We often hear people compare different types of liquids (typically strong liquor) to rat poison. This whiskey is rat poison, that bourbon is rat poison, and so on. But what actually does this infamous substance include and can rat poison kill you? Here are the main rat poison symptoms and our treatment suggestions.
Rat poisoning in humans works on the same principle it does in rats but it’s thankfully much slower thanks to our size and mass difference. Typically, most types of rat poison use common blood thinner chemicals to kill the little vermin so the rat poison effects on humans are what you’d expect from ingesting a large amount of a strong blood thinner medications.
As a blood thinner, rat poison is typically safe to the physical touch (although, as always, we’d recommend that you use gloves), however, it becomes truly dangerous once it’s ingested. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), rat poisoning is actually the 10th biggest poisoning cause in the U.S. as roughly 40,000 emergencies per year are due to the ingestion of rat poison.
How does rat poison actually work?
For decades, the most common blood thinner in rat poison was warfarin. However, since rats have started to adapt and evolve resistance to warfarin, modern rat poisons use much more potent and powerful active ingredients such as Brodifacoum (often referred to as “super-warfarin”). Such blood thinners work on the same principle but are much more concentrated and have a longer lasting effect.
The way blood thinners such as Brodifacoum work is that they reduce the Vitamin K in the body which reduces its blood clotting abilities. In a small degree, this is often a beneficial thing for people who are at risk of blood clotting, but if the blood clotting ability of the body is reduced too much internal bleedings can occur.
Of course, there are also other types of chemicals that can constitute a rat poison. Zinc phosphide, which can still be found in certain retail stores, can cause tightness in the chest, coughs, pulmonary edema, cardiomyopathy, and other very serious health problems. Strychnine is another infamous rat poison active ingredient. It is usually only approved for use by trained personnel, as it can cause convulsion and some very dangerous health risks. But the most standard types of rat poison that are approved for residential use, however, use blood thinners such as Brodifacoum or other variations of warfarin.
Rat poisoning symptoms
Depending on your body mass and the amount of rat poison you’ve ingested (as well as depending on its potency), symptoms can take between several hours and even a couple of days to start presenting themselves. That’s why the first thing you might and should notice is if you find problems with the rat poison container. For example, you might notice that the rat poison container in your kitchen has spilled and potentially contaminated your food. Or, you might notice that your child or pet has moved some of the furniture behind which you had placed rat poison and might have reached it and consumed it.
Observations such as these can save you valuable time and help you start acting even before the rat poisoning symptoms have started presenting themselves. However, if you miss these signs or if they were just not there to be noticed, you’ll eventually start noticing some physical symptoms which include:
- Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
- Nosebleeds despite the lack of any physical trauma in the nose
- Blood in the urine (hematuria)
- Bleeding gums despite the lack of any physical trauma in the mouth
- Bloody diarrhea (hematochezia)
- A myriad of more serious symptoms that will indicate that the poisoning is reaching its later and most dangerous stages: seizures, heart attack, respiratory difficulties, liver failure, shock, internal bleedings, or coma
Rat poisoning treatments
If you are hoping that we’d suggest some simple rat poison antidote or anything like that, we might disappoint you as our first and biggest advice is – “Just go to the doctor as soon as possible!” Obviously, there are things that you can do yourself too, such as that you take Vitamin K to counteract the effects of the blood thinner in the rat poison. Activated charcoal or syrup of ipecac are also known remedies that are sold over the counter. However, if you do take any of these it should only be done as a containing measure while you’re trying to get to a medical professional (or you’re waiting for them to get to you).
Depending on the exact type of rat poison you or your family member has ingested, as well as on the precise nature of the damage it has caused already, the medical experts will determine what the best course of action is.
Rat poisoning prevention
This is the area where people should focus most of their efforts – making sure that you’re not one of the dozens of thousands of people who annually ingest rat poison. There are three typical ways in which adults, kids or pets can ingest rat poison:
- If it has spilled in your food. This happens when people keep their food and their rat poison in the same or in neighboring cabinets. The easiest way to make sure that this doesn’t happen is if you just keep the rat poison far away from the kitchen or from any food ingredients.
- If the laid out rat poison is found and consumed by pets or by kids. This is a very common problem – regardless of how hard you try to hide the rat poison from your child or your dog, they can often find a way to get to it. Kids, in particular, can be very ingenious when it comes to getting to objects that have caught their eyes. To avoid this it’s recommended to only use rat poison in places where your kids and pets (and preferably innocent and non-pest wildlife) have zero access to.
- The third most common way to get rat poisoning is if the poison is consumed directly from the container. That’s also something that kids and pets can often do if they open the cabinet where you keep the rat poison and take interest in it. To avoid this, make sure that said cabinet is not only away from the kitchen and from any food supplies, but also that it is locked and child-proofed.
And, of course, you can simply opt for other rat-combating tools such as non-poisonous rat traps.