How to Treat Rat Poison Ingestion

Rat poisons, or rodenticides, are common household products made of many chemicals that are toxic to both people and pets.

While some rat poisons cause mild irritation when touched, eating any rat poison is extremely dangerous and can lead to internal bleeding, organ failure, paralysis, coma, and death.

It's important to keep rat poison in a safe place where you only come in contact with it when you need to. Signs of poisoning may not appear until hours or even days until after you have been exposed.

This article covers how rat poisons work and the toxic chemicals they are often made of. It includes the symptoms of rat poisoning and how it is treated, and ways you can prevent being exposed to rat poison in your home.

If you think that you or a loved one has ingested rat poison, don't wait for signs that something is wrong. Call poison control right away at 1-800-222-1222. Pets that eat rat poison are also in danger. The Animal Poison Control Center can be reached at 1-888-426-4435.

Brown Rat Eating Grain in a Barn
Nature Picture Library / Getty Images

What Is Rat Poison?

Anticoagulants (blood thinners) are found in most rat poisons. They are responsible for more than 50% of rat poison-related calls to the Poison Control Center each year.

The first anticoagulant rat poison, warfarin, hit the market in the 1950s. Rats quickly became resistant to it, and as a result, "superwarfarin" rat poisons were made. These rat poisons are at least 100 times more toxic than warfarin.

The two superwarfarins that are responsible for most rat poisonings in people are bromadiolone and brodifacoum.

The blood thinner warfarin (brand names Coumadin and Jantoven) is a common medication prescribed to people who are at risk of heart attack or stroke. Though it can reduce the risk of dangerous blood clots, its still carries the risk of severe bleeding.

Thallium sulfate is another chemical that was once used in rat poison. It was banned in the United States in 1972 due to many reports of accidental exposure, especially in children.

Though it's very rare, thallium poisoning still occurs, typically from old rat poison products. The chemical absorbs into the skin and gastrointestinal tract quickly, and exposure to as little as 8 milligrams (mg) can be fatal.

Some common brands of rat poison on the market include:

  • Havoc Rodenticide Bait: a blood thinner that contains brodifacoum
  • Tomcat Bait Chunx: a single-dose poison (only needs to be eaten once to kill) that contains bromethalin
  • Bell Contrac Rodent Control: a blood thinner that contains bromadiolone
  • Neogen Rodenticide: a blood thinner that contains diphacinone
  • ZP Tracking Powder: an indoor rat poison that contains cholecalciferol

Like warfarin, people also use cholecalciferol (vitamin D3) for health purposes. Some people take vitamin D3 supplements to help their body absorb calcium and phosphorus—two minerals that you need for strong bones. Your skin also makes cholecalciferol when you are in the sun.

It would take a large dose of cholecalciferol to cause calcium toxicity (hypercalcemia) in a person. Cholecalciferol poisoning is far more common in pets than it is in people.

In 2017, there were over 10,000 reports of rat poisoning in people, most of them due to anticoagulants. Over half of those cases were children ages 6 and under.

How Rat Poison Works

Most rat poisons on the market contain anticoagulants. So, once a critter eats them, the poison stops blood clots from forming, leading to massive internal bleeding.

Some rat poisons kill after just one exposure, while others take multiple doses to kill. These usually take four to 14 days of a rodent feeding on them for death to occur.

Secondary poisoning is an issue that largely affects wildlife, farm animals, and pets. An example of this is when a cat eats a mouse that had consumed rat poison.

Here's how the different types of chemicals used in rat poison work:

  • Anticoagulants cause internal bleeding that may not be noticed for several days after contact. Signs of poisoning in pets include trouble breathing, lethargy, seizures, shaking, bloody stool, bleeding from the gums, and a swollen abdomen.
  • Bromethalin causes cell death in the central and peripheral nervous systems. A pet that has eaten bromethalin may vomit, have seizures, lose control of its legs, or fall into a coma, starting eight to 12 hours after exposure.
  • Cholecalciferol causes calcium toxicity, kidney damage, and heart failure. Signs of poisoning in pets include loss of appetite, vomiting, frequent urination, and depression, beginning 12 to 36 hours after exposure.
  • Zinc phosphide turns to gas inside the body once consumed, crippling major organs. Signs of toxicity in pets include anxiety, pacing, weakness, and convulsions, beginning four to 18 hours after exposure.
  • Strychnine triggers seizures so severe that they stop the critter from breathing. In animals, seizures are the main symptom, beginning 15 minutes to two hours after exposure.

