Rat poisoning is a serious problem for dogs because rodenticide has an enticing flavor, designed to attract rodents. You may already know that rat poison is dangerous for dogs, but not everyone understands that ingesting even a small amount can be deadly. Unfortunately, it is relatively common dogs for dogs to sniff out and eat rat poison if it is accessible. Once ingested, the poison can cause a range of symptoms, from vomiting to organ failure, and without treatment, a dog is likely to die. So, it's crucial to prevent your pet from coming into contact with this toxic substance.
What Is Rat Poisoning?
There are several different varieties of rat poison on the market. The toxic effects of rat poisoning depend upon the active ingredients in the substance ingested by the dog. Be aware that different types of rat poison have different toxic doses, so poisoning can manifest itself in a variety of ways. There is no type of rat poison that is considered "dog safe."
Most rodenticides have a grain or sugar base, making them taste good to rodents as well as dogs, cats, and other animals. They often come in pellets, blocks, granules, or liquids. Rat poison may be any color but is commonly teal, blue, green, or pink. Unfortunately, the color and shape of a particular rat poison cannot help you determine the active ingredient. The only way to be certain which chemical is in the rat poison is to read the packaging.
Symptoms of Rat Poisoning in Dogs
Depending on the type of poison ingested, various symptoms can manifest, all of which are serious and potentially fatal.
The toxic chemicals in rat poison wreak havoc on a dog's internal organs and neurological system. Vomiting is often one of the initial symptoms of poisoning since the stomach is the first organ contacted by the substance. Once the toxin has entered the dog's bloodstream, it can not only cause internal bleeding from damaged blood vessels but also signs of neurological distress (tremors, ataxia, seizures), cardiac abnormalities (palpitations, arrhythmia, heart failure), and irreparable renal failure.
There are several types of rodenticides on the market. Each has different toxic effects.
- Anticoagulants include products with active ingredients such as brodifacoum, bromadiolone, chlorophacinone, diphacinone, or warfarin. These rodenticides are the most common type ingested by dogs. They act by interfering with the body's ability to recycle vitamin K, which is an essential part of blood clotting. After ingestion, internal bleeding occurs throughout the body and will eventually kill the animal. It may take two to seven days for the effects of this poison to appear.
- Cholecalciferol ingestion causes calcium in the body to increase. This leads to acute renal failure, cardiac abnormalities, and possibly death. The signs of this poison may not develop for 12 to 36 hours after ingestion.
- Bromethalin increases the amount of sodium in the cells of the body followed by an influx of water to the cells. The cells swell and die, eventually killing the animal. This toxin can affect any organ of the body but most commonly affects the central nervous system. Signs of toxicity may progressively appear over one to two weeks if only a small amount is consumed. This poison is usually rapidly fatal if a large dose is consumed.
- Zinc phosphide and strychnine rodenticides are only available to professionals and are less commonly ingested by dogs. However, they are still toxic.
Note that if your dog eats a rodent, there is a possibility the dog will be exposed to rat poison. In this case, it's best to be cautious and contact your vet.
Diagnosing Rat Poisoning in Dogs
If you suspect that your dog has consumed rat poison, contact the nearest open veterinary facility immediately. In most cases, you will need to get your dog to the veterinarian right away. If the poison was recently ingested, your vet will ask you to confirm the type of rodenticide.
Before heading to the veterinarian's office, gather the following items, if available:
- Rodenticide product packaging
- Any remaining poison
- Details about the amount of poison you think your dog consumed and how long ago ingestion occurred.
If the ingestion was recent enough, the vet will first induce vomiting (do not induce vomiting at home unless directed to do so by your veterinarian). Next, the vet may administer activated charcoal by mouth. Activated charcoal prevents toxins from being absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract.
Depending on the time of poison ingestion and the amount ingested, your vet may need to run diagnostic tests to look for signs of toxicity in the blood. The vet may also need to administer additional treatments to your dog.
In some cases, your dog may need to be admitted to the hospital for advanced tests and treatments. The prognosis depends on the type of chemical in the rat poison, the amount eaten, and the time that has passed since ingestion.
Unfortunately, the prognosis is usually poor if a dog is showing severe signs of toxicity such as neurological, renal, or cardiac problems. At this point, it is difficult to stop the course of poisoning, and a dog is likely to die.
Time is of the essence after a dog has eaten rat poison. Contact a veterinarian immediately if you suspect exposure to rodenticide.
How to Prevent Rat Poisoning
The best way to prevent rodenticide toxicity is to avoid keeping rat poison on your property. However, your dog may still be able to find rat poison elsewhere. Unfortunately, dogs seem to have a way of finding rat poison on their own.
To prevent your dog from eating rat poison placed out by neighbors or businesses near your home, be sure to supervise your dog at all times when not on your property. Keep your dog indoors or in a securely fenced-in yard when you are not home. Never allow your dog to roam free.
If you absolutely must use rat poison on your property, never place it in an area where your dog can access it. Always keep the packaging just in case your dog manages to find the poison. Before using rat poison, carefully consider the risk. A safer choice is to contact a professional and ask about pet-safe options.
Bear in mind that your dog may find a way to consume rat poison or another toxin without your knowledge. Be sure to contact your vet any time your dog shows signs of illness.