Updated December 31, 2020
‘At A Glance (Details Below)’ Emergency Care
What To Do If A Dog Eats Rat Or Mouse Poison
- If less than two hours since ingestion, see a vet ASAP to cause vomiting
- Don’t panic: anticoagulant poisons have an effective antidote if started within 2 days
- Follow your vet’s advice on blood testing & when to stop treatment
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 Dogs Get Poisoned
Deliberate poisoning with rat bait is rare. The real reason most dogs get poisoned is that owners underestimate their dogs’ intelligence, and don’t realise that rat poison is something dogs want to eat.
Anything tasty to rats is tasty to dogs too. 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
- Bait stations that can be broken open
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.
Bromethalin is a neurotoxin found in rat baits in other countries that can cause much more rapid signs of tremors, seizures, hind limb weakness and collapse.
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. Poisonings with any of these require veterinary attention, 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
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 before symptoms appear, preferably 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
Finally, an important word on making dogs vomit. On the internet you will read methods using peroxide. It may be safe enough (I doubt it), but who has peroxide just lying around?
Even if you are successful, you will still need to go to the vet. Therefore, it’s far better to pack your dog in the car and head straight to the vet than lose valuable time.
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.
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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 is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.