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How Rat Poison Kills Your Dog (or Rat) or You!

September 17, 2011

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“I Think My Dog Got Into Rat
Bait”

Caesar blinked guiltily at Doc Truli.
His big fat yellow lab belly hung down from his hips like a
condemnation of his gluttony. This time the 12-year-old
yellow lab mix had really gone and done it. “We have these Florida
fruit rats. They can get really big and brazen. So we
put out the rat poison. Since we knew Caesar gets into
everything, we were careful to put the bait behind our fence,
between our fence and the neighbor’s. We caught Caesar ripping down
a piece of fence so he could get at the rat blocks. We think
he ate a whole box of it before we could stop him,” said Casear’s
mom, a mid-50’s tanned Florida native with a smoker’s husk to her
voice. She looked capable and practical. Casear the dog
had outsmarted her. Or so he thought…

Caesar Vomits

Because Caesar had eaten
the rat bait less than two hours before he was caught, we had a
chance, if we could make him vomit it up, that he would not get too
toxic from it. How do you get a dog to vomit? Well, in the
hospital, we use a medicine called apomorphine. It goes under
the eyelid in the conjunctival sac, or intravenously. The
morphine in it makes you puke like crazy. Usually.
Caesar took 6 doses before he finally looked a little
nauseated. Then we pulled out the hydrogen peroxide, household
strength. That put him over the top! Caesar finally
puked his doggy heart out.

“Be careful with any
home treatments. It is best to seek veterinary help in these
cases. For example, if your dog looks stuporous or out of it,
he or she may breathe in the vomit or the hydrogen peroxide liquid.
If they breath into the lungs, then a nasty aspiration
pneumonia sets in that is as deadly and expensive to treat as
poisoning,” says Doc Truli.

Activated
Charcoal Gets the Poison Out, too.

After the vomiting,
we gave Caesar some medicine to settle his stomach because more
doggy “torture” was on the way! Next, we fed Caesar activated
charcoal. This is charcoal medicinally treated and purified
so that it adsorbs toxins from the intestinal tract. It
tastes like, well, charcoal. Getting a dog to eat activated
charcoal is like getting a dog to eat paint. Good luck!

“I remember a pit bull terrier that ate some rat
bait years ago. I figured, if he liked the rat bait, maybe he
would like the charcoal. I put a dollop of cat food on the
top of a bowl of activated charcoal. Wouldn’t you know?
He ate the whole bowl right down!” says Doc
Truli.

Vomiting alone will not get all of the
charcoal out of his system. The activated charcoal sticks to
the poison (adsorbs, different physical process than absorbing) and
the stuck-together particles get pooped out of the system in due
time.

How Does Rat Poison Kill, Anyway?

I’m
glad you asked! The rat poisons readily available today stop
Vitamin K from working in your liver.
(Or a rat’s, mouse’s, or dog or cat’s liver…)
Vitamin K is a necessary
cofactor on the synthesis of blood clotting factors. It is
essential for the “Vitamin K dependent” clotting
factors
. The shortest-lived clotting factor is
Factor 7. The supply in the bloodstream will start to run out
5-7 days after the vitamin K stops.
This means the symptoms of Rat poison will show up 5-7 days
after the poison is ingested.

Looking at a dog’s
lip that had a bleeding cat scratch hole for 7 days,”Did she get
into any rat bait?” “Sure, said the dog’s dad.” “When was that?”
asked Doc. “About a week ago,” said the dad. “You know that’s
poison right? Why didn’t you come in for treatment?” asked
Doc Truli. “She was fine the last time she ate it,” said the
unlucky dog’s dad. Hmmm…hard to argue with that
logic…

Clot Whats?
What are you talking about, Doc?

Okay, right.
Sometimes I forget they don’t really teach us much about our
bodies in school. So, here goes. All day long, your
blood vessels get little micro-tears, damage, holes, what-nots.
Your body makes little bandages called
platelets
, which resemble little pieces of red blood
cell wall membranes to patch bigger holes. The body uses
molecules in the family called Clotting
Factors
in order to orchestrate and organize blood
clots and repair functions. If you bleed, after a short time, you
see a little firm bleb of blood that solidifies into a gelatinous
little thing that stops the bleeding. That’s a
clot
. If you run out of clotting
factors
, that never happens and the cut or hole, or
whatever rent you have in your blood vessel, keeps bleeding
forever. You bleed to death. The rats and dogs and cats that eat
this stuff bleed to death. Slowly and painfully. And
they do not understand what is happening to them. (VirtuaVet
really doesn’t like rat poison, can you tell?)

