Rodenticide products (i.e., rat and mouse baits or poisons) are designed to cause rapid death in rodents. Unfortunately, these deadly products have a tempting smell and taste that also appeal to pets, and countless unintended and sometimes fatal pet poisonings occur each year. 

Protecting your pet from rodenticide toxicosis involves understanding how the products work, where they are commonly found, and clinical signs that should prompt you to seek veterinary attention at Animal Care and Emergency Services.

Here’s what every pet owner needs to know about rodenticide toxicosis.

Rodenticide products create devastating internal chain reactions in pets

Despite rodenticides’ lethal potency, manufacturers do not have to adhere to any standard protocols, so they can formulate, produce, and sell products in various formulations (e.g., granules, pellets, blocks), colors, and active ingredients. This wide range can make life difficult for veterinarians, who must know the product’s primary ingredient to provide targeted and effective treatment to save poisoned pets.

Most rodenticides fall into one of three categories, each with different poisoning mechanisms. These include:

  • Anticoagulant rodenticides — Although Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations have restricted this rodenticide formulation to commercial use, many pets still encounter this product and suffer anticoagulant-induced illness and death. Anticoagulant formulas work by destroying the animal’s clotting ability, which causes spontaneous, uncontrollable internal bleeding. Fortunately, cats are less susceptible to anticoagulant effects.
  • Vitamin D₃ rodenticides — Vitamin D₃ (Cholecalciferol) is the primary ingredient in many well-known rodenticide brands, including D-CON. When consumed by animals, vitamin D₃ triggers dangerous increases in circulating calcium and phosphorus and the spike causes acute (i.e., sudden) kidney failure.
  • Bromethalin rodenticides — Bromethalin-based rodenticides alter the brain and liver cellular connections and cause cerebral edema (i.e., brain swelling). Cats are especially sensitive to bromethalin, although only a small dose is necessary to cause toxicity in cats or dogs. 

Where pets encounter rodenticide

According to the Pet Poison Helpline and the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, rodenticide toxicosis is one of the top 10 most commonly reported toxin ingestions. This is likely because rodenticides are popular in public and residential spaces, and because the wide variety of formulas and colors can make the products difficult to identify.

Although rodenticide toxicosis is generally more common in the winter when rodents seek shelter indoors, pet owners should remain vigilant year-round, especially in common rodent bait locations, such as:

  • Garages
  • Sheds and utility buildings
  • Vacation homes
  • Farms and barns
  • Basements
  • Parks and wildlife areas 
  • Food service establishments (e.g., in and around concession stands at parks or outdoor sporting facilities)

Rodenticides are manufactured in various forms, including soft bait, pellets, granules, liquids, and solid blocks and are commonly green, blue, red, or tan.

Pets who eat a poisoned rat or mouse can also suffer secondary toxicosis. 

Rodenticide toxicosis warning signs in pets

Unfortunately, unless you witness your pet ingesting rodenticide, you likely will not know that they are sick until three or more days later when clinical signs appear. Sadly, this gap between ingestion and visible signs can delay life-saving treatment and worsen the pet’s prognosis. 

Signs vary based on the rodenticide type, but may include:

  • Weakness, lethargy, or mental dullness
  • Incoordination
  • Appetite loss
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Unexplained bruising or bleeding
  • Pale gums
  • Coughing or labored breathing
  • Tremors, seizures, or paralysis

If you notice these signs or other concerning behavior, call or bring your pet to Animal Care and Emergency Services for 24/7/365 emergency care. 

What to do if your pet is exposed to rodenticide

 If you know or suspect your pet encountered or ingested rodenticide, take action. Do not wait for clinical signs to appear, which can negatively affect your pet’s outcome. Gather any available rodenticide product information, such as the packaging, product brand and name, product insert, or Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) number, and immediately contact Animal Care and Emergency Services. Our triage team will ask questions about your pet’s known or possible encounter, including time of ingestion, approximate amount, known product information, and your pet’s current status, and then advise you on next steps, which may include a thorough veterinary assessment. Do not induce vomiting without a veterinary professional’s instructions.  

Rodenticide toxicosis treatment and prognosis for pets

Rodenticide toxicosis treatment will vary based on the affected pet’s timeline (i.e., time the bait was consumed), health status (i.e., whether clinical signs are present), and the product’s primary ingredient. Early stage interventions involve decontamination to remove rodenticide from the pet’s stomach and upper intestine, activated charcoal to prevent further absorption, and close observation and monitoring. Clinically sick pets require intensive hospitalization, which may include aggressive intravenous fluids and medications to correct or halt the rodenticide’s effects.

Pets who are decontaminated and treated early generally have a favorable prognosis. Unfortunately, clinically ill pets may suffer irreversible or fatal internal injury.

Protecting your pet from rodenticide toxicosis

Rodenticides are an ever-present and lethal threat whose popularity makes them almost impossible to avoid. However, pet owners can take steps to minimize their pet’s risk, including:

  • Replacing rodenticide with humane traps
  • Talking to your neighbors about rodenticide risks
  • Supervising your pet outdoors
  • Teaching your dog a strong “Leave it” command so they will not pick up inappropriate items, such as a dead mouse
  • Taking immediate action if you notice toxicosis signs

For additional information on rodenticide toxicosis or suggestions on pet-safe rodent control alternatives, contact Animal Care and Emergency Services.