All rat poisons are highly toxic when eaten or inhaled. Many are also quite toxic to the touch (except for warfarin). There is low toxicity associated with touching or inhaling warfarin.

Diphacinone, bromadiolone, brodifacoum, and bromethalin are toxic to touch. These chemicals quickly absorb into the skin, so you should wear gloves and long sleeves when handling them. Always protect your eyes when working with rat poison. Most rat poisons can cause mild to moderate eye irritation.

Recap

Different rat poisons work in different ways depending on the chemicals they contain. The symptoms they cause in pets also vary, ranging from weakness to heart failure. Many cause skin and eye irritation if touched. Most are highly toxic or even lethal to ingest.

Symptoms of Human Poisoning

Symptoms of rat poisoning in humans don't show up right away. In some cases, there may not be any symptoms at all. If a person doesn't realize they have swallowed rat poison, they may confuse their symptoms for another condition.

Symptoms of rat poisoning in people include:

  • Anticoagulants: Sudden bleeding from the gums, nose, or skin. Signs of internal bleeding include lightheadedness, shortness of breath, pain, nausea, and vomiting. Symptoms may not be obvious, especially in children.
  • Bromethalin: Upset stomach or altered mental status. Signs of cerebral edema (swelling of the brain) include visual, behavioral, or mental disturbances, headaches, confusion, vomiting, lethargy, or loss of consciousness.
  • Cholecalciferol: Dehydration, extreme thirst, increased urination. Exposure can result in heart and kidney damage unless promptly treated.
  • Zinc phosphide: Vomiting, frantic behavior, chills, convulsions, shortness of breath, and coma. Inhaling zinc phosphide can cause anxiousness and breathing difficulty.
  • Strychnine: Muscle spasms and seizures. Symptoms can set in within 15 minutes and worsen until it's hard to breathe.

Some rat poison products contain blue or green dye so that you can quickly identify when a child or pet has touched or swallowed them.

Treatment

If you or your loved one has swallowed rat poison, do not try to treat the poisoning yourself with medication or natural remedies. Before doing anything else, call a poison control expert right away.

Labels on rat poison products always show first aid instructions. Always read them before you open the product just in case you are exposed.

For example, the product label for CONTRAC All-Weather BLOX (an anticoagulant with bromadiolone) instructs:

  • If ingested, you should first call Poison Control, then sip a glass of water if you're able to swallow. You should not try to vomit unless a poison control expert or your doctor tells you to.
  • If you get rat poison on your skin or clothing, you should remove the clothing and rinse your skin immediately for 15 to 20 minutes. Call Poison Control for advice as soon as you can.
  • If you get rat poison in your eyes, you should flush your eyes (while open) with water for 15 to 20 minutes, remove any contact lenses after five minutes, then continue to flush and call Poison Control.

A Poison Control expert may tell you to go to the hospital. There, you can expect to be given oral and/or intravenous (IV) medication.

The anticoagulants in rat poisons stop the actions of a vitamin K enzyme your body needs to form blood clots. To reverse this blood thinning effect, your doctor may give you vitamin K1 therapy through an IV.

Superwarfarins are made to have long-lasting effects, which means you will need to take oral doses of vitamin K1 therapy for 168 consecutive days (on average).

There are no medications to reverse the effects of non-anticoagulant rat poisons like bromethalin, strychnine, or zinc phosphide.

Supportive care is given to patients hospitalized with these types of poisoning. This may include IV fluids and treatments for specific symptoms. Activated charcoal or ipecac is sometimes used to detox the gastrointestinal tract.

Does Milk Dilute Poison?

No, that's a myth. If you have swallowed poison, drinking small amounts of water or milk may help soothe burning or irritation for a short time, but it will not reduce or balance out the toxins in your body.

Prevention

As of 2011, rat poison bait must be sold in the form of blocks rather than pellets or loose bait. It must also be packaged in a tamper-proof bait station.

If you have any of the older forms of rat poison around the house, you may want to throw it out and buy safer bait.

Rodenticide should always be stored in cool, dry places that cannot be reached by children or pets. Avoid using rat poison in your kitchen.

