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Rat Poisoning in Dogs

What is Rat Poisoning in Dogs?

Rat poisoning poses a grave threat to dogs due to the highly toxic ingredients present in rodenticides, which are commonly known as rat poison. Accidental ingestion of these substances is among the leading causes of pet poisoning incidents.

Rodenticides are available in various colors, including green, blue, tan, pink, and red, and they come in different forms such as pellets, bait blocks, powders, pastes, cereal, and soft baits.

The four primary active ingredients found in rat poisons have distinct mechanisms of poisoning and require different treatment approaches for toxicity. Unfortunately, identifying the active ingredient solely based on the appearance of the product or bait is not possible.

In the event that your dog consumes rat poison, it is crucial to bring any remaining bait or packaging to the veterinarian to aid in the identification of the active ingredient.

The four most common active ingredients are:

  • Cholecalciferol (Vitamin D3): This is one of the most potent rat poisons available and is highly toxic to dogs. It can lead to life-threatening increases in blood calcium levels, causing the hardening of soft tissues in various organs like the heart, kidneys, gastrointestinal tract, and muscles. This damage can result in multiple organ failure and death. Cholecalciferol is commonly found in products like d-CON.
  • Anticoagulants: Examples include brodifacoum, bromadiolone, difenacoum, difethialone, and warfarin. These substances interfere with the blood’s ability to clot, leading to internal bleeding. While they were once the primary active ingredients in rodenticides, including the popular brand d-CON, regulatory changes in 2018 led d-CON to shift from anticoagulant rodenticide to cholecalciferol. Anticoagulants are now much less common but remain deadly. Products may include JT Eaton Bait Block.
  • Bromethalin: This ingredient causes brain swelling and may induce neurological symptoms like lack of coordination, tremors, seizures, paralysis, and death. Even small amounts of bromethalin can be highly toxic. Products containing it include various Tomcat brands.
  • Zinc and aluminum phosphides: These substances are typically used in mole or gopher baits but can occasionally be found in mouse or rat baits, especially on farms. When the poison mixes with stomach acid, it produces deadly phosphine gas. Feeding your dog after ingestion of this type of rat poisoning can increase the amount of gas produced. Products may include ZP Mouse Pelleted Rodenticide.

Regardless of the amount ingested or the active ingredient involved, if your dog consumes rat poison, immediate veterinary evaluation and treatment are essential.

Symptoms and Types

The symptoms of rat poisoning in dogs vary depending on the type of active ingredient in the rat poison and the quantity ingested. Unfortunately, symptoms often take between 1 to 7 days to manifest after the ingestion of a toxic dose.

Many rodenticides contain dyes such as red, green, blue, pink, and tan, which may be noticeable in your dog’s stool. If you observe any foreign material in your pet’s stool, it’s crucial to contact your veterinarian immediately.

Symptoms of anticoagulant rodenticides primarily indicate signs of internal bleeding and may include:

  • Lethargy
  • Pale gums
  • Difficulty breathing or increased breathing rate
  • Weakness leading to collapse
  • Decreased appetite

Less common signs may involve bloody diarrhea, nosebleeds, bruising, bloody urine, swollen joints, bleeding from the gums, vaginal bleeding (in pregnant dogs), pharyngeal swelling, and even seizures (due to bleeding in the brain).

Symptoms of cholecalciferol rodenticides are related to the hardening of soft tissues, with the kidneys being the most vulnerable. These symptoms may include:

  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite or vomiting
  • Increased thirst and urination (indicating acute kidney failure)

Symptoms of bromethalin rodenticides are associated with effects on the brain and may manifest as:

  • Lack of coordination or stumbling
  • Tremors or seizures
  • Paralysis

Symptoms of zinc and aluminum phosphides poisoning are related to the toxic phosphine gas produced. The gas is corrosive and can damage multiple organs. Symptoms may occur within minutes, and in severe cases, death can happen within as little as 5 hours after exposure. These symptoms may include:

  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting (which may be bloody)
  • Diarrhea (which may be bloody)
  • Lack of coordination or weakness
  • Tremors or seizures
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Stomach bloating or abdominal pain

Phosphine gas has an odor resembling decaying fish or garlic and is extremely toxic to humans as well as pets. If your pet vomits while on the way to the veterinarian, ensure proper ventilation by rolling down the windows (safely). Any symptomatic person should seek advice from human poison control or medical professionals.

Causes

The majority of rat poisoning incidents in dogs stem from the unintended ingestion of bait. In rare instances, poisoning may occur as a result of malicious intent. When visiting friends or family or entrusting your dog to a sitter, it’s prudent to inquire about potential poisons present in the household.

Theoretically, poisoning in dogs could occur as a secondary or “relay toxicity” if a dog consumes a rat that has died from ingesting rat poison. While this type of poisoning has never been documented in research, it remains a possibility, albeit highly improbable.

Diagnosis

If you witness your dog consuming any form of rat poison or suspect that they have ingested rat poison, it’s crucial to take them immediately to your local veterinary emergency hospital.

