Their curiosity and love of tasty things are a couple of the characteristics that make our best dog pals so darn cute. Unfortunately, those traits can also put them in danger as they sometimes lead our dogs to ingest products that are poisonous to them—like rat poison.
Rat poison is a highly toxic substance used to kill rats. As you’d imagine, it also has the potential to kill dogs. If you’re here because your dog ate rat poison, you may be panicking. Take a few deep breaths and keep reading to learn what you need to know about the types of rat poison; the signs of rat poison in dogs; and, most importantly, what you should do next.
Dog Ate Rat Poison?
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Types of Rat Poison
Rat poison, formally known as rodenticide, is also used as mouse poison. It can kill other rodents, like squirrels and chipmunks, as well.
The three most common types of rat poison are anticoagulant rodenticides, bromethalin rodenticides and cholecalciferol rodenticides. Each can cause different medical complications in your dog because of the way they work. All can lead to a dog’s death. Let’s dive deeper into each:
First-generation anticoagulants (developed earlier): chlorophacinone, diphacinone, pindone and warfarin
Second-generation anticoagulants (developed later; even more potent and deadly): brodifacoum, bromadiolone, difenacoum and difethialone
- How they work: Prevent blood clotting
- Potential outcomes: Can lead to uncontrolled/severe bleeding and death
- How they work: Cause brain swelling
- Potential outcomes: Can lead to seizures, coma and death
- How they work: Raise calcium levels and phosphorus levels
- Potential outcomes: Can lead to kidney failure and death
Other types of rat bait include zinc phosphide and aluminum phosphide, which are more commonly found in mole and gopher bait, and strychnine.
All rat poisons are toxic to dogs. However, if your dog ate rat poison, it’s extremely helpful to know which type of rodenticide poison they ingested, as the signs, complications and treatments vary between the types.
Signs of Rat Poisoning in Dogs
While it’s wise to be aware of the signs of rat poison in dogs, Dr. Stephanie Howell, DVM, medical director of VEG in Brookhaven, Georgia, stresses the importance of not waiting for symptoms to appear if you know or suspect your dog ingested a rodenticide.
The following are possible symptoms of rat poisoning, broken out by the type of toxicant:
Symptoms appear three to seven days after ingestion:
- Low energy
- Lack of appetite
- Pale gums
- Vomiting, specifically coughing up or vomiting up blood
- Difficulty breathing
- Blood in poop
- Nose bleeds
- Bleeding gums
Large doses (symptoms appear within 24 hours of ingestion):
- Severe muscle tremors
- Extreme hyperexcitability
Lower doses (initial symptoms that appear one to three days after ingestion):
- Poor muscle control in back legs
- Muscle weakness
- Slow heart rate and/or breathing
Lower doses (symptoms that gradually progress over one to two weeks):
Cholecalciferol (vitamin D3) rodenticides
Symptoms appear four to 36 hours of ingestion:
- Loss of appetite
Renal failure signs:
- Increased thirst/urination
- Irregular heartbeat
- Increased thirst and urination
- Loss of appetite
- Low energy
What to Do If Your Dog Eats Rat Poison
If your dog eats rat poison, do not take a watch-and-wait approach. Dr. Howell suggests the following:
- Call a pet poison helpline or your local emergency vet.
- American Society for the Prevention of Animals (ASPCA) Animal Poison Control Center: (888) 426-4435
- Pet Poison Helpline: (855) 764-7661
- Take your dog to the emergency vet.
A poison control center is a great starting place because they can give you specific information about the next steps after taking a history and estimating the dose of rat poison your pup ingested.
“It is very helpful to have the label of the type of poison that they got into so that the hotline/toxicologist can help determine a dose ingested for the weight of your pet,” Dr Howell says.
However, she advises that if your dog is showing any signs of poisoning, skip the call and head to the emergency vet immediately.
“If necessary, you can always talk to a pet poison control line while your pet is being seen, and the toxicologist can help your ER veterinarian make the best plan of care based on the estimated dose ingested,” she says.
My Dog Ate Rat Poison and Nothing Happened
The amount of time that it takes for your dog to show signs of rat poison varies both by the type of rodenticide and the amount ingested, Dr. Howell says.
Just because your dog doesn’t have symptoms of rat poisoning shortly after they’ve eaten it doesn’t mean they’ll be OK without treatment.
For example, “bromethalin can have a delay of a few days before clinical signs are seen,” she says. “I always recommend either consultation with a pet poison hotline or to be seen by a veterinarian when owners become aware of the possible ingestion.”
