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Rat poison, mouse bait, rodenticide, or pest control: whatever you call it, at its heart is a deadly chemical. We use these poisons to kill rats and mice in our houses and yards, farmers use them in orchards and fields, and exterminators use them wherever a problem with rodents pop up. The problems come when animals who were not the targets of the poison end up eating them, because although they are marketed for rodents, they can kill anything that eats enough of the chemical.
Recently we have been seeing more cases of dogs and cats who have eaten these tasty and toxic pellets, and contact with the health department tells us why: there are more rats and mice in Yakima suddenly. Rats pose a health risk and it is very reasonable to want them out of your house! But please use extreme caution in the products that you use and where you put them.
Rat poison 101:
Rat poisons come in a variety of shapes and sizes and have various mechanisms allowing them to kill rats, mice, and anything else that eats them either quickly or slowly. The most common type of rat poison available are called anticoagulant rodenticides, meaning they prevent the blood from clotting normally. Ultimately, this causes the animal to bleed to death.
During a normal day, rats, cats, dogs, and you will have various bumps and breaks in your blood vessels as a matter of course, and your body has all sorts of chemicals (clotting factors) which stop those little bleeds before you know they happen. Many of these chemicals require vitamin K for the body to make them, and this is what these types of rat poisons target. Once the body is no longer producing the vitamin K, the clotting factors already present in the blood are used up and cannot be replaced. That is when the trouble starts. All those normal little bleeds can?t be stopped. In dogs and cats who have been exposed to rat poison, we start seeing tiny pinpoint bruises on their skin and gums (called petechiations), they can bleed into the whites of their eyes or into their retina. Their abdomen can start filling with blood, they can start having trouble breathing if they bleed into their lungs or chest cavity. We can see bloody urine or bloody vomit or stool if they bleed into their bladder or stomach. Worst of all, they can bleed into their brain or spinal cord, or into the lining around the heart, causing pressure to build up in areas that can?t handle pressure leading to seizures, paralysis, or sudden collapse and death.
If this sounds scary, it's because it is.
What do I do if my dog or cat may have eaten rat poison?
The short answer is bring them in right away. The quicker we can start treatment, the better the outcome is likely to be. The ideal scenario is when you know your dog just ate a box of rat poison and you bring both the box and the dog down to the clinic within an hour. In that time frame, knowing exactly how much your dog ate and of what type of poison, we can tell you if your dog ate enough to be harmful (it takes more to cause problems in a Great Dane than it does for a chihuahua) and potentially make your dog vomit up any poison that it ate.
Even after a few hours, there are easy steps that we can take to help your pet. After all, it takes some time for the poison to start causing dangerous problems. Dogs and cats can be put on high doses of vitamin K, often for 4-6 weeks (the time it takes for the poison to stop affecting their system) to allow the body to continue to make clotting factors uninterrupted. During that time period, your pet should be kept quiet and confined to prevent possible injuries. We may also recommend checking ?coagulation times,? a blood test which measures how well the body is currently able to clot blood.
If your pet starts acting funny or you start noticing pale gums, bloody stool, or any of the other many signs of problems related to these poisons, this becomes an emergency situation. We can still help them by giving them vitamin K, supporting them with IV fluids, and keeping them confined to a cage in the hospital to prevent unnecessary movement. We can also give them transfusions of fresh frozen plasma, which contains clotting factors from the donor animal, and whole blood if they have lost a dangerous amount of their own blood. But by the time we start seeing symptoms of rat poisoning, even with everything we can do in the hospital, it is sometimes too late. Early treatment is the key.
Please be careful and cautious as you manage any pest problems in your house, yard, or business. Be aware of your pets? health and attitude. If you have any concerns, tell your vet if there is even the slightest, remotest, slimmest chance that there is rat poison on your property so that they can treat them appropriately and quickly.
Look for alternatives to using poisons: single- and multiple-entrance snap traps, electrocuting traps, and glue traps (indoor only please). If you must use a poison, use first-generation baits which require multiple feedings to cause a problem. A slower kill is often very effective for domestic rat poisons. You don?t need the newer generation poisons as those are quite literally overkill. Look for these active ingredients: chlorophacinone, diphacinone, diphacinone sodium salt, warfarin, and warfarin sodium salt. There are also plenty of how-to?s on the internet for making your own poison-free mouse traps.
If you have any questions, please contact your veterinarian or make an appointment.