Always wear gloves, protective eyewear, and a mask when handling rat poison, dead rodents, or rat rests. Remember to wash your hands well with soap and water after you're done. Wash any surfaces or handles you may have touched in the process too.

If possible, opt for rat traps first. Place traps behind appliances or other areas that children and pets cannot reach. Keep in mind that rats and mice rarely go far from their nests, so you do not need to place traps in every nook and cranny across the room. You can just place them within 10 to 12 feet of the nest.

Before you bring rat poison into your home, see if there are any other methods of control that you have not tried. Rat poison should be your last resort. Other non-toxic repellents you could try include:

  • Fresh Cab Botanical Rodent Repellent: This EPA-registered natural repellent is made of balsam fir oil, fragrance oil, and plant fibers. It is safe for both indoor or outdoor use.
  • Peppermint oil: Rats hate the smell. Wet cotton balls with essential oil and place them near the nest or wherever you find droppings. This probably won't banish pests for good, but it can be a temporary solution.
  • Vinegar: Any strong-smelling substance that is non-toxic to you or your pets may keep rats away temporarily. Consider mopping the floor with vinegar on a regular basis.
  • Diatomaceous earth: This powdery substance is made of fossilized aquatic organisms called diatoms. It is non-toxic to humans but causes a rodent's insides to completely dry out when they eat it.

Finally, you can always take steps to prevent rodents from entering your home in the first place. Never leave food or wrappers lying around the house. Always toss leftover food items into a tightly sealed trashcan outside of your home.

Make sure any cracks or crevices in your walls, windows, and doors are fully sealed, along with garbage cans and leaky faucets. Keep bushes and other plants around the outside of your home trimmed so that rats will be less likely to nest in them.

Recap

Using rat poison in your home should always be a last resort. Before you remove rat poison from its package, read the first aid instructions on the label. If you think you or someone else has been exposed to rat poison, call Poison Control right away. You may be told to go to the hospital. Treatment depends on the rat poison and your symptoms.

Summary

If you see or suspect that rats are living in your home, first try to get rid of them with rat traps or a natural repellant. Rat poison is highly toxic to humans and animals—whether it is touched, smelled, or swallowed.

Rat poisoning can be lethal, but symptoms don't always appear right away. Should you or your loved one come in contact with rat poison, do not wait for symptoms to appear. Take a picture of the rat poison package or bring it with you for the doctor to see, and go to the nearest ER right away.

A Word From Verywell

Rats are known to carry dangerous viruses and diseases, posing a serious threat to your health and home. They can be quite tricky to get rid of, leading many people to consider rat poison as a last-ditch attempt to stop rats from nesting. While they are effective, rat poisons carry their own risks as well.

Read labels carefully, wear protective gear, and only place rat poison where it cannot be accessed by children or pets. When it comes to handling toxic substances, you can never be too careful.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is rat poison?

    Rat poison is a term used for a number of different highly toxic chemicals used to kill rats and other pests. Rat poisons are typically anticoagulants known as superwarfarins. These include bromadiolone and brodifacoum.

  • What are the symptoms of rat poison poisoning in humans?

    Rat poison is toxic to humans and other mammals. The symptoms of rat poison poisoning can take a while to appear and may be mistaken for other conditions. Common symptoms include:

    • Altered mental status and confusion
    • Bleeding from gums, nose, or skin
    • Chills
    • Convulsions
    • Dehydration, extreme thirst, and increased urination
    • Headache
    • Internal bleeding, the signs of which are lightheadedness, shortness of breath, pain, nausea, and vomiting
    • Lethargy
    • Lightheadedness
    • Pain
    • Seizures
    • Shortness of breath
    • Upset stomach, nausea, and vomiting

    If you or someone you are with accidentally ingests rat poison, contact poison control immediately at 1-800-222-1222 or online at poison.org.

  • What should I do if my dog ate rat poison?

    If your pet eats rat poison, you need to act fast. Take your dog to the nearest veterinarian right away. Note when your dog ate the poison, how much you suspect they ate, and what kind of poison it was. If you can, bring the packaging with you.

    If you cannot get to a vet, call the Animal Poison Control Center immediately at 1-888-426-4435 and give your operator the same information. Do not try to make your dog sick unless the operator tells you to.

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