to these toxins. It’s important to be aware of the risks especially if your pet travels with you, gardens with you or is allowed to roam in places outside (or even within) your home where rat bait is left out.
What to do if your dog eats rat poison
There’s only one swift course of action in this situation:
Seek immediate treatment!
Treatment for this particular toxin must begin immediately, ideally within an hour of ingesting the product. The pet will be made to safely vomit and then she must receive several doses of activated charcoal to bind any toxin that may be left in her intestines and prevent any further absorption. Use of activated charcoal may continue for longer than 24 hours. Muscle fasciculations and seizures are treated with muscle relaxants and sedatives as needed.
The problem with this particular toxin is that there is no antidote, just supportive care. It can take weeks for recovery and many patients need very aggressive care to survive.
Sometimes, a cathartic is also used to hasten elimination of what the pet may have ingested as well. If the pet is stable, vitamin K is generally started to ensure adequate levels and prevent spontaneous bleeding. The treatment may last up to 3-4 weeks depending on the type of toxin ingested.
If a pet has been diagnosed with exposure and is actively bleeding, this is urgent and needs attention immediately. Blood products including canine plasma and canine red blood cells are necessary to replenish blood loss, as well as starting vitamin K therapy.
Factors that determine the type of treatment
There are two forms of poisoning noted in pets: high dose and low dose.
High dose: if a high dose has been consumed by the pet, symptoms can be seen in a few hours. The pet will develop hyperexcitability, muscle tremors, increased body temperature, and eventually, succumb to convulsions. Sadly, this is terminal as there is no antidote.
Low dose: if a lower dose is consumed, symptoms do not manifest for 1-4 days. Vomiting, lethargy and poor appetite may be noted. The pet will become weak in the rear legs and uncoordinated. She may develop involuntary shifting of her eyes (nystagmus) and pupils may be uneven in size. Muscle tremors followed by paralysis is possible. Treatment is still possible for this form, but it must be aggressive and the eventual outcome may be a pet with permanent neurologic changes.
Related Read: My Dog Ate Onions! – Here’s What to Do (Our Vet Answers)
Why is rat poison so dangerous to dogs?
To understand what makes rat poison so toxic to your dog, we must examine the chemicals involved. There are several types of rat baits and poisons on the market, the most common of which we will discuss here.
Common anti-coagulant rodenticides include warfarin, brodifacoum, bromadiolone and others. These products typically have a green dye and come in blocks or pellets. They can be laced with molasses and therefore palatable for dogs. Once ingested, signs may not be noticed for up to 7 days. So, your dog could have ingested this several days ago before you note any symptoms occurring at all.
Anticoagulant rodenticides cause internal bleeding. A poisoned pet will typically show weakness and pale tongue, gums, but any external bleeding will not be readily noticeable. Sometimes blood will be noticed in the stool or urine. Bleeding in more than one body location may be noted as well.
These types of toxins work by preventing vitamin K from being utilized to help blood clot normally. Vitamin K is a co-factor in a process whereby blood clotting factors are consumed during a bleeding event to produce a stable clot. As long as there is plenty of vitamin K, clotting will proceed normally, but once the reserves of vitamin K are depleted, spontaneous bleeding will occur. This also explains why it takes 5-7 days before signs are noted.
Note: The EPA has currently banned anti-coagulant rodenticides from residential use. Traditional D-Con products have not been manufactured since 2014 and have not been distributed since 2015. Commercial pesticide companies may still use this product and it must be in secure bait stations.
As noted above, with anticoagulant rodenticides now less available, bromethalin has captured the home prevention market and this has created a whole new hazard for pets.
Bromethalin has been around since 1985 and is sold in bars, blocks, and pellets. It can also come in the shape of earthworms to be used against voles and moles.
This toxin acts by a process that inhibits the brain from utilizing oxygen. Without this ability, the brain cannot make enough energy to fuel itself. The brain swells and the victim dies of cerebral edema. Peak levels of bromethalin can be detected only several hours after ingestion.
Tips for preventing an accidental ingestion of rat poison
Now that you have learned a little about the particular toxins used to kill rodents, you know that they can and do kill pets, as well as any wildlife that encounter these products too. In addition, there is a wonderful resource called the ASPCA Pet Poison Control Helpline. It is staffed with boarded veterinary toxicologists who can help you determine toxins, symptoms, and how best to proceed with treatment.
It’s distressing to know that these types of toxins are readily available and can easily kill your pet. They also have an impact on local commensal or beneficial wildlife such as raptors, mongoose, bobcats, foxes, snakes, and other wildlife that depend on rodents for food. These creatures can suffer relay toxicity from consuming dead rodents that succumb to these toxins. It’s also concerning that these products can also seep into the water table, drain to oceans and rivers, negatively impacting the ecology there as well.
Stop a rodent infestation before it starts
There are safer, more natural ways to control rodents and keep them from turning your life upside down. These include:
In summary, the best way to prevent your dog from ingesting rat poison is to eliminate the risk of exposure as much as possible. If you must use rodenticides, please ensure they are placed safely out of reach and non-accessible to dogs. Follow the label for use to prevent accidental access and once used, dispose of safely. Use only EPA-approved products and consider the impact to your immediate wildlife community. If you are ever concerned that your dog may have ingested a rodenticide product get her to your vet or the local pet emergency clinic as soon as possible for immediate treatment.
Featured image credit: PINANDIKA ANINDYA GUNA, Shutterstock
- What to do if your dog eats rat poison
- Factors that determine the type of treatment
- Why is rat poison so dangerous to dogs?
- Tips for preventing an accidental ingestion of rat poison
- Stop a rodent infestation before it starts
- 1. Seal entry points to prevent rodents from entering your home.
- 2. Remove anything that attracts rodents such as open containers (including compost piles), food stored unsealed outside and maintaining general cleanliness.
- 3. Remove any waste such as plastic or paper, organic debris such as branches or clippings that a rodent may use for nesting material.