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Rat Poisoning in Dogs – Symptoms and Treatment

Picture of a dog laying on a deck

Rat poisoning is far more common in our canine friends than you might think. It can be severe or even fatal, so veterinary medical assistance is almost always necessary as soon as possible. 

In this post, we will look at the symptoms of rat poisoning in dogs, how you can tell whether your pooch has ingested rodenticide, how the intoxication is treated, and what you can do to prevent it from happening. We’ll also showcase several different rodenticides so that you know the symptoms you can expect, depending on the one that your Fido has eaten. 

Common rodenticides

There are four types of typical rat poisons currently used across the world and in North America. These are long-acting anticoagulants, vitamin D3, bromethalin, and zinc and aluminum phosphides.

Long-acting coagulants effectively prevent the blood from clotting and produce hemorrhages in the rat’s body. They’re similar to blood thinners. This type of intoxication is often treated by using a blood coagulant, such as vitamin K. Dogs that ingest this type of poison experience difficult breathing, lethargy, coughing, bloody urine, inflamed joints, and even bleeding from the mouth. 

Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) isn’t usually a poison, but in very high doses, it leads to a severe imbalance of the calcium and phosphorus levels in an animal’s body. If your dog ingested this type of poison, he’ll be weak, lethargic, drink a lot of water and urinate often, and also have a uremic breath.

Bromethalin is a rat poison that causes brain edema, meaning it leads to brain swelling. It causes one of the most severe intoxications of all of the substances that we have mentioned. Dogs that are unfortunate enough to ingest this type of rodenticide will experience seizures, tremors, incoordination, paralysis, and most of them die in less than 24 hours after ingesting bromethalin. 

Finally, zinc and aluminum phosphides are more often used in gopher and mole baits, but they can sometimes be found in rodenticides, too. This poison is highly aggressive and dangerous both for pets and pet parents as once it ends up in an animal’s stomach, it causes toxic fumes (phosphine gas). Most dogs go into shock or experience severe bloating, vomiting, abdominal pain and distension, seizures, collapse, and a variety of other complications. 

Did your dog eat rat poison? How can you tell?

As you might have noticed, each and every type of rat poison causes different symptoms, but there are some general (and more common) ones that you can expect and others that are encountered less frequently. 

Common signs

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing
  • Lethargy
  • Collapse
  • Tremors 
  • Bleeding gums or too pale gums
  • Increased urination and thirst combined with bad breath (cholecalciferol poisoning)

Less common signs

  • Vomiting and diarrhea (whether with blood or not)
  • Bodily bruising
  • Blood in the dog’s urine
  • Bloody nose
  • Swollen joints

How is rat poisoning in dogs treated?

It usually depends on the specific type of rodenticide that the dog has ingested. Sometimes, the pet guardian is lucky enough to find traces of it (such as the packets) and bring them along to the vet clinic, in which case the veterinarian knows exactly what treatment to choose.

More often than not, the poison remains a mystery, so the symptoms have to be treated as best possible. If the dog is supposed to have ingested the poison in the last 1-2 hours, the vet will use hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting to prevent a large quantity of the toxic substance from getting into the dog’s bloodstream. 

Activated charcoal can also be used in case more than two hours have passed, or you just aren’t sure when the poison ingestion took place. Activated charcoal will allow the poison to be neutralized and released through the dog’s feces rather than allow it to go into the bloodstream. The dog’s stomach can be pumped if none of these two options are available.

If the poison that your dog ingested is an anticoagulant, your pet will have to receive vitamin K for a period of up to one month (vitamin K injections or tablets). 

Unfortunately, there are no antidotes for vitamin D, zinc and aluminum phosphides, or bromethalin poisoning, so causing your dog to vomit is the only way of saving his or her life. Most dogs need IV fluids for several days, and some can get blood transfusions if the situation calls for it. 

What to do if you notice any symptoms

Since this is an outcome you could never have predicted, it’s a good idea to always have the number of an emergency vet clinic in your area at hand. This means that you can get in touch with a medical professional as soon as possible and even bring your dog in right away. This is what you should do.

If you can’t go to the vet right away, you can call the Pet Poison Hotline (800-213-6680) or the ASPCA as they have a poison control line available. Keep in mind that the ASPCA charges a fee of around 60-70 dollars for every call. 

How can you prevent rat poisoning in dogs?

One of the best ways of making sure that your dog doesn’t eat rat poison by accident is not to use it. If you have a rat problem, you can use alternative solutions such as traps – and there are many, many options nowadays that aren’t going to appeal to your dog in any way. 

There is, of course, the possibility of your dog eating a rat that was poisoned. If this happens, your dog can still ingest some of the poison, although in most cases, the intoxication is not going to be as severe. For example, zinc and aluminum phosphides aren’t going to have the same action when released through the rat’s body inside your dog’s body. Limiting the rat population as much as possible would prevent this.

Unfortunately, there are also people who poison dogs on purpose, and many use rat poison as it is readily available and can be bought by anyone. You can’t really prevent this from happening, but you can at least teach your dog not to accept any treats or food from strangers. If he comes across a piece of meat containing rat poison on your property, the dog will eat it as most dogs are scavengers.  

If you have to use rat poison to get rid of the rat population on your property, you can get a cage that’s big enough to allow the rodents to get inside, but its bars aren’t spaced wide enough to let your dog get inside, too. Make sure that the poison has no way of getting out of the cage, either – if you have to, glue the packets to the cage floor so that your dog doesn’t push them with his paw. 

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