Threatening rat bait poisoning leads to blood transfusion

Zac the Beagle recently came to see us because he was feeling very lethargic and seemed to be breathing quite heavily. After speaking to Zac's owners we learned that Zac had eaten a small amount of rat bait two weeks earlier but had been happy and healthy up until now.

The active ingredient in rat bait (usually warfarin) was causing Zac's blood to stop clotting properly. A blood transfusion was needed, kindly donated by Delphi the Doberman (Dr. Simmone’s dog pictured).

After a few days in hospital, the blood transfusion, some intravenous fluids and vitamin K supplements, Zac was feeling much better and has since made a full recovery.

Information on rat bait toxicity

Both dogs and cats can be affected by ingesting rat bait directly or by ingesting rodents which have ingested rat bait. It is a condition to be taken very seriously indeed and early diagnosis and treatment initiation may prove life saving.

What types of rat bait are there?

There are two major types of rat bait: 1st generation drugs such as ratsak are shorter lasting and require ingestion over a longer period of time to be fatal, and 2nd generation drugs such as Talon are longer lasting and a single dose may prove fatal.

How will rat bait affect my pet?

Rat bait acts as a blood anticoagulant by depleting the body's supply of vitamin K. Vitamin K is a fat soluble vitamin which is essential in the formation of clotting agents in the blood stream.

It usually takes 3-5 days after ingestion to begin to see the signs of intoxication.

What are the signs of rat bait toxicity?

Signs of intoxication are associated with bleeding and can range from very subtle signs such as coughing to frank haemorrhage from areas of trauma.

Animals may bleed into any body cavity and possible signs you may notice blood in the faeces, urine, bruising under the skin, lameness from bleeding into joints, respiratory difficulties, pale gums and general lethargy.

What do I do if I suspect my pet has rat bait toxicity?

If you see your pet eating rat bait it is important to bring them straight to the vet where we can make them vomit. If you are unable to get the to the vet at this time, ring them for advice and make the earliest possible appointment.

If you haven’t seen your pet ingest rat bait but notice signs that may relate to ingestion then get them to the vet as soon as possible so they can be assessed and treatment initiated.

Be careful when transporting your pet as any bump may result in a bruise or a haemorrhage. If you have a box of the rat bait please bring this in with you or find out the name and active ingredients.

What treatment is there and what tests may need to be done?

This will depend on the severity of the toxicity and timing of ingestion. Blood may need to be taken for clotting tests and to assess for anaemia. Treatment may be as simple as giving vitamin K tablets for 3-6 weeks or may require more intensive treatment such as blood transfusions and hospitalisation. In some cases even with the most intensive treatment some animals may die.