Rat Poison Warning

by Laura Forgetta
I'd like to share with you a terrible experience I had recently with  POISON. Many people know how dangerous pest control poisons are to pets, but there may be things you DON'T know that could save your dog's life.  Like many people, I thought ingesting rat poison (or mice poison) would cause my dog to vomit. Not true! "Rodenticide" attacks the blood. The symptoms are much more subtle, but the consequences of missing those symptoms can be  deadly.

Let me outline the chain of events that took place with my dog just last week. On Sunday afternoon, Finn began to cough. That's all. Just a cough. I thought he had a piece of kibble or perhaps some grass in his throat. I rubbed  his throat a bit and gave him a chunk of bread to help push whatever it was down his throat. On and off that afternoon, he coughed a few times. He looked like a cat trying to cough up a hairball. That night, my husband and I decided it wasn't going away on its own, so I would take him to the vet the next morning. 

Finn's vet felt the cause may have been a foreign body inhaled into his lungs, or an infection of some type, so she took x-rays of Finn's chest and throat. There was a shaded area in the lower portion of his lungs that looked suspicious, but not dangerous. My vet prescribed antibiotics and a mild cough suppressant to help Finn get some rest. She thought if it wasn't cleared up in 2-3 days, Finn may need a bronchoscopy to locate the exact location and cause of the cough. 

By 4 pm Monday, in spite of the cough  suppressant, Finn's cough was worse. I called the vet and we decided not to wait for the antibiotics to take effect, but to get him in for a bronchoscopy the next day.

But at 10:30 pm that night, I called our local emergency hospital, because I knew they also had a staff of specialists, and I  hoped to have him seen faster and closer than driving to UC Davis the next morning. They DID have a specialist who could see Finn first thing Tuesday morning. 

However, we never got to see the specialist. About 2:30 am Tuesday, Finn woke me  up with a terrible sound. He couldn't breathe. He was gasping for every  breath and was clearly very frightened. So was I. I grabbed Finn in my arms,  grabbed my keys and headed for the door. The fog was so thick I couldn't even see the road, let alone drive the speed limit. I was panicked, but kept telling myself if I had an accident Finn would never make it. 

When I arrived at the emergency hospital, I leaned on my car horn. Within  seconds, the nurse met me at the door and hurried me into the surgery room with  Finn in my arms, barely breathing. She immediately put him on oxygen and raced to alert the vet on duty.

What happened next was almost too much for me to bear. My  precious pet was clinging to life and none of us had any idea what could have  happened to cause this. Finn received a blood transfusion and was put on IV fluids within minutes. They took blood and reviewed the x-rays I had the  foresight to grab on my way out the door. The emergency vet's diagnosis horrified me. Rat poison! Finn was bleeding into his lungs and there was almost no room for oxygen. He was barely alive and I didn't even know when or how he could have gotten rat poison!!! 

When the doctor told me they might not be able to save him, I almost died myself. The poison had taken hold, and was destroying his chances of surviving with every passing minute. I can't even describe how desperate I felt. I stayed with Finn for three hours that morning, and by about 6 am, he seemed to perk up a little. He was breathing easier on the oxygen and since the doctor had given him a shot of the antidote, we had nothing left to do but watch and wait.

Finn did have to stay in the hospital on life-support for two days. I visited him and called for updates many times each day. It was awful to see him so weak and helpless. But late on the 3rd day, I got a call from his doctor. He was better! He'd gotten tired of the oxygen tent/collar they had him wearing, and had kicked it off! Everyone thought that was a good sign. I raced down to see him and he WAS better. What a wonderful sight to see his head  up and his eyes brighter. I was nervous to take him home because he was still breathing very hard, and with great effort, but I wanted him with me. The vet  explained that there was still a great deal of blood in his lungs and that it would just have to be reabsorbed by his body over time. We'd just have to see. He would not be allowed ANY exercise and had to be kept very calm so his body could work with as little stress as possible. 

