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My Dog Ate Rat Poison, What to Do and Which Rat Poisons are Toxic to Dogs

There are few very true emergencies other than dogs eating rat poison.  Unfortunately, it’s one of the most common cases seen in veterinary emergency rooms, and if not treated quickly, it’s almost certainly fatal.  How should you handle this particular type of emergency? What happens if you don’t act quickly enough?

If your dealing with a rat infestation, please use a Pet Safe Rat Trap to prevent your dog from ingesting poison or damaging a paw. There are many humane traps available that quickly and efficiently dispatch rats while keeping your dog out of harms way.

Why is rat poison fatal to dogs?

Understanding exactly why rat poison or rat bait is toxic or fatal to dogs minimizes the risks of this type of poisoning occurring and spurs you into action if it does happen.

There are different types of rodenticides (rat poison):

  1. Anticoagulants:  These are designed to kill rats and mice by causing them to bleed internally.  The poison destroys the blood’s ability to clot and then damages the capillaries (small veins) in the rodent, causing them to slowly bleed to death.  This is a gradual death, and it does take several days after ingestion for the rodent to die.
  2. Calciferols:  This is a rodenticide containing vitamin D, requiring large amounts of consumption to essentially kill the rodent via vitamin D toxicity.  It is a longer process, often taking a week to kill the rodent, so calciferol is often combined with anticoagulant rodenticides to speed up the process.
  3. Bromethalin:  This type of rodenticide affects the nervous system, leading to the rodent gradually becoming more uncoordinated and weak, eventually making it so they can’t walk, eat, or even breathe.

How is rat poison toxic to dogs?

By and large, the anticoagulant rodenticides are the most lethal to dogs.  It affects canines the same way it does rats, targeting vitamin K production (necessary for clotting) and causing anemia and eventual hemorrhagic death. The most common anticoagulant chemicals are:

  • Warfarin
  • Diphacinone
  • Brodifacoum

Commonly used brands of anticoagulants are:

  • Contrac All-Weather Blox
  • Tomcat Mouse Poison
  • Old Cobblers Farm Just One Bite Rodent Control
  • d-Con Mouse Poison
  • Hawk Rat and Mice Poison
  • Jaguar Bait

Signs of anticoagulant rodenticide ingestion can be gradual, often appearing 3-7 days after ingestion, so it’s important to be aware of any potential for ingestion, especially if you use these types of poison in your household.  By the time your dog shows signs, treatment becomes prolonged and less successful. Signs include:

  • Pale gums
  • Extreme lethargy
  • Dark, tarry stool
  • Vomit that looks like coffee grounds
  • Nosebleeds
  • Petechiae

If you think your dog has eaten this type of rat poison, the first step is to prevent them from eating any more.  Call your veterinarian or emergency veterinarian immediately.  If you use this type of mouse poison, keep the packaging so you are able to tell the veterinarian exactly what type your dog ate so they can be treated more effectively.  

Vomiting should never be induced at home unless your veterinarian or Pet Poison Control advises you to do so.  To diagnose your dog, your veterinarian will perform bloodwork to detect changes in their red blood cells and platelets. Combined with their physical presenting symptoms and any history you have of your dog being exposed to the poison, this is typically a “best guess” diagnosis if you aren’t sure whether your dog ate rodenticide or not.

If you caught the ingestion within hours of eating the poison and your veterinarian has induced vomiting, they may send your dog home on vitamin K to help prevent any anemia.  If days have passed and your dog is showing symptoms, they will need to be hospitalized and put on IV fluids, injectable vitamin K, and possibly require blood transfusions depending on their state.

These cases aren’t always fatal if medical attention is sought ASAP.  Dogs can be secondarily affected when they eat a mouse or rat that has died from anticoagulant toxicity, so if you see your dog has eaten a dead rodent, it is wise to still seek veterinary care immediately.

Bromethalin Rat Poison

A neurotoxin, affecting the nervous system, and the symptoms associated with this type of poison can be dramatic, scary, and deadly.

When a dog eats this type of poison, they typically begin to show neurological signs as soon as 4 to 36 hours after ingestion.  These signs include:

  • Excessive excitability (hyperexcitability)
  • Muscle tremors
  • Severe seizures
  • Hyperthermia (dangerously high body temperature)

However, some dogs don’t show symptoms for up to 7 days if they’ve eaten lower doses.  These symptoms are less severe in appearance but still require veterinary attention:

  • Depression
  • Hind leg weakness
  • Loss of coordination (ataxia)
  • Muscle tremors
  • Muscle weakness

There is no diagnostic for bromethalin except a test performed by outside diagnostic labs.  Typically, the vet will base treatment on your dog’s symptoms and if you think there was any potential for any exposure to the poison.

Treatment of bromethalin toxicity involves activated charcoal to help absorb the toxins in your dog’s system, and dogs experiencing neurological signs like seizures will need to be treated with anticonvulsants.

Dogs can become ill if they eat a rodent who died via bromethalin toxicity, so always call your veterinarian if your dog ate a deceased rodent.

Vitamin D Rat Poison

contains cholecalciferol which affects the kidneys, causing these organs to go into failure.  These types of baits do not require a large quanitity to become toxic to dogs.

Signs of toxicity appear between 18-36 hours after ingestion and include:

  • Depression
  • Complete lack of appetite (anorexia)
  • Excessive thirst and urination
  • Blood in the vomit

If there’s suspicion of cholecalciferol ingestion, your vet will run bloodwork and test your dog’s urine for signs of kidney involvement.  Treatment will include induction of vomiting to ensure everything is out of your dog’s stomach, and then your dog will be hospitalized and put on IV fluids to protect the kidneys.

All types of mouse and rat poison are toxic to dogs in some capacity, and it isn’t always feasible to use non-rodenticide types of rodent control when you have dogs.  If you find there are no other options than to use these types of poison, then you should always ensure your dog has no access to them even if they’re in “dog proof” bait containers.  It’s also critical to keep the packaging on the off chance that your dog does ingest poison. With the different types of poison out there, it’s critical for rapid treatment to know exactly what the offending chemical is.  Rapid treatment is the key in ensuring your dog doesn’t suffer any long-term effects of rodenticide ingestion.

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