Now dive deeper.
In a survey of our clinic over 15 years, the second most common poisoning in dogs in Adelaide is caused by rodenticides. How?
How Dogs Get Poisoned
Thankfully, it’s not deliberate poisoning with rat bait- I’ve never seen it. The real reason they get poisoned is that owners underestimate their dogs’ intelligence, and don’t realise rat poison is something dogs want to eat.
Ignore the label claims about bitter tastes. Rat poison has to be tasty to rats or it won’t work, and if rats like it, so will dogs.
You may have forgotten that bait you laid last summer but your dog hasn’t. Most poisonings occur from:
- Old baits safely left in a hidden area until something is moved
- Poison knocked off a shelf in the shed
- Baits found when visiting friends or holiday homes
- Rats moving block-type baits into accessible areas
- Small dogs or cats eating poisoned rats
- Baits poorly secured: most bait stations are easier than puzzle dog feeders!
Types Of Rat Poisons
In Australia, most rat and mouse baits are anticoagulants. They work by blocking the production of clotting factors. A few days after a toxic dose, affected animals start bleeding internally. Unless they receive an antidote or blood transfusion, death follows within 24 hours.
Anticoagulants come in two types. Warfarin is an older form which requires repeated and higher doses to kill an animal. Brodifacoum or difenacoum are much more potent later generations developed to overcome warfarin resistance in rodents. Both require veterinary care, but it’s useful for the vet to know which one was used.
It doesn’t matter if the poison is in block or pellet form, it’s the active ingredient that counts.
Other rat poisons such as phosphides are used in professional pest control and farming. These can kill rapidly if urgent veterinary care is not sought. Due to their rarity in domestic situations I will only discuss anticoagulants from now on.
Signs Of Rat Bait Poisoning In Dogs
Symptoms are entirely due to uncontrolled bleeding. The most common signs of rodenticide toxicity in dogs are:
- Lethargy & reluctance to exercise
- Pale gums
- Panting or heavy breathing
- Swollen abdomen
Signs are usually vague, stressing the importance of remembering the possibility of rat poisons.
Other signs may include:
- Coughing or vomiting blood
- Blood in the faeces
- Swollen joints and lameness
- Blue or green dye in vomit, faeces or around the mouth- that’s how Bailey’s owners knew.
What To Do When A Dog Eats A Rat Bait
Stay calm; there is an antidote. Dogs don’t die of rat bait exposure if they see a vet within 24 hours of ingestion.
Call your vet for advice. If the rat poison was eaten less than two hours ago, you will be told to come straight down. Inducing vomiting should remove most of the poison.
If the exposure was more than two hours ago, inducing vomiting may still be a good idea, especially if your dog has had a recent meal to slow down absorption. However, there will almost certainly be poison in the system.
Your vet will either:
- Plan a blood test to check for slow blood clotting two days after ingestion.
- Start a course of Vitamin K1 (the specific antidote) for a time calculated to be longer than the action of the poison.
Warning: deaths have occurred using different Vitamin K so please consult your vet
For both options, three days after the end of the course, another clotting test is recommended.
How to decide? The decision is based on risk and cost.
- If the amount taken was low, or we think vomiting brought enough back up, we’ll recommend the blood test before treatment
- In a large dog, Vitamin K1 is very expensive, so we may test first to see if we really need to use it.
- In a small dog, treatment is much cheaper than testing, and quite safe, so we may choose to treat first.
For example, Bailey’s owner noticed a small amount of the blue dye from rat bait in his faeces. We decided it wasn’t certain he’d had enough poison to harm him so we scheduled a blood test instead of treating him. The result was normal, so he never needed treatment.
How To Make Dogs Vomit
On the internet you will read ways to make a dog vomit using peroxide. It may be safe enough (I doubt it), but who has peroxide just lying around?
Even if you make your dog vomit, you will still need to go to the vet. Far better to pack your dog in the car and head straight to the vet than losing valuable time trying to get your dog to vomit.
Vets have several gentle methods which usually work. We also keep apomorphine as a back up if the milder emetics don’t work. Vets also know when it’s not safe to induce vomiting.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on Facebook and Twitter. The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet has a problem, please seek veterinary attention.