Help, my dog ate rat poison, what should I do? In companion animal medicine, we see quite the variety of weird things dogs eat. From getting into the garbage to eating socks left on the floor, there are so many things they eat that can get them into trouble. One of the most worrisome toxins dogs are exposed to is rat poison. People put out rodenticides to get rid of unwanted pests, but what happens when your dog eats it, and what can you do to help?
Help, My Dog Ate Rat Poison!
What to do if your dog ate rat poison? First of all, it is imperative that you either seek veterinary care or call the animal poison hotline immediately to get further instructions. There is a fee for the hotline, but it is well worth it. Many vet clinics can call the hotline for you.
Knowing the weight of your pet, the amount of rat poison ingested, and how long ago it was eaten will determine the seriousness of the situation and the best steps for the most favorable outcome.
One of the most important and helpful things you can do is bring in the packaging or bait box to your vet and quantify how much bait is missing. Most of these are dose dependent, meaning the more poison that is ingested, the more severe the toxicity will be.
Unfortunately it does not take much to cause issues.
What Type of Rat Poison Did Your Dog Ingest?
There are different kinds of rat poisons and they cause different illnesses. Differentiating between the products will help determine how long before dogs get sick, which tests to run, and how to treat.
The two main categories of rodenticide toxicity in dogs are anticoagulants, or bleeding disorders, and non-anticoagulant disorders; these commonly cause neurological disease.
The most common active ingredient in the anti-coagulant products is brodifacoum. Two of the most common active ingredients in the products that cause neurological disease are cholecalciferol and bromethalin.
Brodifacoum Toxicity in Dogs
Brodifacoum is a potent vitamin K antagonist that prevents the formation of clotting factors. It only takes a small amount to be lethal. On top of that, it has a long half life, meaning if the dog survives the initial insult, it may take weeks for the toxicity to fully clear.
Typically the onset of clinical signs is about two to five days. The key clinical sign is bleeding. This can be in the form of nose bleeds, bloody diarrhea, or sudden bruising throughout the skin. Other things to note would be pale gums and difficulty breathing in the cases where there is internal bleeding in the chest.
Diagnosis is made with known exposure to the toxin, and abnormal clotting times when tested. Treatment includes supportive care, inducing vomiting when appropriate, and vitamin K supplementation. Blood or plasma transfusions may be needed to provide clotting factors. The prognosis is typically guarded, but survival is possible if swift action is taken.
Bromethalin Toxicity in Dogs
Bromethalin is an ingredient in rat poison that is becoming more popular as Brodifacoum is being seen less and less. Bromethalin is found in green or tan baits. This neurotoxin interferes with nerve transmission, which can cause paralysis or respiratory arrest. It too is highly potent, lending to low lethal doses.
At high doses, the onset of clinical signs is much quicker than brodifacoum at 4 to 36 hours. Lower doses may yield clinical signs within one to five days. Depending on the amount ingested, key clinical signs can range from muscle tremors and hyper excitability (pet gets excited by otherwise benign activities or motions), to convulsions and paralysis.
Again diagnosis is typically made with known exposure to the bait. There are no specific abnormalities seen on routine lab work. Treatment is mostly supportive care, but unfortunately bromethalin is less treatable than brodifacoum, and the prognosis is often grave.
Cholicalciferol Toxicity in Dogs
Cholicalciferol, or vitamin D3, is another non-anticoagulant agent found in rat poison. This one increases the absorption of calcium in the gut and kidneys, and promotes the breakdown of calcium in bones. Excessive calcium leads to calcium build up, or calcification, in the tissues including the gut, kidneys, and blood vessels. Not only can this be painful, but can also decrease normal function.
Like the others, there is a low lethal dose with a long half life. Onset of disease usually takes 18 to 36 hours. Clinical signs from vitamin D3 toxicity may include decreased appetite, lethargy, vomiting, bleeding, or abnormal heart rhythms.
Of course the history of exposure to the toxin is important. Additionally x-rays often show radiopaque (very bright) kidneys due to the calcium deposits. Treatment includes supportive care and therapies designed to flush the excessive calcium out of the body. Some require treatment for up to a month.
As you can see the exposure to rat poisons can be detrimental. Different products have different active ingredients, which cause different pathology. Knowing the specific product that was used and the amount that was ingested is paramount to the diagnostic and therapeutic efforts.
Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure
Fortunately, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been making policies to help mitigate the exposures of rodenticides to pets. These regulations include the end of pelleted baits being sold, and the use of tamper-proof bait stations to be sold for in-home use.
Please keep in mind that just because something is “tamper-proof” does not always mean dog proof. Dogs are stronger and smarter than we sometimes give them credit for, and if motivated enough, they will still get into the bait.
Prevention is really the most important and safest way to avoid potentially tragic endings. Always keep toxins away from dogs—not just out of sight, but not even in the same areas as to where the dog has access. Follow the instructions on the bait box.
And finally if the dog did get into it, take action immediately. Do not wait for clinical signs to appear. When in doubt, take the necessary actions as if they did. Seek immediate veterinary assistance. It is always a good idea to have the phone numbers for your veterinarian, the closest pet emergency clinic and the animal poison control hotline on the refrigerator or somewhere handy. It is better to act quickly and not need it, than need it and it be too late.
ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center Hotline: (888) 426-4435
About the Author
Dr. Eric Weiner is a small animal veterinarian practicing in Orlando, Florida. He is a third generation veterinarian as both his father and grandfather are vets.
Although he grew up following both of them around and wanted to be a veterinarian himself, he took a bit of a detour and attended Hofstra University originally as a music major.