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Seasonal dangers – Mouse and rat poison

Use of rat and mouse poisons increase in Autumn as rodents attempt to move indoors to keep warm. Such poisons aren’t just harmful to mice and rats though – rodenticides are also highly toxic to pets and, if eaten, could be fatal. Rodenticide poisons can also impact ecosystems, as wild animals often have access to bait.

The main kind of rat bait/poison/rodenticide used in the UK is anticoagulant based, which works by blocking the action of Vitamin K in the body. Vitamin K is needed in order for our blood to clot, so without it there is nothing to stop blood loss.

Dogs are often drawn to rat poisons as the manufacturers have to make them tasty and appealing to rats – and we all know dogs will try anything they think smells good (and most things that don’t). The fact that cats are a little more discerning is probably why there are fewer cases seen, but they too could potentially become ill from eating poisoned rodents.

Signs and symptoms may take a few days to appear as the body uses up its Vitamin K store and clotting reserve – once they are gone you may notice:

  • Coughing
  • Breathing problems
  • Nose bleeds
  • Small burst blood vessels around the eyes, on lips or gums
  • Blood in their urine and/or faeces
  • Bruising
  • Vomiting blood
  • Lameness and joint swelling
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Pale gums

Most commonly, problems start by bleeding into a body space, such as the chest, lungs, abdomen or joint cavities.

You should seek veterinary advice immediately if you think your dog has ingested rat poison. Always take the packaging along with you, so your vet can identify the type of rat poison and its strength. Alternatively, if you don’t have any labels, bring in a sample of the poison safely and securely where possible, or even a sample of your pet’s vomit if they have been sick to be sent away to a laboratory for testing should you wish. So, even if you didn’t actually see your pet eat the poison, the vet can test for rodenticide poisoning. Treatment can include inducing vomiting, giving activated charcoal to reduce the effects of rodenticide not yet absorbed into the body’s system. Vets can also administer vitamin K1 to help reinstate clotting, and in cases of severe bleeding, possibly even a transfusion to replace what has been lost.

Vets can download our Guidelines to Anticoagulant Rodenticide Toxicity (along with many other free practice resources) from our Vet Resource Library.