Upon arrival, an emergency veterinarian will gather a comprehensive medical history to aid in their assessment. If feasible, bring along the bait packaging, as determining the active ingredient is essential for treatment. Contacting pet poison hotlines can also be helpful, as they can access packaging information about the product. If feasible, make the call to the hotline while en route to the emergency veterinary hospital; time is critical to ensure that your dog receives prompt medical attention.

The veterinarian will initiate the assessment with a physical examination to evaluate your dog’s mental and neurological status, as well as to check for any signs of bleeding, bruising, or abdominal discomfort.

A comprehensive blood count, serum blood chemistry with electrolytes, and urinalysis will likely be recommended for an initial assessment. Depending on the active ingredient, coagulation panels (PT/PTT) may also be advised to assess your dog’s clotting ability. It’s common for bloodwork to appear normal at the time of the visit, requiring monitoring over the next 1-7 days. Additional tests such as chest or abdominal x-rays may be suggested based on your pet’s clinical symptoms.

Treatment

Immediate treatment is imperative for dogs affected by rat poisoning. Treatment protocols will vary depending on the specific active ingredient involved, underscoring the importance of identifying the type of rat poison.

In most cases, the veterinarian will likely induce vomiting, except when the active ingredients include zinc and aluminum phosphides, in which case vomiting will be induced in a well-ventilated area due to the risk to individuals. Activated charcoal may be administered to counteract other toxins.

Following vomiting, treatment will be tailored to address the particular active ingredient ingested:

  • For anticoagulant rodenticides, treatment typically involves a minimum of 4 weeks of oral vitamin K supplementation, along with hospitalization for intravenous (IV) fluids, plasma and/or blood transfusions, and additional supportive measures such as oxygen therapy, gastrointestinal support, and antiemetics to alleviate nausea and vomiting.
  • There is no specific antidote for dogs that have ingested rat poison containing either cholecalciferol or bromethalin. Hospitalization is usually necessary in both cases, with intravenous (IV) treatment. Dogs exposed to cholecalciferol will also undergo treatment to reduce calcium levels, while those exposed to bromethalin will receive therapy aimed at reducing brain swelling.
  • Poisoning from zinc and aluminum phosphide rodenticides involves the administration of antacids and similar medications to mitigate the production and effects of the lethal phosphine gas. Additionally, liver protectant medication and drugs to address tremors or seizures may be required.

Recovery and Management

Timely diagnosis and decisive treatment are essential in managing rat poisoning in dogs. Regardless of the active ingredient, all rat poisons can prove fatal, underscoring the importance of prompt veterinary intervention. Dogs stand the best chance of survival when they are seen promptly by a veterinarian. Fortunately, the prognosis is generally very good for dogs who receive immediate treatment after ingesting a rodenticide.

Most dogs will require hospitalization for observation and treatment, typically ranging from 2 to 6 days. The duration of hospitalization depends on factors such as the specific active ingredient involved and the quantity of rat poison ingested. Generally, blood tests will be conducted multiple times during the hospitalization period to monitor the dog’s condition and response to treatment.

Prevention

Prevention stands as the cornerstone of safeguarding your dog against rat poisoning. Keep all rat poisons securely stored away from your dog’s reach in a safe location. Consider utilizing alternative methods of pest control, such as live traps that do not involve the use of poisons.

In the event that rat poison must be used:

  • Maintain a detailed record of the amount of poison placed.
  • Be aware of the type of product being used, including its active ingredient.
  • Take a photograph of the ingredients for potential reference in veterinary treatment situations.
  • Clearly mark the areas where rat poison has been dispensed.

Before your pet visits a friend, family member, or pet sitter, inquire about the presence of rat poison and ensure that your dog is kept away from those areas.

During walks, never allow your dog to ingest unidentified objects, as these may contain toxins or poisons that are difficult to identify afterward. Additionally, carefully monitor your pet’s stool for any unusual colors, as many rodenticides contain dyes such as red, green, blue, pink, and tan, which may become apparent before severe symptoms manifest.

Rat Poisoning in Dogs FAQs

How can you tell if a dog has eaten rat poison?

Determining whether your dog has ingested rat poison can be challenging if you didn’t witness the ingestion. However, rodenticides often contain dyes (red, pink, green, blue, and tan) that may be visible in your dog’s stool after the fact. At times, there may be no obvious indications until your dog starts exhibiting symptoms. If your pet displays any of the symptoms listed earlier, it’s crucial to promptly take them to an emergency veterinary hospital.

How much rat poison is lethal to dogs?

Rat poisons typically consist of four main active ingredients—anticoagulant rodenticide, cholecalciferol, bromethalin, and zinc and aluminum phosphides. The lethal amount of rat poison for dogs varies based on the dog’s size and the specific active ingredient ingested. However, considering that rat poisons are highly toxic and potentially fatal, any instance of rat poison ingestion warrants immediate veterinary attention for your dog.

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