Well, it has finally gotten cold around here and with that comes a large increase in the number of phone calls about dogs and cats eating rat poison. When it gets colder outside the mice and rats seek shelter inside for warmth and food. In response people are more likely to put out baits and poisons to kill the intruders. Most people do not think that their dog or cat would eat the brilliantly colored turquoise blocks but they most certainly will. They are made tasty so the mice and rats will want to eat them. Your dog or cat will think they are yummy as well. Another problem is that most people place them where they think their dog or cat cannot get to them, but all too frequently they do. If that was not enough, most baits and poisons do not have to be ingested directly by the pet to kill them. If your dog or cat eats a dead mouse that was killed by the bait, they can suffer the same toxic effects as the mouse.
For the most part there are four main types of rat poisons: anticoagulant-based, bromethalin, Cholicalciferol (Vitamin D3), and zinc phosphide. They each have a different set of symptoms and treatments. Most of these however, DO NOT have antidotes and symptoms can last for weeks even with successful treatment.
Anticoagulant based poisons include compounds like warfarin, pindone, coumafuryl, coumachlor, isovaleryl indanedione, brodifacoum, bromadiolone, and difethiolone. The last three of these compounds do not have to be ingested directly to cause sickness or death. These toxins work by inhibiting normal coagulation function and the animal is more prone to bleeding. Vitamine K1 is often successful in counteracting the poison, but treatment is often needed up to 30 days after ingestion. Treatment is most successful if you begin therapy prior to clinical signs occurring. These signs include bleeding from nose, rectum or urinary tract, bruising on the skin and abdomen, lethargy (severe weakness), pale gums and mucous membranes and faster than normal breathing.
Bromethalin poisons cause neurological disease due to cerebral edema (swelling). Clinical signs include weakness, fever, hyperreflexia, paralysis, and seizures. These signs can occur as quickly as 4hrs post ingestion or up to 7 days later. There is no specific antidote for these types of poisons. Treatment is aimed at cleaning out the digestive system through vomiting and gastric lavage. Once clinical signs occur, the only treatment options are supportive in nature and anti-seizure medications. It takes very little for these toxins to cause a problem.
Cholicalciferol (Vitamin D3) toxic ingestions are less common than the previous two poisons but they are occurring more frequently with new regulations making the previous two more difficult to obtain. This compound has its effects on the kidneys and can resemble other poisons like antifreeze. There is not specific antidote for this toxin either. Clinical signs can include vomiting (possibly with blood), anorexia (not eating), frequent urination, excessive drinking, and diarrhea. These symptoms may begin as early 18-36hrs, but some laboratory tests may being to show changes as early as 12-24hrs after ingestion.
Zinc Phosphide is a toxin usually found in larger rodent poisons (moles and voles, etc.). This compound starts to break down in the stomach with the acid pH and puts off a toxic phosphide gas that causes severe and fatal pulmonary edema and cardiac collapse. The gas smells foul with a strong fishy or garlic odor. This gas is toxic to humans as well when it comes out of the animal so be careful in handling or treating these animal. Ventilate the area well! Feeding the dog increases this gas formation. The toxic substance can also be problematic as it is absorbed further down the GI tract and cause liver failure and seizures. There is no specific antidote for this toxin either but reducing gastric acids by using drugs like antacids and famotidine can reduce the gas formation. Induction of vomiting is still helpful if caught quickly. However due to the formulation that this poison is often marketed, the most common animal involved in poisonings are horses because the bait looks like a grain that resembles a typical horse feed. Horses are unable to vomit and so gastric lavage is the only option. Common clinical symptoms with this type of poison include rapid breathing, vomiting (often bloody), trembling, weakness, seizures, ataxia (incoordination), and death. Clinical signs can occur very soon after ingestion with toxic gas formation but other clinical signs can occur if the animal lives longer than 48hrs post ingestion.
My foremost recommendation is NOT TO USE any of them….EVER. Instead, use traps that kill the animal quickly or eliminate potential food sources that would attract them. If your animal does ingest one of these potential toxins, call us right away and be sure to let us know which type of poison they have ingested. Treatment will depend heavily on this information. Just read us the name off the package.
The best course of action is going to be to get your dog or cat to vomit and expel the substance as soon as possible after ingestion. This can usually be accomplished using basic household hydrogen peroxide. That means you must catch it within an hour, or at the very most 2 hours before the substance has a chance to leave the stomach and be absorbed. Do not offer food or water until you have spoken with the veterinarian. Other treatments can also be beneficial like activated charcoal that can help bind the toxins and keep them from being absorbed into the body. Supportive care and toxin specific treatments are necessary after prolonged ingestion times. Once the product has been absorbed into the system there is little chance to avoid your pet getting sick. Most of these poisons are fatal if ingested in large enough quantities. Toxic levels depend on the amount ingested and the size of the animal. Bottom line….it doesn’t take very much.