Ask the Vet: Beware of rodenticide toxicity

Ask the Vet: Beware of rodenticide toxicity

METRO photo

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Dr. Matthew Kearns

This week is Pet Poison Prevention Week and I thought a review of rodenticide toxicity would be prudent. Rodenticide toxicity is on the top 10 list of why pet owners call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. Bait for rodents and gophers are the two most common sources of poisoning. Exposure can come from either ingestion of the poison, or ingestion of a dead animal that still has the poison in its digestive tract.  

Rodenticide toxicity is broken into two categories: anticoagulant toxicity, and non-anticoagulant toxicity. Anticoagulant toxicity will antagonize, or block the vitamin K dependent factors in the clotting cascade. This will cause signs of bleeding and bruising including spontaneous bleeding in the chest or abdominal cavities. 

In some cases the pet owner has witnessed the patient ingesting the poison. If seen, bring your pet immediately to a veterinarian’s office or pet emergency clinic where the doctors can provide decontamination (induce vomiting and give activated charcoal to prevent further absorption) and vitamin K. If your pet is already showing signs of active bleeding or bruising they will need to be admitted for care. This could include blood transfusions, plasma transfusions, or both, as well as decontamination and vitamin K therapy.

Non anticoagulant toxicities include bromethalin and cholecalciferol. Bromethalin is a neurotoxin which means it effects the nervous system. Bromethalin will cause damage to the cells in the brain leading to brain swelling and loss of function. Symptoms include tremors, elevated body temperature, seizures, coma, respiratory failure and death. Witnessing the patient eating the poison is imperative because symptoms can start as quickly as 30 minutes after exposure and, when symptoms are seen, it is almost too late. Intravenous fluids and medications to absorb the medication from the blood stream, control seizures, and reduce brain swelling will help but not guarantee success.

Cholecalciferol toxicity is an overdose of vitamin D. Vitamin D is added to milk and other dairy products in small amount to improve calcium retention in the body. Excessive amounts of vitamin D will lead to mineralization of the internal organs and, potentially, organ failure. The organ system most sensitive to this are the kidneys. Symptoms usually include loss of appetite, vomiting, lethargy, seizures and, ultimately, death. This is another poison that we hope someone witnesses the pet ingesting so that decontamination can be performed before the toxin is absorbed from the digestive tract.

The best thing is to avoid exposure to any bait. However, if you witness or are suspicious of exposure, bring your pet immediately to your veterinarian’s office or a veterinary emergency clinic.

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine.