Rodenticide Poisoning in Cats

A large rodent infestation can be tricky to shift without rodenticides. These toxic baits are specifically formulated to attract and poison rats and mice and can kill many more rodents than traps alone. They’re widely available, easy to use and high effective. But are rodenticides safe?

Unfortunately, the poison used in rodenticide baits is rarely species-specific and can be extremely hazardous to use around children and pets.

Animals that ingest rodenticides will often suffer from some degree of poisoning and cats are especially susceptible to certain types of toxins, such as bromethalin. In many cases, rodenticide poisoning in felines is fatal. Which is why cat owners must be aware of the symptoms of rat poisoning in cats so treatment can be administered as soon as possible.

What types of rodenticide can harm my cat?

Most types of rodenticide are also toxic to cats and dogs. Although some have antidotes, many more don’t and can be lethal for cats. If you have cats living in or around your home, proceed with extreme caution when using the following types of rat poison.

Anticoagulants

Anticoagulants such as warfarin (the oldest and most popular rodenticide) thin the blood and prevent it from clotting. This leads to bleeding (hemorrhaging) and death of the animal that ingests it.

Death by anticoagulant poisoning is entirely preventable in cats and dogs, as there is an effective antidote (vitamin K1). Signs of anticoagulant poisoning in cats include:

  • Bleeding (from the nose, mouth vagina or rectum)
  • Coughing blood
  • Respiratory issues (difficulty breathing, rapid breathing, difficulty exercising)
  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Vomiting blood, bloody diarrhea
  • Collapse

Zinc, calcium and aluminum phosphides

Phosphide compounds are commonly used as rodenticides. These react with the acid and water in the stomach to release phosphine gas, which causes liver damage, painful abdominal distension and death.

If your cat eats a phosphide-based bait, the symptoms will usually be apparent immediately and will include:

  • Painful swelling of the belly
  • Retching and vomiting
  • Shock and collapse

Bromethalin

Bromethalin is a highly lethal toxin that is widely used in rodenticide baits. This fast-acting poison causes cerebral edema (swelling and fluid on the brain) in animals that swallow it, with death usually following shortly after. Bromethalin is especially toxic in cats, with a lethal dose of just 0.3 milligrams/kilogram.

Keep in mind!

Depending on the amount of bait ingested, the symptoms of bromethalin poisoning may not be apparent for up to two weeks after, though symptoms usually appear within 2-7 days.

Unfortunately, bromethalin has no antidote and many cats die after eating rodenticide laced with this toxin. However, if you see your cat eating bromethalin rat poison take them immediately to the nearest vet, as they may be saved if vomiting is induced straight away. If the poisoning is only mild, they may also make a full recovery if the appropriate treatment is administered.

Look out for the following symptoms of bromethalin poisoning in your cat:

  • Muscle tremors
  • Seizures
  • Impaired movement and paralysis of the back legs
  • Loss of appetite
  • Depression and confusion
  • Loss of balance

My cat ate rat poison! What should I do?

If your cat eats rodenticide, take them to the vet immediately. Many cases of rat poisoning in cats are fatal, and treatment must be administered as soon as possible in order to be successful.

If you catch your cat eating rat poison and get them to a vet within an hour or two, vomiting is usually induced. In cases where the poison in question is an anticoagulant, vitamin K1 will also be administered for a period of several weeks after ingestion.

Unfortunately, many types of rodenticide (such as bromethalin) have no known antidote. In these cases, supportive care may be offered to increase your cat’s chance of survival, though most cases of bromethalin poisoning in cats are fatal.

How can you prevent rat poisoning in cats?

If you have no option but to use rodenticides in an area with cats, you must take careful measures to prevent accidental poisoning. Your cat may be exposed to rodenticides via primary poisoning (where the poison itself is eaten) or by secondary poisoning (where poisoned rats or mice are eaten).

Take the following precautions to protect your cat from rodenticide poisoning:

Place baits out of reach of cats

Make sure your cat doesn’t have access to rat poison. Placing rodenticide baits in places your cat can’t get to is the most reliable way to prevent accidental poisoning.

Monitor your cat carefully

If you are using rodenticide baits around your house, it’s important to keep a close eye on your cat.

Monitor them for signs and symptoms of rodenticide poisoning and be constantly aware of what they are eating. If you see them anywhere near poison stations or dead rodents, act immediately to ensure their safety.

Pick up dead rodents immediately

Rodenticides kill rodents quickly and, depending on the size of your infestation, you will start to find dead mice and rats around your house in as little as a day or two. If your cat eats any of these it could fall victim to secondary poisoning, particularly if you are using a bromethalin-based bait.

Do a regular sweep for dead rodents (paying close attention to crawlspaces, cupboards, and gaps behind and under appliances), removing and disposing of them as soon as you find them.

Conclusion

Rodenticides are an easy, inexpensive and effective way of eliminating a rat population. These specially formulated baits contain potent toxins selected to quickly kill large numbers of rodents. Unfortunately, these poisons are not species-specific and are risky to use around pets and wildlife.

If you own cats, think very carefully before laying out rat poison around your house as some, like bromethalin, are highly lethal to felines and have no known antidote.

If you must use a rodenticide in a household with cats, take preventative measures to keep them safe and monitor your kitty closely for symptoms of rat poisoning.

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