Rodent poisons are commonly used in the spring and fall for controlling mouse and rat populations. Many rodent baits have appetizing flavorings or smells to encourage any animal passing by to eat them. Cats can also be exposed to the poisons when they consume a rodent that died from poison ingestion.
Each of these poisons has a different mechanism of action, and must be treated in different ways for a successful outcome. Bringing in packaging or a sample of the ingested poison is helpful in determining appropriate treatment.
Cats are notoriously picky eaters, so ingestion of rodent bait is uncommon. Some types of rodent poisons are also toxic when a dead rodent is consumed, which is an alternate route of exposure to rat bait in cats.
As with any case of poisoning, the animal’s body weight defines the toxic dose, so small amounts of these poisons are considerably more toxic to cats than they are to large dogs. There is no safe or effective way to induce vomiting at home for a cat, so any known ingestion of a rodenticide is an emergency.
Any cat showing symptoms consistent with rodenticide poisoning like pale gums, rapid or labored breathing, abnormal bleeding, seizures, tremors, or difficulty walking needs emergency care.
Rodenticide toxicosis is caused by exposure to pesticides used to control pests like rats and mice. The bait may be consumed directly or indirectly when a cat eats a dead rodent that has poison in its system at the time of death
Diagnosis of rodent bait poisoning is not straightforward without a known exposure because a variety of conditions cause similar symptoms. Routine blood work may suggest anticoagulant and cholecalciferol-based poisons, however there is no specific test for bromethalin poisoning. It is helpful to bring any packaging or samples of the bait that was consumed to help direct diagnosis and treatment, whenever possible.
If there is a known exposure to a rodent poison, no diagnostic tests are required. Cats arriving to the veterinarian within 4 hours of poison ingestion have vomiting induced to remove the toxin before it is absorbed. There is no safe method to induce vomiting in cats at home. Cats that have ingested a poison require immediate veterinary care.
After 4 hours have elapsed since exposure, it is too late to try to prevent absorption of the toxin into the bloodstream. Specific treatment depends on the type of poison. For all types of poisons, supportive care is necessary to reduce organ damage. These treatments may include:
Anticoagulant-based poisons are the only rodenticide poisons that have a specific antidote.
Rodent bait poisoning is preventable. Non-toxic methods of pest control are available for use in areas where cats are present. If rodent baits are used, placing them in cat-proof containers or in locations cats cannot reach helps prevent cat exposure.
Outdoor cats have a higher risk of exposure, as they are more likely to encounter rodent baits while exploring. Rodent bait exposure is an inherent risk of an outdoor lifestyle, and keeping cats indoors prevents exposure.
Rodent bait poisoning is rare in cats.