Unfortunately, the ingestion of rat bait by pets is a relatively common occurrence. Rat baits are designed to smell appealing to animals, so pets may enthusiastically eat baits they come across in they day-to-day lives. Pets can also poison themselves by eating other animals that have died as a result of eating rat bait. For example, a cat may eat a rat that has been killed by rat bait, poisoning itself in the process.
Ingestion of rat bait is life threatening and early intervention is imperative.
What happens to my pet if they eat rat bait?
The poisons in most rat baits cause depletion of the body’s stores of Vitamin K, which is involved in the ability of blood to clot. This makes an animal more prone to bleeding, to the point where they can spontaneously start to bleed, both internally and externally, without the ability to stop. As you can imagine, this can rapidly cause fatal blood loss.
Signs of rat bait ingestion include:
- Patches of bruising on the skin
- Pale, bruised, or bleeding gums
- Wounds that bleed continuously
- Blood in the faeces or urine
- General lethargy and weakness
- Sudden collapse (usually from internal bleeding)
Signs of rat bait ingestion are usually not immediate and most commonly develop within 2-5 days following ingestion. If you see your animal eating rat bait immediate veterinary attention is essential – do not wait for the signs of poisoning to appear.
Treating & diagnosing rat bait poisoning
If you see your pet eat rat bait, or find the remnants of a chewed pack, take your pet to a vet immediately so your animal can be made to vomit. This removes as much from the stomach as possible before it is absorbed. Other methods of decontamination include washing out the stomach contents under anaesthesia (gastric lavage), an enema, and the administration of medications to absorb the rat bait poison in the intestines.
There are blood tests that can be performed to test your animal’s blood clotting ability, if you are suspicious but not certain if your animal has ingested rat bait. This blood test is run 24-48 hours following the suspected rat bait ingestion, as it is only then that the blood’s clotting ability will begin to be affected. If your animal has been made to vomit, we generally also perform this blood to ensure none of the poison has been absorbed into their body.
The administration of Vitamin K, either via injection or oral tablets, is the cornerstone of treatment for animals affected by rat bait poisoning. Treatment time is generally 4-6 weeks but will depend on the particular rat bait product eaten. Severely affected animals who are experiencing blood loss may also require intravenous fluid therapy or a blood transfusion.
Preventing rat bait poisoning
The best way to avoid rat bait poisoning is to not use poisonous rat baits on your property at all. There are a range of humane rat traps or ultrasonic rat repellents available from local hardware stores that you can use as alternatives. Please also be mindful that we have many native rats on the Northern Beaches, so only use traps when you are certain you have a feral rat on your property. Humane traps allow you to catch the rat and take it to a vet or wildlife carer for assessment, if you are not sure of the species.
It is also wise to ensure you are doing all you can to not attract rats to your property in the first place. Clean up food scraps from around the house, and ensure compost bins and garbage bins are tightly closed. Remove clutter outside the house, to reduce the number of hiding places. Also check in with your neighbours – if you have a rat problem, it is likely they do too, so it is best to work together to reduce the number of rats living nearby. If you do see evidence of rats (such as rat droppings) around your property it is best to call in an expert pest control company for further advice and treatment on controlling the issue.
Please feel free to give us a call if you have any further questions regarding rat bait toxicity in your pets.
Dr Caroline Wood