Most people know that rat poison is bad for pets. But exactly how bad has varied over the years with the different types used. James Herriot told stories about early rat baits containing strychnine, a particularly nasty poison. There was very little that could be done for pets, but thankfully strychnine was banned in the early 1960’s. Anti-coagulant rodenticides are now the most common poisons available. Long-acting versions of warfarin dominate the market, but if caught early enough, these are all very treatable. These poisons block the Vitamin K pathway that mammals depend on for blood clotting. If the exposure is noticed in the first day or two, before the bleeding started, an appropriate dose of Vitamin K for several weeks ‘cures’ the patient.
A new type of rat poison in now on shelves though, despite warnings by veterinarians. Bromethalin is the active ingredient, and has no known treatment. It causes swelling in the brain and rapid onset of neurologic signs. Our only effective treatment is to make the pet vomit as soon after ingestion as possible. If symptoms are seen, it’s probably too late. Legally these poisons are to be used only inside a ‘pet-safe’ container, but we have seen dogs get to the bait either before placed in the container, or by chewing the container apart.
So be aware that not all rat poisons are the same. When it comes to treatment, it is very important that we know exactly which ingredients are involved. So if you must use them, we would avoid anything containing bromethalin. Above all, keep them out of reach of pets and keep the original packaging for identification.