One morning Zeus, a typically cute and mischievous four-month-old puppy, was acting very lethargic and having trouble breathing. Noticing this marked change, Zeus’ concerned owner immediately brought him to his primary care veterinarian, who noticed that the patient had very pale gums, which is a sign of low red blood cell count, and labored breathing.

Blood test results showed that Zeus was very anemic and his blood was not clotting normally.  These findings in a young dog are very suspicious for possible rat poison ingestion. Thinking back, the owner realized that Zeus may have gotten into the rat poison the week before.  Zeus was quickly referred to Newtown Veterinary Specialists for more advanced medical treatment and around-the-clock patient monitoring.

When the patient arrived, the Newtown Veterinary Specialists’ board-certified emergency and critical care specialist, Dr. Danielle Berube, saw right away that he was not responsive and in critical condition.  Immediate stabilization was initiated by giving Zeus a rapid red blood cell transfusion, which improved his condition, but he still had labored breathing. An ultrasound of Zeus’ chest showed that he was bleeding into his chest cavity around his lungs. This is a common complication with ingestion of anticoagulant rat poison.

Anticoagulant rat poison makes the blood unable to form blood clots normally. Because the blood is no longer able to clot, the patient develops bleeding, most often into the chest cavity.  This blood loss can be fatal because it causes the “victim” to bleed to death and the blood accumulating in the chest compresses the lungs, making it difficult to breathe.

Because Zeus was still having difficulty breathing, Dr. Berube performed a rare, specialized  autotransfusion  procedure.  The blood was sterilely (to prevent contamination) removed from the chest with a needle and syringe and then given to the patient intravenously through a filter. This procedure removes the blood that is compressing the patient’s lungs and helps to treat the anemia as well.

Once Zeus was more stable, additional treatments specific for anticoagulant rat poison were initiated.  Zeus received a plasma transfusion: Plasma is the portion of blood that contains many proteins as well as the factors needed for the blood to form clots normally. By replacing these factors the patient is better able to form blood clots and prevent any further bleeding. Zeus also received injections of vitamin K, which is another important component in blood clot formation.  The patient was then placed in an oxygen cage to help him breathe more comfortably.

Within 24 hours Zeus’ condition was much improved. He no longer needed oxygen support and was eating well. After 48 hours the patient was discharged from Newtown Veterinary Specialists with vitamin K to take daily for one month.  Everyone at the hospital was very happy with Zeus’ recovery and glad to hear that he continues to do well at home….hopefully he will stay out of trouble.

Our recommendations

If caught early, patients that ingest anticoagulant rat poison can have an excellent prognosis.  If you ever suspect that your pet has gotten into any type of poison, we recommend calling the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center immediately at 1-888-426-4435 ($65 consultation fee). The veterinary toxicologists at the ASPCA will give you recommendations regarding treatment and provide you with a case number. If it is recommended that your pet be treated by a veterinarian, bring your case number with you so the veterinarian can get specific recommendations from the Animal Poison Control Center.  In addition, be sure to bring any packaging of the substance, which will help determine the type of toxin your pet may have ingested.

Newtown Veterinary Specialists is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to provide advanced medical and surgical care with compassionate around-the clock patient monitoring for all types of pet emergencies.