Rodent poison: A deadly ‘treat’ for dogs

A family pose for a picture with their dogs.
Carlitos (right) sits with his family, (left to right) Remington, Royle Brazier and Mia Brazier.

It looked and smelled like a small, tasty treat to the young beagle mix.

Most humans would have readily identified that “treat” as deadly mouse and rat poison, but Carlitos had no notion he was swallowing a substance fatal in small amounts as he gobbled it down and romped off to play.

Two days later, he was clinging to life at Washington State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

There are numerous rodent poisons, but one of the most common and deadly is cholecalciferol, or activated vitamin D3. When ingested, it can cause life-threatening elevations in blood calcium and, if not treated quickly, can result in irreversible kidney failure and death. 

Common signs of poisoning – like increased thirst and urination, weakness, lethargy, decreased appetite and vomiting – may not be evident for 1-3 days, at which point the poison has already resulted in significant and potentially permanent damage to the body. 

There is no antidote for the poison, and it is difficult to treat, requiring hospitalization, continuous monitoring and weeks of costly treatments.

And it was exactly what Carlitos had sniffed out.

As is most often the case, Carlitos’ family had no idea he got into the poison until he was showing symptoms.

It started with diarrhea, and then he lost his appetite. His owner, Julie Brazier, initially brushed it off, as the family had recently arrived from the Westside at their vacation home in St. Maries, Idaho, and the young dog had been run ragged by the kids under the hot July sun. 

But on the morning of July 7 when Carlitos appeared to be in a drunken stupor and had an insatiable thirst, it was clear something was very wrong.  Brazier was able to get Carlitos into a local veterinary clinic. 

Closeup of Carlitos and his owner

“The only thing we could figure out was there was a mousetrap in the back of the garage. We usually keep the garage closed, but the kids were going in and out,” Brazier said. 

Sure enough, when the trap was inspected, the poison was missing. 

“I thought maybe they are going to need to pump his stomach – I was really naïve,” Brazier said. “They ran a bunch of tests and they told me they didn’t know if he was going to make it.” 

It was heartbreaking for the Braziers, who less than six months earlier in February of 2021 had adopted Carlitos from Casa Dogs, a volunteer dog rescue in Puyallup, Washington, that fosters stray dogs from Mexico.

“We brought him home on a trial adoption, but we knew right away we had to keep him,” Brazier said. “He just stole our hearts. He is such a little love bug.”

The Braziers were willing to do whatever possible to save Carlitos, and they were told his best chance at survival was at WSU, where he could receive 24-hour intensive care. 

“I knew he would be in the best hands at WSU,” Brazier said. “His team there was so great – they would call me morning and night and give me updates. You could tell they were feeling what we were feeling.”

While no one was sure exactly when or how much of the poison Carlitos had ingested, blood work at WSU indicated he had severely elevated blood calcium levels. He was immediately started on a long list of medications and fluid therapy to help his body eliminate calcium and prevent dehydration and damage to his kidneys and other organs.

“Carlitos’ calcium levels were dangerously high, and his kidneys values were also increased,” said Dr. Emilia Terradas, an emergency and critical care resident veterinarian at WSU. “We were very concerned and did not know for sure he would be able to recover or, if he did, would he have chronic kidney damage for the rest of his life.”

Day by day, Carlitos improved as he was monitored and cared for around the clock. After 17 days, he was finally stable enough to return home.

“The whole way home he sat on my lap with his head up by my neck just cuddling. We were so excited to have him home,” Brazier said. “Now, you would never know that he went through all that. I would tell anyone that has animals to not have that stuff around.”

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