Rat-bait toxicity (poisoning)

By Kellie Tickner, Orchard Hills Veterinary Hospital Administrator

SPRING is the time of year when many of us attend to our gardens and get out the weed sprays and snail baits. But be aware that while these products may save your garden, they may harm (or even kill) your pet, even if they are labelled as ‘pet friendly’.

Dogs, cats and other animals can be affected by ingesting rat bait directly or by ingesting rodents which have ingested rat bait. It is a condition to be taken seriously and early diagnosis and treatment may prove life-saving.

There are two major types of rat bait: 

• First generation drugs such as Ratblitz (active ingredient: Warfarin) have a short duration of action and require ingestion over a long period of time to be fatal

• Second generation drugs such as Talon and Ratsak (active ingredient: Brodifacoum) which have a long duration of action and a single dose may prove fatal.

Rat bait acts as an anticoagulant (prevents the blood from clotting) by depleting the body’s supply of vitamin K. Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin which is essential in the formation of clotting agents in the blood stream. It can take anything from 1-5 days after ingestion to begin to see the signs of intoxication.

Signs of intoxication are associated with bleeding and can range from very subtle signs such as pin point haemorrhages on the gums to heavy bleeding from anywhere. Symptoms of rat bait poisoning may include:

• pale gums or small pin point haemorrhages on the gums
• lethargy
• bruising under the skin
• blood in the urine or faeces
• bleeding from the nose
• continued bleeding from small wounds or cuts
• vomiting and or diarrhoea
• coughing or respiratory difficulties (laboured or rapid breathing)
• seizures or muscle tremors

If you see your pet eating rat bait it is important to seek veterinary attention immediately. If you haven’t seen your pet ingest rat bait but find chewed or broken boxes, we also advise you to seek veterinary care as soon as possible. If you have the packaging of the rat bait, please bring take this with you to your veterinarian for prompt identification of active ingredients. The effects on a pet which has consumed rat bait will depend on which rat bait was ingested, how long ago, and how much of the rodent was eaten.

Treatment for poisoning will depend on the severity of the toxicity and timing of ingestion. Blood may need to be taken for clotting tests and to assess for anaemia. Treatment may be medicating with vitamin K tablets for a period of time, often 30 days or more. 

If you are using rat baits, make sure that they are always stored and used out of reach of children and other animals. Loose poison baits (pellets, meals) should not be used; instead, the poison should be inside a bait station that cannot be accessed or opened by children and pets.

For further information on rat-bait poisoning, please contact the team at Orchard Hills Veterinary Hospital on 4736 2027.