Recently I’ve seen two Australian Shepherd puppies sold with a list of 52 drugs to avoid. I understand the intention, but this list is incorrect and alarmist. It contains many perfectly safe drugs, some of which will be essential later in life.
One night my own dog started shaking and shivering uncontrollably. Several frantic minutes went by. Was it a poison, was he unwell? The reasons why dogs tremble and shake go from simple to serious.
A minute later he squatted, passed a huge puddle of urine on the floor and the shaking stopped. He was busting to go to the toilet, and no-one realised. We all felt a bit silly, but that’s how hard it is.
I’ve been a vet for a quarter century now. Over that time I’ve seen just about everything go wrong that can.
Pet disasters tend to go along recurring themes. If you know what they are, you have an excellent chance to avoid them. Some might be upsetting, but I hope you can see the benefit in thinking about them now.
There’s a common, popular treat causing kidney failure in dogs. It’s right there in your local pet store. It drives vets crazy because there’s nothing we can do to stop it except warn you not to buy it.
Most people will say having a new puppy in the house is a bigger shock than a new baby. With a baby you have plenty of time to get the house safe as they grow and develop. A puppy is in full-on grab-and-destroy mode from the day they arrive. Here’s a checklist to keep them safe and you sane. All of these points are covered in detail in Common Puppy Dangers.
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
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
Panting or heavy breathing
Signs are usually vague, stressing the importance of remembering the possibility of rat poisons.
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. This includes secondary poisoning when a dog eats a poisoned rat.
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.
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging. By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story! 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.