We often hear people compare different types of liquids (typically strong liquors) to rat poison. This whiskey is rat poison, that bourbon is rat poison, and so on. But what does this infamous substance include? Can rat poison actually kill you? In this article, we’ll discuss rat poison, the main symptoms of rat poisoning, and our treatment suggestions.
This article was written for informational purposes only. In no shape or form is it meant to constitute professional medical advice. If you suspect that you might be exhibiting symptoms of rat poisoning, don’t wait. Contact your doctor immediately! You can also visit poison.org and get help from one of their qualified experts.
How Common Is Rat Poisoning in Humans?
Most types of rat poison use common blood thinner chemicals to kill the little vermin. This means that the effects of rat poison on humans are what you’d expect from ingesting a large amount of a strong blood thinner.
Rat poisoning in humans works on the same principles as it does in rats. Thankfully, it takes a much higher dose in humans due to the difference in size and mass.
As a blood thinner, rat poison is typically safe to the physical touch. (As always, we’d still recommend that you use gloves.) It becomes truly dangerous, however, once ingested. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pesticide poisoning was the 10th biggest cause of poisoning in the US in 2011. It was responsible for roughly 40,000 emergencies that year. In 2012, rodenticides accounted for 11% of pesticide poisonings. By 2017, out of the approximately 2 million poisoning events reported to the National Capital Poison Center, pesticides accounted for roughly 3.5% of events in both children and adults.
What Chemicals Do Rat Poisons Actually Contain?
The most standard type of rat poison that is approved for residential use will contain a blood thinner such as brodifacoum or other variations of warfarin.
For decades, the most common blood thinner in rat poison was warfarin. But rats have started to adapt and evolve resistance to warfarin. That means that modern rat poisons must use much more potent and powerful active ingredients. These stronger blood thinners work according to the same principle as warfarin but have the advantage of being much more concentrated, longer-lasting, and faster acting.
One such active ingredient is brodifacoum, which is often referred to as superwarfarin. The way that blood thinners such as brodifacoum work is that they reduce the Vitamin K in the body, thereby reducing the body’s blood clotting abilities. To a small degree, this is often beneficial for people who are at risk of blood clotting. On the other hand, if you reduce the blood clotting ability of the body too much, internal bleeding can occur.
Of course, other types of chemicals can constitute a rat poison. Zinc phosphide is one rat poison that can still be found in certain retail stores. In humans, this can cause cough, difficulty breathing, pulmonary edema, cardiomyopathy, shock, and other very serious health problems.
Strychnine is another infamous active ingredient in rat poison. It’s usually only approved for use by trained professionals. This is because strychnine can cause convulsions, breathing paralysis, and some very dangerous health risks.
Symptoms of Rat Poisoning
Rat poisoning symptoms can take from several hours to a couple of days to start presenting themselves. This will depend on your body mass, the amount of rat poison you’ve ingested, and the potency of the poison itself.
This lack of immediate symptoms is why the first thing you might (and should) notice is a problem with the rat poison container. For example, you might notice that the rat poison container in your kitchen has spilled and could have potentially contaminated your food. Or, you might notice that your child or pet has moved some furniture which had rat poison behind it. So, they might have had access to the poison and might have ingested it.
Observations like these can save you valuable time. They’ll help you start acting before the rat poisoning symptoms have started presenting themselves. But, if you miss these signs (or they just weren’t there in the first place), you’ll eventually start noticing some physical symptoms. The physical symptoms of rat poisoning include:
- Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
- Nosebleeds (despite a lack of physical trauma to the nose)
- Blood in the urine (hematuria)
- Bleeding gums (despite a lack of physical trauma to the mouth)
- Bloody diarrhea (hematochezia)
More serious symptoms will indicate that the poisoning is reaching its later and most dangerous stages. These serious symptoms include seizures, heart attack, respiratory difficulties, liver failure, shock, internal bleedings, and coma.
Treatments for Rat Poisoning
If you think that you’ve been exposed to rat poison, our advice is to get to a doctor as soon as possible. You can also contact one of the qualified experts at the National Capital Poison Center by visiting poison.org. They offer free, confidential expert guidance on matters related to poison exposure. You can contact them via phone or by using their online tool.
Were you hoping that we’d suggest some simple rat poison antidotes that could miraculously cure you of rat poisoning? Well, we’ll have to disappoint you.
Medical experts will have to determine what the best course of action is, depending on the exact type of rat poison ingested as well as on the precise nature of the damage that has been caused already.
There are things that you can do yourself, too, if directed to do so by a poison control specialist or doctor. You can take Vitamin K to counteract the effects of the blood thinner in the rat poison. Activated charcoal and ipecac syrup are additional over-the-counter remedies. If you do take any of these, it should only serve as a containing measure, though, while you’re trying to get to a medical professional – or while you’re waiting for them to get to you.
Rat Poisoning Prevention
This is the area where people should focus most of their efforts. You should try to make sure that you’re not one of the thousands of people who ingest rat poison annually.
There are three typical ways in which adults, kids, and pets ingest rat poison.
- It has spilled in your food. This happens when people keep their food and their rat poison in the same or neighboring cabinets. The easiest way to make sure that this doesn’t happen is to simply keep the rat poison far from the kitchen. Make sure to also keep it away from any food ingredients, including pet food.
- The rat poison you’ve laid out is found and ingested. This is a very common problem. Regardless of how hard you try to hide the rat poison from your child or your dog, they will often find a way to get to it. Kids, in particular, can be very ingenious when it comes to getting things that have caught their eyes. To avoid this, it’s best to only use rat poison in places that your kids and pets have zero access to. (Try to keep it away from innocent, non-pest wildlife as well.) To keep everyone safe, use a rat bait station to put out rat poison.
- The poison is consumed directly from the container. This is also something that kids and pets often do. They might open the cabinet where you keep the rat poison and feel curious. To avoid this, make sure that the place you store your rat poison is away from the kitchen, away from any food supplies, and also locked and child-proofed.