What’s the safest way to use rat poison around dogs?
Full disclosure: This week, I wasn’t sure what to write about but trusted inspiration would strike before the day was out.
And, during the course of morning surgery, it did — in the shape of a larger-than-life Yorkshire Terrier called Skye.
Skye’s Dangerous Snack
About 20 minutes earlier, the client had caught Skye eating rat bait.
This is ironic, really, because by heritage Yorkshire Terriers are ratters. They were originally bred to keep down vermin in Yorkshire cotton mills during the industrial revolution. If Skye was true to her roots, her human wouldn’t need rat bait.
Time is of the essence with poisonings like this; quite rightly, the client dashed straight down with Skye. The sooner you make the dog vomit, the less likely they are to absorb the anticoagulant. This saves a whole load of distress and medication further down the line.
Skye’s human also had real presence of mind and brought the remainder of the packet of bait with him. This was helpful because it gave me the exact name of the product, the concentration and an idea of how much Skye had eaten.
Given the amount consumed, it seemed sensible to make Skye sick. Fortunately, there’s a highly effective medication that does just that. A few minutes after the injection, Skye looked distinctly sorry for herself, with the contents of her stomach now on some newspaper in front of her.
This rat bait was a turquoise-blue color, so my next job was to poke through the vomit (oh, the glamour) to check that all the bait had come up. Yep! Job done.
However, not all cases of rat bait poisoning end so happily.
A Very Ill Puppy
At the other end of the scale was the case of a fluffball of a Bichon puppy. This was a while ago, but the preventable tragedy still sticks in my mind.
The pup’s human booked an appointment, thinking the dog had swallowed a pen lid. (Don’t ask me why they thought that.) But on presentation, the puppy was totally collapsed.
The Bichon’s gums were paper-white, and she was having difficulty breathing. A quick X-ray showed she had masses of free fluid in her chest and belly. That fluid was blood.
I referred her for an emergency blood transfusion, but, sadly, she didn’t see the night out.
Her devastated human returned home searching for an explanation as to why his precious pup had become so sick so suddenly. Then answer lay behind the shed: Some rat bait he thought was safely hidden had been found and eaten (days earlier) by the puppy.
By the time the puppy had collapsed, she was beyond saving.
There are different types of rat baits that work in different ways. But whichever way you look at it, whether they kill a rat or a dog, it’s only a matter of scale.
Rats are mammals, just like dogs. It’s just that rats are smaller and therefore don’t need to eat much to die. But if a dog accesses the bait, or worse, the packet itself, they are equally as at risk as a rat.
It’s also salient to know that rat baits are made to be tasty. Since many dogs are greedy, they’re as attracted to the bait as the vermin it’s meant to control. And while the manufacturers color the products blue to warn us humans, dogs don’t pay heed to the unsavory color and chow down regardless.
The particular type of rodenticide Skye found was an anticoagulant. These work by thinning the blood and stopping it from clotting. Thus, a minor knock causes bleeding that just doesn’t stop. That’s why that tragic Bichon puppy had free blood in her chest and belly — she’d bled out internally.
Again, products vary, with some of the modern ones being more deadly in repeated small doses rather than 1 large dose (but neither is good news). Internal bleeding can start in as little as 24 hours after ingestion, and sometimes the earliest symptoms are collapse and sudden death.
Other symptoms include:
- Coughing, with blood
- Blood in stools or urine
- Heavy bleeding from minor cuts
- Seizures (if the bleed happens on the brain)
- Paralysis (bleeds around the spinal cord)
Once symptoms develop, an emergency blood transfusion may be needed. And for dogs who have already digested the poison but aren’t yet ill, then daily injections of vitamin K are required for up to 4 weeks.
Check out this dog’s close call with rat poison:
The Twist in the Tale
Skye was a textbook case of how to handle a poisoning and was soon ready to go home, disaster averted.
But as I saw the client out the door, I jokingly said, “I’ll throw the rest of the pack of bait away for you.”
He stopped in his tracks. “Oh, thank you for reminding me. Actually, I’ll take it home, thanks.”
Disbelief showed on my face, and he added, “Don’t worry; I’ll put them where Skye can’t find it.” Then, less convincingly, “I thought it was safe last time.”
So, in answer to what the safest way to use rat poison is, in my opinion, there isn’t one. So why do some people never learn?
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed Aug. 10, 2018.