By Christie Long
It comes as little surprise to most people that rat poison is, in fact, poisonous, even to species other than rats. What seems to throw people for a loop is that those other species would actually consume rat poison, when clearly, it’s labeled for rats.
Many people put out rat poison without thinking about the dangers it poses to their companion animals. Dogs are the most likely victims, but cats have been known to ingest rat poison as well, and may be poisoned if they ingest a rodent that ate the poison first.
Most commercially available rat poisons contain one of a few different chemicals that all have the same end result. These chemicals interfere with the normal clotting capabilities of the blood by inhibiting the actions of Vitamin K, and are called anticoagulant rodenticides.
The inability to clot is clearly a huge problem in the event of a serious traumatic event that causes massive hemorrhage, but these poisons cause death on a slower, more subtle level.
The body has an intricate mechanism that allows clots to form when there is microscopic damage inside vessels, and dissolves those clots when they are no longer needed. Rat poison disrupts this, and leaves the blood almost unable to clot.
Profuse bleeding is the result, but often you don’t see it, because it’s happening inside the body, into body cavities like the chest and abdomen. The result is a slowly developing but profound anemia, which looks produces a weak, lethargic animal. The gums are likely to appear to be very pale. This is a great reason to get acquainted right now with your pet’s normal gum color so that you can tell when it’s abnormal.
Although most rat poison is colored a vivid blue-green, to dogs and cats it looks like standard kibble, and tastes pretty good, as well, so they will ingest it if given the opportunity. If you suspect that your dog or cat has ingested rat poison in the last hour or two, there’s a very good chance that you can save their lives by getting them to a veterinarian.
Inducing vomiting will likely get most of the poison out of their system, and following with activated charcoal helps to absorb the rest of the poison that remains in the gastrointestinal tract. Patients are given an injection of Vitamin K, and oral Vitamin K to take at home, usually for two weeks. Bloodwork to check whether the blood is clotting normally after treatment is critical as well.
As time advances it is more difficult to save these patients, as they become severely anemic to the point of needing blood transfusions. If you have pets but absolutely cannot avoid using rat poisons, keep them away from the reach of pets and use the older generation anti-coagulant products, which have readily available antidotes. And remember that animals that are allowed to roam freely are at increased risk for exposure to poisons such as these, which is another excellent reason for keeping your dogs and cats confined to your property.
Christie Long is a veterinarian at the VCA Animal Hospital in Fort Collins, CO. Long left her job in software sales in 2000 to travel for 13 months. Along the way, she was touched by the plight of the animals she saw and somewhere in the Nepalese Himalayas she vowed to return to school to become a veterinarian. While she often finds end-of-life situations heart-wrenching, she considers herself blessed to be called upon as a trusted advisor to families during difficult times. Dr. Long’s family includes her husband and travel partner, Wiley, their 5-year-old son, Wiley IV, their dogs Pancake and Gizmo and cats Sneaky and Sidh.