Each autumn and winter, there is a concerning rise of dog and cat poisonings due to rat and mouse poisons (rodenticides) that are seen in veterinary hospitals and animal ERs throughout the world.
Many cats and dogs will be the first to take the bait
With the declining temperatures and summer’s food bounty going away, rats and mice start seeking shelter and food in our homes, garages, sheds, and barns. To combat them, many people will put out rodenticides — chemicals and “baits” designed to kill rats and mice.
Unfortunately, cats and dogs will often be the first to take the bait. And as if that weren't enough, they can also be affected by eating poisoned rodents! Signs of rodenticide toxicity can be seen within hours to days, depending on the type of rodenticide used.
Possible signs of rodenticide poisoning in dogs and cats
- bruising or petechiation (small, pinpoint red dots — most typically seen on the gums, inner ear, or hairless part of the belly)
- pale gums
- vomiting (possibly with blood)
- coughing (possibly with blood)
- lethargy or weakness
- breathing problems (e.g., difficulty breathing, rapid breathing)
- rapid heart rate/pulse
- uncontrolled bleeding (often seen as nosebleeds or easy bruising)
- a marked increase in thirst and urination
- blood or dark discoloration of the urine
- change in color of their bowel movements –– can be dark black and "tarry," blood red, or even bright green or blue (the green or blue color comes from the baits themselves)
A pet's particular signs will depend on the type of poison eaten (the active ingredient) – as well as the amount eaten, the pet's weight, and the amount of time that has passed since they ate it. If you notice any of these signs in your pet and know or suspect that they may have eaten some rat or mouse bait immediately call Animal Poison Control or take them to a veterinarian for evaluation. Time is truly of importance with rodenticide poisonings.
Even if you're not seeing any of these (or other) clinical signs in your pet, if you know or suspect that they have gotten into a rodenticide, you really do need to immediately call Animal Poison Control or take them for evaluation by a veterinarian. Rodenticides are very good at their "job"... killing. And these compounds don't care whether they're in a rat/mouse or your cat or dog, they are indiscriminate killers. The sooner you get your pet the veterinary attention they need, the better the odds of their survival.
It's not just in and around your home where you have to worry
Even if you’re not using rat and mouse poisons in or around your home, exercise great caution with your cats and dogs this time of year, as your neighbors or even your local parks department and businesses may be doing so. And keep this in mind too when traveling with your pets, as some hotels or rental homes may use rodenticides inside or on their grounds!
Pets can also be affected by eating poisoned rodents!
All rat and mouse poisons are not the same
While many of the more common rodenticides kill by causing prolonged bleeding, not all do! Some kill by causing kidney failure, while others kill through their devastating effect on the cellular metabolism throughout the body. This difference in "mode of action" is extremely important, as they each carry their own prognosis and require different treatment. Check out this article for more information on the differences (i.e., how they kill) between the various types of rodenticides.
Tips to help you protect your pets from rodenticides:
- Keep dogs on leashes and in fenced-in yards.
- Don’t let dogs scavenge on walks — especially around parks, schools, and restaurants.
- Keep cats indoors.
- Keep all rodenticides in your home well out of reach of your pets. This applies both to the pieces of poison laid out, as well as the rest of what's left in the box or bag.
- Use only the newer "pet-safe" bait stations like this one (but research which product is best for your situation and environment if such poisons are to be used in and around your home).
- Work only with exterminators who use pet-safer methods of rodent control.
- Ask your neighbors not to leave any rat or mouse poisons in their yard, or to let you know in advance if they plan to.
- Enquire about the presence of rodenticides within and around a home or apartment building when moving into a new home. Make their removal a condition of the purchase or rental agreement. (See the true story "Tail of Woe" below.)
- Ask about and double-check in and around any hotels/motels or rental apartments or homes you stay in with your pets while traveling.
True Story – "Tail of Woe": I once treated a family's TWO Jack Russell Terriers for inadvertent rat poison ingestion after the dogs discovered and ate the blocks of rat poison that had been laid out by the previous owners and left behind under the deck of the house the dog's people had bought just two weeks before. Fortunately, they both survived, but it was touch and go and certainly took a toll –– both financially and emotionally –– on the dogs' family.
Rodenticides are indiscriminate in who or what they kill. So please, if you use them, do so only with extreme caution and take the steps necessary to keep your cats and dogs safe from their potent effects.