Rat poison: It can kill your pet

We have been seeing a rise in rodenticide poison exposure in dogs these past months, enough to warrant talking about this problem more in depth.

A rodenticide is defined as anything that kills rats, mice and other rodents. It seems that because the term is “rodenticide,” we forget to consider the more important word poison — when — we pick a box off the shelf at the hardware store. Frankly, from a medical perspective, I am surprised it is so easy to buy rodenticides over the counter.

There are several compounds in rat poison but overall, the killing effects are divided into anti-coagulants and neurotoxins. The anticoagulant rodenticides prevent the blood from clotting, which means that whatever eats the poison slowly bleeds to death internally over the course of a few days. There is a delay in action by two to five days, in theory so that the rat doesn’t realize what caused it to get sick and warn the others. Rats are very smart, which is why humans had to devise this very sneaky approach to annihilation.

The neurotoxic rodenticide causes uncontrollable seizures from edema in the brain, which will ultimately lead to death from cardiopulmonary collapse (overexertion and overheating and horrible pain while the body has to struggle through this repeatedly) and organ failure. You just hope the animal loses consciousness before it gets that bad.

Out of reach

All this lovely evil is hidden in tasty flavored “bricks,” just begging to be nibbled on by, well, not just rodents. When reading the instructions on the box, it is recommended to place these bricks away from any pet access — under the stove, deep in corners, behind armoirs, you get the idea. But over and over again our pets teach us that nothing will keep them from eventually getting to something so very tempting. Where there’s a will, there is a way.

You may think that there can’t be that much poison in these bricks, so eating one can’t be that bad. After all, it’s supposed to kill a rat, not something four to 100 times larger.

The problem is we never just put out one brick to catch rats, do we? We place them all over the house, under the house, in the rafters, the washroom. Also, the bricks are designed such that the rats bring some back to the den to feed the young and possibly share with others in the colony. There is more poison in the one brick than is needed to kill one rat.

So depending on the size of your pet and the amount of poison it actually eats (which you may never truly know), it can be serious indeed. Do not wait see if it will be a problem. Call your veterinarian immediately, find the box of rat poison and take it with you to see the vet, call poison control to find out which poison it is and if you saw your pet eat it, find out how best to make it vomit right away. Which means, call the vet immediately. The less that’s in the stomach, the better.

Bring your pet to see the veterinarian even if you think it has vomited everything back up. These poisons are designed to be quickly absorbed in the stomach for maximum effect. Your pet may need activated charcoal, vitamin K as well as supportive care with IV fluids, depending on what toxin was ingested.

And I do say pets, not just dogs. Cats may or may not be as interested in eating the sweet treats strewn around, but any self-respecting small lion will try to hunt and possibly nibble on the half-alive rat itself. I have even seen raptors poisoned from ingesting rats that were being poisoned in the neighborhood.

In summary, anything designed to kill another living being, even if deemed a lesser being than ourselves, has the potential to kill those we love. Poison has a skull and crossbones on the box for a reason. Just because there is almost half an aisle dedicated to the eradication of rodents and roaches does not mean a product is safe; it just means that there is no one way to solve a problem.

Read labels, think about alternatives, ask professionals (exterminators, not the person with the logo in the store) and realize that poison is just that.

Feel free to email questions to or write to her care of the Marathon Veterinary Hospital, 5001 Overseas Highway, Marathon, FL 33050.