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Rat Bait Poisoning

Rat and mice numbers tend to increase as cooler weather forces them to search for food closer to our homes, especially sheds and garages where we feed our pets and in the house, too. Be aware that rat baits might be out on neighbouring properties and contact your vet if your pet appears off-colour.

Rat baits pose a danger to pets and wildlife   Top
Rodenticides are dangerous. The danger to pets and wildlife comes from either primary poisoning or from secondary poisoning.

Primary poisoning is caused when a pet eats the rat bait directly. The commonest way this occurs is when a pet gets into a container of bait that has been incorrectly stored. None of us are infallible and sometimes we can forget that we have a container of rat bait on the shelf in a shed. If the packet is accidentally knocked to the ground, spilling its contents, a pet will readily eat it.

Secondary poisoning is different. It occurs when an animal eats a poisoned mouse or rat. The residue of bait in the rat's stomach is the cause of the toxicity. Often this occurs when an affected rat, perhaps slower and more lethargic than a normal one and thereby less able to defend itself, falls victim to a dog or cat or to a bird of prey such as an owl, a hawk or a falcon.

There are many rat poisons on the market, and some are safer for pets and wildlife than others. No matter which rat poison you use, be especially aware that all of them pose some danger to pets. This danger can be minimised by the careful choice of baits, by using effective baiting procedures and by ensuring you store baits safely.

Multi-feed versus single feed anticoagulant rodenticides   Top
Most rat baits that you can get from the supermarket are based on anticoagulants. These baits are of two basic types. The first are those generally termed multi-feed rodenticides and the second are those that are single-feed rodenticides.

The oldest anticoagulant bait is based on the chemical warfarin. Ratsak is the most commonly recognised. Another readily available rodenticide is based on the chemical coumatetralyl available as the Bayer product Racumin. Both warfarin and coumatetralyl are multi-feed rodenticides. This means that the rat must eat these types of baits over several days to become affected by them. This means that pets and wildlife are less at risk because they either have to consume a large quantity of bait in one sitting or consume small quantities of bait over a long period.

Single feed rodenticides act more quickly. These rat baits are more toxic to rats and pets and a single dose is more likely to cause poisoning. Single feed rodenticides are those containing brodifacoum (e.g.Talon) and bromadialone (e.g.Bromakil). They are commonly available from local supermarkets.

Brodifacoum is at least 40 times more potent that warfarin and is much more likely to cause the death of a rat, a pet or a wild animal with a single feed. Secondary poisoning is also more likely to occur because a rat can have enough bait in its stomach to poison a dog and certainly a bird. Large dogs are less at risk because they are less likely to hunt and because they are less likely to ingest enough bait to affect them.

What are the signs of anticoagulant poisoning?   Top
If a pet is affected by an anticoagulant poison, the signs of the toxicity may not be evident for several days. The main signs of such toxicity relate to anaemia from blood loss. The blood can be lost from many areas of the body but commonly it is seen in bloodstained faeces, blood appearing in the saliva or appearing from the nose. Breathlessness, from blood pooling in the chest cavity, is a common sign also. Weakness is very common and the gums and tongue are usually very pale due to blood loss and the resultant anaemia.

Your veterinarian will treat your pet with Vitamin K and other medications and if the condition is caught early enough, treatment is usually effective, particularly so with the multi-feed rodenticides.

Cholecalciferol rodenticides   Top
Although this rodenticide was introduced with claims that it was less toxic to non-target species than to rodents, clinical experience has shown that rodenticides containing cholecalciferol (e.g. Quintox) are a significant health threat to dogs and cats. Cholecalciferol produces hypercalcemia, which results in calcification of soft tissues, including the kidneys, heart, brain and gastrointestinal system.

Signs generally develop within 18–36 hours of ingestion and can include depression, loss of appetite, thirst and increased urination. As serum calcium concentrations increase, clinical signs become more severe, including vomiting, constipation, bloody diarrhoea and eventually kidney failure.

There is no antidote to cholecalciferol poisoning. If caught early, recommended therapy includes gastric evacuation, generally followed by administration of activated charcoal and IV fluids.

Bromethalin rodenticides   Top
This non-anticoagulant, single-dose rodenticide is a neurotoxin that results in decreased conduction of nerve impulses, paralysis, and death.

Bromethalin can cause either an acute or a chronic syndrome. The acute effects follow consumption of a high dose of bromethalin. Signs, including hyperexcitability, muscle tremors, seizures, hindlimb hyperreflexia, depression, and death, may appear around 10 hours after ingestion. Chronic effects are seen with lower dosages and may appear 24–86 hours after ingestion. This syndrome is characterized by vomiting, depression, unsteadiness, muscle tremors, and lateral recumbency. The effects may be reversible if exposure to bromethalin is discontinued. Bromethalin toxicosis should be considered when cerebral edema or hindlimb paralysis is present.

There is no antidote to bromethalin poisoning. Early treatment should be directed at blocking absorption from the gut and reducing cerebral oedema.

Store rat baits carefully   Top
To minimise the risk of accidental poisoning of pets, wildlife and children, the baits should be placed in areas that are accessible only to the rodents. Safe places are in the roof cavity, between walls, and along known rat runs. Rat baits should be stored in their own container which itself is placed inside another sealed container out of reach of pets and children.

Poisons and pets don't mix. No matter what rat poison you use, it is dangerous and needs to be used with utmost caution. If you think your pet has eaten some rat bait, see your veterinarian urgently.

Dr Julia Adams BVSc

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