By: Dr. Dorrie Jordan, DVM
Rat bait poisoning in dogs is a common occurrence, especially in a rural or semi rural area. Most people tend to think of warfarin type baits, which cause spontaneous bleeding due to interference with the clotting mechanism in the body. However, this form of poison is becoming less common and another type of toxin, bromethalin, which causes nervous system problems, is taking over. Bromethalin type baits may look very similar to the old warfarin type, but treatment and symptoms are totally different.
Bromethalin can cause toxic symptoms in quite low doses and symptoms can occur within hours to several days, depending on how much is ingested. Bromethalin works by causing an increase of sodium within the cells of the nervous system and that leads to fluid accumulation within the brain and spinal cord. Clinical signs depend on the amount ingested, with large doses causing hyper excitability, muscle tremors and seizures. Lower doses cause more signs of paralysis, tremors, decreased mental awareness and eventually coma. Once clinical signs are seen, treatment is not very effective and most cases are fatal.
If you suspect your pet has eaten rat bait, call your veterinarian or poison control immediately. You will need the rat bait package to confirm what type of poison is present so that proper treatment can be started. If the bait was eaten less than 4 hours before, generally you will want to cause the dog to vomit its stomach contents before other therapy is started. If there are not yet any symptoms, activated charcoal is used to absorb any poison remaining in the body after vomiting has occurred.
As usual, prevention is the key to keeping your dog healthy. If possible, avoid using any form of rodent poison. If you must use poisons, keep them well out of your dog’s reach.