If a vet can begin treating a dog quickly, they have more tools in their toolbox. Dr. Howell says causing your dog to vomit to prevent further absorption into the gastrointestinal tract is one thing a vet can do within a two- to four-hour window after ingestion.
Another possibility, according to Dr. Jon Geller, founder and national director at The Street Dog Coalition in Fort Collins, Colorado, is administering activated charcoal to decrease the absorption of the poison. But again, this must be done shortly after ingestion.
Your dog has the best chance of a positive outcome if they never show symptoms but still receive treatment after consuming rat poison.
"[T]hat means we’ve successfully decontaminated and treated to avoid severe toxicity signs,” Dr. Howell says.
Dr. Howell again points to bromethalin as a prime example of the importance of prompt treatment. “Unfortunately, once you start to see severe neurologic symptoms … we are looking at a poor prognosis for recovery,” she says.
Treating a Dog Who Ate Rat Poison
The type of treatment your dog will need following rodenticide ingestion depends on the type of rat poison they consumed.
“[E]ach one has a different mechanism for the cause of toxicity,” Dr. Howell says.
For example, if your dog eats an anticoagulant rodenticide, your vet may need to treat them with vitamin K1 or even a blood transfusion in severe cases.
“On the other hand,” Dr. Howell says, “there is no specific medication to reverse the effects of bromethalin rodenticide, and decontamination/supportive care is our only option.”
This is why it’s important to identify the type of rat poison your pup got into if possible. If you’re unable to obtain that info, clinical signs, blood tests and other methods can help your vet determine the best course of treatment.
Note that while there are some blood tests that can identify the type of rat poison your dog ate, those must be sent to a specialty lab. Your pooch will need treatment well before the results of the bloodwork are returned.
My Dog Ate Rat Poison: Is Home Treatment Possible?
While you likely cannot treat a dog who ate rat poison at home, Dr. Howell says some pet poison helpline experts may potentially consider having you induce vomiting at home as a first step.
“However, the safety of this option varies by patient, and hydrogen peroxide can cause some significant stomach irritation,” she says.
The safest bet is to take your dog to an emergency vet. Dr. Howell says they can decide whether inducing vomiting is safe, and if they take that route, they can give your dog other medications that will help protect their stomach lining.
In short, if your dog ate rat poison, home treatment is generally not advised.
Preventing Rat Poisoning in Dogs
As the saying goes, prevention is the best medicine. Keeping your dog away from rat poison in the first place is critical.
Dr. Howell recommends the following steps to prevent rat poisoning in dogs:
- Control your dog’s environment. Know what dangers lurk in the places your dog can access. If you live in an area where people use bait stations to poison rodents, for example, always walk your dog on a leash so they can’t get near the poison.
- Be aware of pest control Know when scheduled pest control takes place and where it’s used. Talk to the technicians (or your landlord) so you know exactly when and where pest control is happening.
- Keep rat poison (and all toxicants) out of reach. Ensure you’re storing anything that could harm your dog in a place where they cannot access it.
Is any amount of rat poison safe for dogs?
A:No. While the amount of rat poison that’s fatal to a dog depends on many factors, including the type of poison, it’s a toxicant and regardless of the amount consumed, it’s never “safe.”
Don’t try to decide for yourself whether your dog is going to be OK. At the very least, call the pet poison helpline immediately.
Can rat poison kill dogs?
A:All types of rat poison can kill dogs. “Eating rat poison is potentially life-threatening, especially for very small dogs,” explains Dr. Geller.
For this reason, it’s important to call for help and/or seek immediate care, even if symptoms aren’t present. The sooner your dog receives treatment after ingesting rat poison, the better their chance of survival.
What if my dog ate a poisoned rat?
A:You may have heard that different types of wildlife, such as birds of prey, can experience secondary rodenticide poisoning as a result of consuming poisoned rodents. If your dog ate a poisoned rat, you may be wondering if that can happen to them as well.
“Ingestion of a single rat killed with rat poison is unlikely to cause toxicity,” Dr. Howell says. However, toxicity is possible for dogs who consume multiple poisoned rats (either at once or over time) versus it being a one-off incident.
She recommends calling the pet poison helpline or a veterinary clinic if your dog consumes a poisoned rat and you’re concerned.
Is it true that antacids can help if a dog ate rat poison?
A:You should never administer antacids to your dog if they’ve consumed rat poison. Call the pet poison control center and/or seek emergency vet care.
Vets may use antacids to treat poisoning with zinc phosphides and aluminum phosphides. However, a vet must make this determination following testing, and they will know the correct dose to administer.
Is it helpful to bring in a dog vomit or poop sample if possible?
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