Rat Poison Toxicity

Dr. Jacqueline Brister

dog ate rat poison

Rat poison, also known as “rodenticide”, is used to kill and prevent the spread of rats and mice. Unfortunately, it is also extremely poisonous to other mammals, including dogs, cats, and people. Two main types of rat poison are used commonly: anticoagulant rodenticides and bromethalin rodenticides. If your pet ingested rat bait, call your veterinarian or a veterinary emergency clinic for an appointment immediately. Rat poison ingestion of any kind is almost always fatal if left untreated. To help treat your pet, the veterinarian will need to know what kind of rat poison was eaten. If you have it, bring the poison package with you to the appointment so that the veterinarian will be able to determine how much poison your pet ingested.

Anticoagulant Rodenticides

Anticoagulant rodenticides work by interrupting the body’s ability to recycle vitamin K. This vitamin is critical for bleeding prevention. When vitamin K is depleted, the body will be unable to create mechanisms called “clotting factors” to prevent or control bleeding. Symptoms of this form of rat poison can include nose bleeds, coughing blood, trouble breathing, bruising, bloody stool, pale skin or gums, or a swollen belly. Because it will take a little time for the body to run out of vitamin K and the clotting mechanisms that use it, symptoms may not be noticeable until 3 to 7 days after your pet has eaten the poison.

Your veterinarian will likely run lab work to confirm that your pet has eaten this type of rat poison. He or she may attempt to make your pet vomit up as much of the poison as possible. If the poison was eaten more than 4 hours before getting to the veterinarian’s office, vomiting may not be able to help. Another medication, activated charcoal, may be given several times in an effort to soak up and de-activate the poison in your pet’s stomach. The antidote for anticoagulant rodenticide toxicity is vitamin K1. Depending on the type of anticoagulant rat poison your pet ate, 2 to 4 weeks of this medication may be prescribed. In severe cases in which a pet has lost a significant amount of blood, blood transfusions or blood product infusions may be necessary. While this form of rat poison can lead to death, the sooner your pet is treated, the likelier he or she will survive with time and appropriate care.

Bromethalin Rodenticides

This form of rat poison acts much more quickly than anticoagulant rodenticides, and affects the central nervous system and the brain. Symptoms can occur as early as 2 hours after your pet has eaten the poison. Signs of this form of rodenticide include seizures, hyperexcitability or frantic behavior, muscle tremors or shaking, ataxia or wobbliness, paralysis, and coma. No test exists to diagnose this form of rat poison. No antidote is available.

Your veterinarian will likely run lab work to determine how your pet’s internal organs are functioning. If your pet ingested the poison within the last 4 hours or so, vomiting may be induced if your pet is awake enough. Activated charcoal can also be used, but if your pet is not aware enough to swallow, or is seizing, this medication may be unsafe to give. Supportive care, such as intravenous fluids and medications to stop seizures or tremors may be administered. Your pet may need to be hospitalized and monitored for up to 1 week. Full recovery may not occur, even when only a small amount of poison is eaten. For animals who do fully recover, the healing process can take up to 2 weeks depending on the severity of your pet’s symptoms. Unfortunately, because no antidote exists and only a small amount of this type of rodenticide can be toxic, bromethalin ingestion is very often fatal. It is critical that you take your pet to a veterinarian as soon as you realize he or she has eaten this form of rat poison in order to give your pet the best chance for survival.

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