One of the most common toxicities we see is from rat poison. Frequently our pets find the poison we have carefully hidden for rats, sometimes they get into the whole bucket and sometimes they eat a dead rat that had been poisoned. Fortunately, it is also one of the more easily treated poisonings we see, if caught early.
Rat bait works by preventing the body from making Vitamin K therefore depleting the Vitamin K stores. Vitamin K is needed to make clotting factors in the blood. After a couple of days, the store of clotting factors will be depleted and uncontrolled and prolonged bleeding starts. This means that you may not see signs of poisoning for up to 5 days. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean you are safe!
Usually the bleeding is internal. The most common signs are due to extensive internal blood loss including very pale gums, the pet becoming very lethargic and as the anaemia becomes more severe rapid laboured breathing. You may also see bruising under the skin, bleeding from the gum margins, black tarry faeces or blood in the urine.
A simple blood test at your local clinic will confirm if this is due to anticoagulant poisoning. This test will only be valid after a minimum of 48 hours post ingestion of the poison. If left untreated poisoning can lead to death through blood loss. Fortunately deterioration in symptoms occurs over a few days so if there are early signs, seeking treatment sooner rather than later, will halt the progression of the poisoning.
Treatment involves replacing the vitamin K daily with liquid or tablets. The length of treatment will depend on the type of bait that was eaten so bringing the packet or a photo is helpful. Treatment is usually for a minimum of 2 weeks and can be up to 6 weeks. In cases where long acting baits are involved, we may recommend blood testing 48 hours after stopping the treatment to ensure none of the poison is still in the system. Severe cases that have eaten a lot of bait or have been sick several days often require more intensive care. This may include fluid therapy, injections of Vitamin K, and sometimes blood transfusions when severely affected and anaemic.
The best treatment is to catch it early. If you have seen your pet eat rat poison seek immediate help. Vomiting up the rat bait within two hours is often the only treatment needed. A blood test in 48 hours will confirm that clotting has not been affected and no vitamin K is required. This is by far the best and cheapest option. If it has been more than two hours, it is likely your pet has absorbed some poison and needs treatment. The sooner vitamin K is started, the less your pet will bleed and the better the outcome will be.
If you see or suspect your pet has eaten rat poison, call your local clinic ASAP. Early treatment saves lives.