What Does
a Dog Need After the Vomit and the Charcoal?

Since we
never know if we got all the rat bait out, we assume we did not.
Instead of waiting 5-7 days to see if there’s bleeding,
usually, the veterinarian will prescribe
Vitamin K1. We’ll
start with injections and then pills until we can get some blood
test results and see how the clotting factor
levels
actually are doing. Depending on the brand of
rat bait, and whether or not it is an old-fashioned formula or a
new-fangled one, Vitamin K1 needs to be given for 2 weeks to 2
months.

Steps to Follow if Your Pet Eats Rodent
Poison

  1. Get the packaging and an
    uneaten sample of the bait
  2. Get to the vet’s
    within 2 hours, the sooner the better
  3. Let the
    vet get your dog to vomit and take the activated charcoal (if your
    pet can take is safely enough)
  4. Have the vet
    measure and inspect the vomit. For example, allowing the dog
    to vomit in the yard in the grass behind the hospital makes it
    really difficult to inspect for the rat blocks and measure if the
    vomit successfully got everything out (same goes for chocolate
    toxicity)
  5. Give the Vitamin K
    faithfully

Symptoms of Rodent Bait
Poisoning

  1. Bleeding which will not
    stop
  2. Blood in urine
  3. Blood
    in stool
  4. Unexplained bruises or red patches on
    the skin – look on the gums, belly, armpits and groin area
    especially
  5. Coughing up blood
  6. Nose Bleed
These are
signs of a bleeding disorder-not rat bait toxicity specifically.
If you are unsure of poison exposure, then other diseases
will need to be tested for. Other disease that
cause clotting disorders and bleeding
include:
  • IMHA Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia
  • Rickettsial Diseases (like Ehrlichia, these are diseases
    spread by tick bites)
  • ITP Immune mediated
    Thrombocytopenia (fancy word for platelets)
  • Cancer (especially older pets)
  • Plus many more your vet can test for or rule
    out

Caesar, the
Eater

Caesar took his Vitamin K for a
month. He did great. Doc recently saw him for, you
guessed it, upset stomach. That guy really needs to get his
eating under control!

2011 Phosphine Gas
Warning

Anyone who is present, near
the dog, when the poison is vomited up, can become very sick from
phosphine gas poisoning if the rat
bait contained zinc phosphide.
The vomit can release this toxic gas and hurt your dog or
you. Only let dogs vomit in well-ventilated areas and do not
breathe in the gas. The CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service is
collecting data regarding phosphine gas
poisoning
among veterinary workers who clean up the
vomit from rat bait containing zinc phosphide. They are still
working on guidelines as to how to safely work with the vomit after
this type of poisoning.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 9, 2014 2:22 pm

    (1) loved this article! You’re a great writer and even better explainer!

    (2) a quick correction- parenteral mean NOT ingested orally (ie- injection, intravenous), thereby skipping the GI tract. Re: parenteral vitamin K :)

    • January 9, 2014 9:40 pm

      Parenteral: right! I must’ve been half asleep when i wrote that. Thanks for the close reading.

  2. Joel Hunt permalink
    January 2, 2014 4:56 pm

    Thank you! I have been searching for an in-depth explanation of how mouse/rat poison works for quite a while. From my Google searches into the matter, I begrudgingly conclude that most people don’t care HOW it works, as long as it happens somewhere they don’t have to see or think about.

    And I was wondering if you could help me with another animal-poison related question (Never fear, it’s not so that I can go about using it! I just can’t stop thinking about it): http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-25573771
    I watched the video in this article, which is about the introduction of a spray poison rather than an ingested one. When the scientist is describing how the trap functions, there is something rather unsettling about his brief pause and eye movement as he says “and they go on to… to die at a later time”.

    What exactly happens in the time between the toxin being ingested through the skin and the death? What would happen if the rat got sprayed in the eyes/face etc?

    I’m hoping it’s not going to be as bad as I imagine, but it’s rather a desperate hope.

    Sorry for the morbid questions, and thanks so much for the work that you do!

  3. September 17, 2011 8:02 pm

    Well, this is horrifying. Although it’s good to know that a dog can be saved if treated promptly and thoroughly enough. I take two forms of Heparin (a blood thinner), and it’s good to be reminded how important it is to make sure no dog ever gets into them. I have heard that Cumadin (heavier-duty blood thinner) was developed from or uses a similar action to older forms of rat poison.

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