“Help, my dog ate rat poison!” That’s a phrase no dog owner wants to tell their vet. However, if this does happen to you and your pup, take the matter extremely seriously!

First, try to identify exactly what your dog might have eaten. If you can do this quickly, it might help your vet narrow down the best course of treatment, saving time and reducing the possible long-term damage to your dog. If you or your vet are not able to identify the substance, broad-spectrum treatments can be used, but in the end, they are more costly. Clues as to what exactly did your dog eat might include shredded remains of boxes or wrapping paper, discoloration on the tongue, around the mouth, on the gums and teeth, or under the nails.

The next thing to do if your dog ate rat poison, or any substance that could endanger its health for that matter, is to call your veterinarian. If you have been able to identify the toxic substance, let them know what it is (or what you suspect it might be) and how much they have eaten, if you know. Also be prepared to let them know any symptoms you have noticed or your dog is currently experiencing, including the severity of the symptoms, and how long you have observed them.

But wait… Isn’t rat poison safe for dogs? Isn’t it meant to kill just rodents, an entirely different species, animals much smaller than a dog? Yes, of course, but while this is true — rodenticides are meant for smaller animals — that does not mean they are harmless. They are poison, after all, and no dose is really a safe dose.

As for what to do when your pup has ingested poison or any other substance that’s toxic to them, many resources tell you not to give your dog anything to eat or drink, so it won’t activate the poison. This is not true. Ingestion, in most cases, is all it takes to expose your dog to a harmful dose of poison. Another common misconception is to give your dog food or milk, so it will absorb the poison, or at least slow the absorption down. This is also a myth. If the rodenticide contains zinc phosphide, food or drink will actually encourage the body to produce phosphine gas in the body, which is toxic and can severely damage internal organs.

How much rat poison will kill a dog?

Rat poison in dogs is a serious matter, and there is no simple, calculable answer as to how much rat poison will kill your dog. There are a number of factors to consider including the size and weight of the dog, their health history, how much was ingested and how long ago, and if it was the first time the poison was eaten.

Some rodenticides require larger amounts to be ingested over a longer period of time, some can start causing damage from the very first time it is eaten. While It is possible your dog didn’t eat much, simply got a mild dose of one of the less toxic brands and will eventually be fine, that is not a thing you want to leave to chance. Left untreated, rat poison can cause long-term damage that may be present itself right away, and in worst cases, even cause death in a very painful fashion.

What does rat poison look like?

The boxes and packaging containing rat poison are generally easy to spot: it comes in many forms, from boxes and pails to bags and traps. The labels are not universal in appearance but usually have one or more of these identifiers: bright yellow labels, anti-rodent symbols, cats chasing mice, or the word ”kill” or “dead” in big letters. Out of the container, however, rat poison (rodenticides) can be very difficult to identify.

Clues can be few if the poison was ingested away in an unknown location. And unfortunately, there is no universal color for the ingredients used to make the poison. They can be any color — although green is most common — they can also be yellow or blue, teal or pink. If you are lucky enough to find a few intact, they can still be difficult to identify, even looking them up online by description. They can be blocks, pellets, granules, or look like a normal pet treat. Some forms of bait are even made with peanut butter, making them particularly attractive to most dogs, and very easy to sniff out. If you are able to find the culprit, be sure to save a sample for the veterinarian.

Ingredients commonly found in mouse and rat poison that are toxic to mammals are listed below:

Highest risk ingredients:

  • Brodifacoum
  • Chlorophacinone
  • Diphacinone

Moderate risk ingredients:

  • Bromadiolone
  • Difethialone

Low-risk ingredients:

Slight or possible risk ingredients:

  • Zinc phosphide
  • Strychnine17,24

Symptoms of rat poisoning in dogs can include:

  • Muscle tremors
  • Seizures
  • Decreased motor function in the limbs and/or loss of hind legs
  • Loss of appetite

It can take as little as two days for symptoms to manifest, or it can take up to two weeks to present.

Rodenticides work in a number of ways. Brands in the highest and moderate categories, plus warfarin, are anticoagulants. They stop the liver from producing the enzyme that recycles Vitamin K — an essential vitamin that creates blood clotting agents — and can cause internal bleeding. Rodenticides in the lower and slight/possible risk categories can cause a multitude of symptoms including swelling of the brain, an increase of calcium in the blood that can cause the kidneys to shut down, or severe muscle spasms — all of which require the expertise of your veterinarian to treat.

The best defense against the worst-case scenario is a good offense — keep everything dangerous to your dog up high, out of reach, and/or behind locked doors. What they ignored yesterday, they could very well find interesting today. Because when it comes to the health of your pet, it’s better to play it safe than to regret it later.