I brought him home, but did have to go back the next day because his  temperature was just over 103 (a dog's normal is generally 100-102). He was at risk of infection due to his compromised circulatory system, so he was put on a dose of antibiotics, which I would give in conjunction with his twice-a-day poison antidote pills. The antidote pills will be given for 21 days, then Finn will be given another set of chest x-rays and another full blood work up before he gets clearance to run and play again. 

Thanks to the alertness of his owner and excellent emergency care available, Finn's life was saved after he ingested rat poison.

As I write this, it's been  a week since that terrible night. Finn is recovering day by day, and I see more of the dog I know and love all the time. He still tires easily, and coughs if he gets excited, but he's alive and he's going to make  a full recovery.

After spending several hours talking to a pest control specialist, and three veterinarians, here are some things I learned that I  wanted to share with other dog people. Rodenticide attacks the blood, not the  stomach. You may see bleeding from the gums, nose, or rectum. The poison thins the blood and destroys the clotting ability of the blood. Though Finn didn't show those signs, the cough was another sign something was wrong.  He was bleeding internally. In Finn's case, what seemed like a mild cough turned life-threatening in only just over 24 hours. There is no time to waste. 

One key question the pest control person asked me was if I had ever see neon green stool. It sounded like a pretty funny question, but I thought for only a second YES! I had seen a very odd, bright green stool several days  earlier when I was picking up after Finn in the yard. I'd even commented to my husband that I wondered what the heck the little stinker could have eaten  that would do THAT? His stool was almost totally bright green. Even more green than the lushest golf course! I never gave it another thought, since he had no other symptoms, and I did not see it again. I now know that the bait pellets used in the mouse/rat traps are neon green, and they cause a dog's stool  to be the same bright green. It is thought that he ate the poison 24-48 hours before I saw the stool, which would make it almost a week in his system before  he even coughed.

The more I learned, the worse the news got. Due to the fact that rodents are getting more resistant to the poisons commonly used, pest control companies are using more and more potent poisons than ever before. And to be sure they entice the pests into the traps, the poison is hidden inside attractants like molasses, brown sugar and peanut butter. These  attractants certainly have the power to attract our pets as well. Since the poisons are so potent, there is another danger to our pets. I was informed that  pets can be in danger from eating dead, poisoned rodents. I live in a rather rural area, and I know we have several kinds of rodents, like gophers, mice and  rats running though the fields. I also know my dogs might be inclined to EAT a dead rodent should they find one. Though I can't imagine WHY!

There is some good news in all of this. If the dog is caught quickly after consuming the poison, the survival rate is quite high if he gets treatment right away. There is a blood test that accurately detects exposure to rodenticide. (Both of my other dogs were tested and found to be fine.) There is  an antidote that can be given in the form of an injection, with a follow up treatment of antidote pills twice a day for 21 days. The dog can be saved and  make a full recovery

This type of poisoning is being seen more and more frequently at veterinarian offices and emergency clinics. In just 3-4 days, I knew of 6 other dogs at that one emergency clinic alone! Two dogs were brought in for rodenticide poisoning while I was visiting Finn in the hospital. The rodent problem is terrible in some areas, and the poisons being used are deadly.  It's not enough to be sure YOUR home is safe from any poisons your pet might ingest. You have to be aware of dead rodents it might find, or poison bait pellets rats or gophers might have dropped as they leave the traps. Here is another excellent reason to obey the leash law and the pooper scooper law! If you pick up after your dog, you will know if there is any reason for concern about his health. If you have any questions about rodenticides or your dog's health, contact a professional. As they say, "Don't let this happen to  you."

WOULD YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO if your pet's life were threatened by sudden illness or serious injury? The  easiest solution, of course, would be to rush your pet to your veterinarian. But that might not be possible due to the time of day or the urgency of the  situation. 

Become better prepared by completing a class in pet first aid and CPR. Fast Response offers classes which teach life saving measures such as stopping severe bleeding, recognizing and treating heat stroke, first aid for poisoning, how to take vital signs, pet CPR and choking rescue. They also include emergency action principles, handling injured animals, treatment for broken bones and how to do a complete health assessment. 

For further information on dates and locations of classes, you may contact Fast Response at  1-800-637-7387 or request their brochure from DogWorks at 707-448-3850.

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