There are several types of poison used to kill vermin, and most can have a profound effect on pets, especially if the poison is ingested. In this Pets4Homes article, we’ll look at the main type that can cause serious problems and the signs of rat poisoning in your dog or puppy.
Rat bait or to give it its proper name a rodenticide is a poison used to get rid of vermin – wild rats, not fancy rats that you see often in pet shops and that are kept as pets. Vermin can carry disease and make any type of premises, such as kitchens, restaurants, homes, warehouses – anywhere a home for themselves, especially with a food source.
Although there are several different types of rat bait used, the most common is called an anticoagulant type. This is the type mostly used in the UK. The problem with this type of rat poison is that it is not just rats that can be affected by it, if it gets into other ecosystems, it is quite dangerous for all types of birds and mammals. Wildlife and pets can be commonly poisoned by this type of bait.
There are other humane ways to trap rats, however, if there is a food source nearby, a rat will return, if not there are plenty waiting to take a place! Because the anticoagulant type of bait is the most common, this article looks at that in more depth.
In order to attract the rat to want to eat the bait, manufacturers have to make it tasty. Unfortunately, dogs can also find it tasty! It is commonly produced using cereals to give it both bulk and flavor. Because many dogs also like cereal-based products, it becomes very interesting for them as well. They can often get hold of it because of the way rat bait is left for vermin problems. Often it can be left out in the open, inside buildings and many times uncovered – simply to attract the vermin towards it and to be able to carry the smell around the immediate area. Dogs that are near to these areas, especially on farmland and by farm outbuildings such as barns, can find the bait. Dogs that are off the lead are especially able to find any left out very easily. Rat bait traditionally is blue pellets, but other forms are available including solid blocks of bait.
Cats, on the other hand, do not tend to eat anything they are suspicious of – and rat bait will fall into that category. There is a very small chance that the cat may become ill from eating a rodent that has been poisoned with rat bait, however for it to pass into the cat, they would have to eat a lot of infected rats and mice, for the anticoagulant to have a major effect!
There are many different types of anticoagulant, but they generally do all one thing, stop blood clotting. They do this by affecting the vitamin K in the animal that has ingested it. Vitamin K is essential in the production of enzymes which are needed further down the line to help produce a blood clot. When this happens correctly, blood loss, which can be life-threatening is halted. If the vitamin K isn’t working properly, and clotting cannot take place, there can be real trouble for the animal.
Sometimes there is a short period of time before any symptoms of vitamin K disruption appears, this is when the enzymes are used up without anyone (or the victim) being any the wiser. It means the next time the body needs to clot to save blood loss, it doesn’t. According to the injury whether externally or internally in the animal, the blood loss can be so severe it can kill them.
Many cases are seen in vets where the owner of the dog has seen the dog eat the poison, but not been quick enough to stop ingestion. However, if the owner has not seen the dog eat rat poison the symptoms can be delayed for several days – until the animal runs out of enzymes that are used in the clotting mechanism.
Of course, signs can be different as it’s all according to where the bleeding first starts in the animal, but common symptoms are:
It is generally down to tests – especially if the animal wasn’t witnessed in eating any of the poison. Other conditions that can cause similar signs to include lungworm infection and clotting disorders such as von Willebrand’s disease (normally seen in Dobermans and Scottish terriers among other breeds). Your dog’s blood will be taken and clotting time on it tested. In many cases the dog is treated with a vitamin K injection and their clotting response is often a good indicator to rat poison toxicity – they will start to clot!
The very first thing is to get your pet to a vet immediately. If you know it was rat bait they have eaten, take along the packaging if you have it, as it gives a great clue to the type of anticoagulant that has been ingested.
The vet will often make the dog sick to bring up any undigested rat bait as well as giving them something called activated charcoal to help the toxin be further diluted. Vitamin K is given as a routine procedure – especially if the type of anticoagulant is not known, and then you can expect your dog to be on about a months’ worth of vitamin K!
In very severe cases, where blood loss has caused the dog to become anaemic, vets may even discuss giving a blood transfusion.
In conclusion rat poison can be very dangerous for dogs and many other pets, if you have any suspicion that your pet has eaten rat poison, please contact your vet immediately for further advice.