Unfortunately, many pets get into toxins — even toxins that were meant to get rid of pests like mice and rats. An extremely common type of toxicity is rodenticide, or rat poison. There are three main groups of rat poison used, and they can all be very toxic to dogs and cats (and even our exotic pets, too). The most common type of rat poison used is an anticoagulant poison and include chemicals such as brodifacoum and bromadiolone. This type of toxin prevents blood from clotting by decreasing the body’s amount of usable Vitamin K1, which is used in several clotting factors — meaning that pets that eat this toxin cannot clot their blood properly. Approximately 2-3 days after ingestion, pets can start to bleed from their gums and their gastrointestinal tract, and they can bleed into body cavities such as the chest, abdomen or joints. You might see blood in your pet’s mouth, abnormal bruising, or blood in their vomit or stool, or they may look pale, have difficulty breathing, have an enlarged abdomen, or have joint swelling. Testing often involves evaluating your pet’s clotting times, and treatment at this stage frequently involves a hospital stay, plasma, possibly a blood transfusion, and repeat blood work with possible radiographs or an ultrasound.
Patients that usually have the best prognosis from this type of toxicity are those that are actually seen eating the rat poison by their owners, who then bring them in for treatment right away. Upon arrival, decontamination and treatment to prevent bleeding disorders are initiated. Decontamination often involves initiating vomiting and giving activated charcoal orally. Most patients are started on Vitamin K1 as well, to increase the amount of usable Vitamin K1 in the body and prevent clotting abnormalities. When treatment is started soon after ingestion, most patients recover very well, so getting your pet to the animal hospital quickly is extremely important.
The two other types of rat poison used are cholecalciferol/vitamin D3 rat poison and bromethalin. Cholecalciferol increases the amount of calcium in the body, which can deposit on organs and cause organ dysfunction, including kidney failure. Vague symptoms, including depression, anorexia, vomiting, and increased drinking and urinating, may be seen 1-2 days after ingestion. Once severe clinical signs are seen, treatment is usually aggressive and normally involves hospitalization — and due to the advanced effects of the toxin, the pet may not survive. Again, early treatment and decontamination will likely lead to a much better prognosis for your pet.
Bromethalin poisoning produces neurologic signs, such as disorientation or stumbling, tremors, and paralysis, and a pet that has ingested this toxin may start to show signs 10-24 hours after ingestion — but the symptoms can progress for 1 to 2 weeks. Again, pets with severe signs often need to be hospitalized with aggressive therapy, and patients that are brought in immediately for decontamination have a much better chance for recovery.
If your pet has ingested any toxin — especially rat poison — bring him/her to a veterinarian immediately for early treatment. And be sure to bring with you the container that the poison came in, so we can direct our treatment appropriately.
To prevent accidental ingestion and help avoid these kinds of poisonings, keep all toxins — including those intended to kill rodents — well out of reach of your pets.
© 2010 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.