By: Dr. Fiona Caldwell
Idaho Veterinary Hospital
For Pets Best Insurance
Rusty is just the color you’d expect a dachshund named “Rusty” to be, a handsome shiny red. He was normally a happy 8-month-old puppy, full of energy and bouncing off the walls. However, in the last few days he’d been mopey and refused to eat. Although Rusty’s owners didn’t have dog insurance for Rusty, they were worried and decided to make an appointment at the veterinary clinic.
When Rusty was seen by the vet, it was very obvious that something was wrong. He was so weak that he could barely lift his head and his gums were white instead of a nice healthy pink color. This is very serious and indicated something was terribly wrong.
Blood work was recommended for Rusty to better understand why he was so weak and pale. The owners didn’t have a lot of money were worried about the cost because they didn’t have pet insurance. Rusty’s owners were convinced that there was a good possibility they might lose him if a diagnosis wasn’t made quickly.
A normal canine Complete Blood Count, or CBC has about 40% red blood cells, and the rest is serum or plasma. Rusty had just 11% cells, indicating he was severely and life-threateningly anemic. In an animal with anemia, or low numbers of red blood cells, there are only three ways this occurs: the animal’s bone marrow isn’t producing the blood cells, the blood cells are being destroyed by something, like the immune system, or the animal is bleeding somewhere.
After additional questioning, the owners mentioned they had a rodent problem and last week had put rat poison down. In fact, they were pretty sure they had seen Rusty eat some. It was then I determined Rusty was suffering from rodenticide toxicity, a fatal disease if left untreated. Rusty’s red blood cells numbers were low because he was bleeding internally.
Rodenticides are chemicals used to kill mice, rats, moles, gophers and other vermin. They have been available in the US for decades and are available in several formulations with blue or green pellets or paraffin blocks being the most common. While many contain bittering agents to prevent accidental ingestion by children, these agents have limited effectiveness in animals.
The reason rat poison works is that it is an anti-coagulant; it inhibits the blood’s ability to clot. Clotting is important for everyday life and prevents you for bleeding when bumped, or with normal cell turnover.
Anticoagulant rodenticides stop the liver’s ability to produce vitamin K, which is crucial to the production of several coagulation factors. This takes several days to deplete; therefore clinical signs of toxicity, such as bleeding can take days to happen. When clinical signs do occur, everyday things that would normally result in a bruise or other small insignificant problem can turn into life-threatening bleeding situation.
Patients may present bleeding almost anywhere, from the nose, in the lungs, into the eyes, GI tract, heart sac or bladder, to name a few. Because Rusty’s owners hadn’t actually seen any bleeding, it was thought that his bleeding was likely internal. After they were told the gravity of the situation, Rusty’s owners agreed to having him hospitalized for treatment.
If he had been brought immediately to the clinic after ingesting the rat poison, treatment would generally be straight forward and consist of inducing vomit, administering activated charcoal to ‘soak up’ any left over toxins to prevent absorption, and supplementing vitamin K for three weeks until any toxin is officially out of the body.
Rusty required 2 costly blood transfusions and was hospitalized for almost a week before he was strong enough to go home. His bill was hefty– even after using some of our clinics’ ‘needy pet funds’ the invoice was still over $1,500. Rusty was a sweetie though and worth every penny! If his owners had pet insurance Rusty’s condition would have been covered by most pet health insurance companies.