Rat Poison

Pile of blue rat baitThe most common type of rat or mouse poison available are anticoagulants.  They are often a blue colour and  include active ingredients such as:

  • warfarin
  • difenacoum
  • brodifacoum
  • bromadiolone

These poisons work by blocking the production of vitamin K, which is important in producing clotting factors.  Without these clotting factors, small bleeds, which would normally go unnoticed, become catastrophic as the blood is unable to clot.  This leads to hypovolaemic shock, anaemia and death.  First generation anticoagulant rodenticides such as warfarin are eliminated from the system much quicker than second generation products (all the others named above).  Most modern rodenticides are second generation products.

What should I do if I see my dog eating rat poison?

2 brown Dachshunds eating in grassThe first step is to stop them eating any more!  Remove the dog from the area and call the vet immediately.  Take any packaging that you have so that the right treatment can be given for the correct length of time.

What are the signs of rat bait poisoning?

If you were not aware that your dog ate the rat bait, there are not normally any signs for about 1 week.  After this point, bleeding is the most common sign, although this may be internal so not obviously visible.

Blood samplesIf your dog shows any of the following signs, they should be seen by a vet as soon as possible.

  • Obvious bleeding – often from the nose, or coughing up blood
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Severe lethargy
  • Pale gums
  • Collapse
  • Unwillingness to exercise

How is rat bait poisoning treated?

If your dog has only just eaten the product, your vet will want to make them vomit.  This is usually done by giving a small injection which acts very quickly to purge the stomach.  The dog will then be given activated charcoal to mop up any remaining poison in the intestines.  Depending on the amount eaten and the rapidity of treatment, vitamin K treatment may be required, or monitoring of blood clotting times may be sufficient (usually every 48 hours for 1-2 weeks depending on the generation of product), with vitamin K treatment started at the first sign of any problems.

Sick puppy with intravenous catheterIf bleeding has already started, your dog is likely to need quite intensive treatment to reduce the risk of death.  A plasma transfusion may be needed.  This will replace the missing clotting factors and allow the bleeding to stop.  Vitamin K will then be given, usually by injection initially and then followed up by tablets.  This will enable your dog to start producing their own clotting factors again.

The length of vitamin K treatment will depend on the generation of product eaten.  It is important to recheck the clotting factors 48-72 hours after the treatment has finished to make sure that they are back to normal.  If they are longer than normal, treatment should be restarted for another week, otherwise there is a risk of bleeding again.
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What is the prognosis for rat bait poisoning?

If caught before bleeding starts and treated, the prognosis is very good.

If bleeding has started already, survival depends on the extent of the bleeding and how quickly the clotting factors can be replaced.  If the dog survives the initial 24 hours, the chances of recovery are good as long as treatment is continued for the right length of time.

What about other rat poisons?

There are some rat baits which are not anticoagulant based.  These are rarer

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