Rat poisoning raises concerns about pet safety

Published on February 28, 2012 by

While the elimination of rodent infestation may be “a necessary evil,” it has long been the cause of many unintended deaths among domestic pets, according to Dr. Ira Stone, DVM, who runs Stone Veterinarian Hospital in Waterbury.

“We see pets with rat poisoning a couple of times a year,” said Stone, who opened his practice in 1995. “But animal emergency clinics see it all the time.”

Recently, a male feline stray was adopted and brought to Stone’s hospital to undergo vaccinations and neutering.

“Jasper started bleeding after surgery for no apparent reason,” said Stone. “Through a process of elimination we suspected he had ingested rat poison — either eating it directly or, more likely, ingesting a mouse who had ingested the poison. The poison is flavored for rodents. We recommend that people use Have-a-Heart traps to address rodent problems instead of poison or glue — which is also very cruel.”

The cat was transferred to an emergency clinic where he received blood transfusions and was stabilized with vitamin K, which offset the bleeding. Luckily “Jasper” has recovered and was returned to his new caretaker.

But many other domestic animals are not as lucky.

Unintentional ingestion of poison continues to top the list of emergencies encountered by veterinarians, nationwide. According to Veterinary Pet Insurance statistics, animal and human medications, rodenticide and methylaxanthine toxicity topped the three sources of cat and dog poisoning between the years 2005 and 2009.

Number of Claims Received
 between 2005 and 2009

Accidental ingestion of medications (pet or human drugs)          5,131
Rodenticide (mouse and rat poison)                                               4,028
Methylaxanthine toxicity (chocolate, caffeine)                             3,661
Plant poisoning                                                                               2,808
Household chemicals                                                                     1,669
Metaldehyde (snail, slug poison)                                                       396
Insecticide                                                                                          323
Heavy metal toxicity (lead, zinc)                                                      288
Toad poisoning                                                                                   270
Antifreeze poisoning                                                                           213
Walnut poisoning                                                                                100
Alcohol toxicity                                                                                     75
Strychnine                                                                                              28

Source: Veterinary Pet Insurance

Antifreeze, which has been formulated to have a sweet taste, is also blamed for scores of pet fatalities every year. A case recently in the news headlines revealed a wife had poisoned her husband by feeding him the substance in Jello.

“Antifreeze is very dangerous,” said Stone, who early in his career treated a dog in the countryside who had licked up the substance. “Some manufacturers of antifreeze donate money to Animal Poison Control to help compensate the price of the phone call as there is usually a cost for the service.”

Only Sierra brand has addressed this serious flaw in the chemical composition by marketing a antifreeze that does not have a sweet taste. It is available at most stores that carry antifreeze.


What to do if your pet is poisoned

Remain calm. Quick response is important, but panicking interferes with the process of helping your pet.

Gather any material involved to determine what poison or poisons are involved. If your pet must be taken to a local veterinarian, be sure to take the product container. Collect in a sealable plastic bag any material your pet may have vomited or chewed.

If you witness your pet eating/drinking a substance suspect as toxic, do not hesitate to seek emergency assistance, even if you don’t notice any adverse effects, because sometimes, even if poisoned, an animal may appear normal for several hours or for days after the incident.

Call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center.

Animal Poison Control usually charges a $65 consultation fee.

If you need to call, be ready with the following information:

  • The species, breed, age, sex, weight.
  • The animal’s symptoms.
  • Information regarding the exposure, and the substance (if known), amount of substance and time elapsed since time of exposure.
  • Have the product container/packaging available for reference.

Please note: If your animal is having seizures, losing consciousness, is unconscious or is having difficulty breathing, telephone ahead and bring your pet immediately to your local veterinarian or emergency veterinary clinic.

Animal Poison Control also advises pet owners to invest in an emergency kit.

The kit should contain:

  • A fresh bottle of hydrogen peroxide, 3 percent USP (to induce vomiting)
  • A turkey baster, bulb syringe or large medicine syringe (to administer peroxide)
  • Saline eye solution
  • Artificial tear gel (to lubricate eyes after flushing)
  • Mild grease-cutting dishwashing liquid (for bathing an animal after skin contamination)
  • Forceps/tweezers (to remove stingers)
  • A muzzle (to protect against fear or excitement, induced biting)
  • A can of your pet’s favorite wet food
  • A pet carrier

Always consult a veterinarian or the APCC for directions on how and when to use any emergency first-aid item.

“There are all kinds of household products that can be deadly to humans and animals,” said Stone. “Even though there are warning labels, it remains one of the most common reasons people call Animal Poison Control.”

Dry food fed as meals to dogs and cats can also cause serious health problems, contributing to diseases including diabetes and kidney/urinary disorders.

“People feeding their cats badly, including cardboard box food, loaded with carbohydrates and fillers, leads to diabetes,” he said. “I see this every day.”

As Jasper awaits his final test results, his new caretaker has been made aware that precautions must be taken at his new home.

“Rat poison is a well known danger to pets — it’s not new,” said Stone. “But if there are people who are still not aware of this, then it should be made better known.”

For more information, call Dr. Stone at (860) 945-9339 or go to StoneVet.com or visit the vet’s Facebook page.

ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center can be reached at (888) 426-4435.