Want to know more about rat poison, but not sure where to start? Want to choose the best and safest option for use in your household? Here you’ll find all the answers to the most common rat poison questions: how it works, types of poisons, comparison and differences between slow & fast poisons, alternative methods, precautious, and first aid.
When I first encountered a rat problem at my own premises, I didn’t really know where to start, and what to do with these nasty disease-carrying critters. To be honest with you, the first thing I did was to go to a local supermarket to check what they had to offer. And oh boy, the store shelves were full of “death in a box” sort of products. I was surprised that a great deal of rat poison was sold over the counter and neatly stacked for easy selection just like that.
Unfortunately, none of the packages specified exactly how the rodents were killed; and came with just a little red warning to keep out of reach of children and pets.
As I retired-biologist, I know exactly how these things work, so I decided to write an article explaining how rat poison should be used, what it can do to a rodent, and how dangerous it can be. I’ll also explain the existing types of poison and their basic differences.
In case you decide to use the rat poison, I’ve added TOP 5 effective rodenticides to help you choose wisely.
- 1 How it works: different types of rat poison
- 2 Basic differences between fast and slow types of poison: choose the best option for you
- 3 Smart and alternative ways to eliminate rats: boost up your chances of rat hunt success
- 4 What to look for when buying?
- 5 TOP 5 most effective rat poisons
- 6 Poison Effectiveness: when poison is better than other pest control methods?
- 7 Pros & Cons
- 8 Poisons & pets and humans: symptoms and first aid
- 9 Usage tips & life-hacks
- 10 Comparative chart of Rat Poisons
How it works: different types of rat poison
There are three main types of rat poison (rodenticide): first-generation anticoagulants (FGARs), second-generation anticoagulants (SGARs), and non-anticoagulants. If these terms sound like a sciencey gibberish or unnecessary techno babble, don’t worry, I’ll spell it out further on.
Rodenticides, often disguised as tasty food and sometimes flavored like peanut butter, are lethal in different ways: a rat dies either after a single or multiple exposure to the poison. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll call one time exposure poisons as fast, and multiple – as slow.
So, first generation anticoagulants are the slow poisons: they require higher concentrations and consecutive intake over days to accumulate the deadly dose.
The second generation anticoagulants kill rodents with a single dose, thus they are fast. However, its effect is still delayed and the rat is not going to be killed instantaneously.
Both first and second generation anticoagulants work by disrupting the Vitamin K cycle, which plays a crucial role in a blood-clotting function, causing rats to slowly die from internal bleeding.
Non-anticoagulant, bromethalin, was developed as a better alternative to the first two generations of rodenticides. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work more humanely, it just works differently: neurotoxin causes brain swelling and damages nervous system resulting in death after about two hours. It is also considered “fast”.
While there’s an antidote to the first two generations of rat poison, like urgent administration of Vitamin K, there’s no antidote to the neurotoxic anticoagulant.
Although the rat poison is considered one of the most effective methods of combating rats, all types of rodenticides are extremely dangerous to humans, pets, and wildlife.
Companies that produce rodenticides must fully comply with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules to ensure the risk of exposure to humans and non-target animals is minimized.
Tip: if you want to make sure that the rat poison of your choice is approved by the EPA, you can check it in the Pesticide Product and Label System on the EPA website.
Basic differences between fast and slow types of poison: choose the best option for you
Smart and alternative ways to eliminate rats: boost up your chances of rat hunt success
Before you choose to use the rat poison or any other method for that matter, please, make sure you read the following steps. They will help you greatly in approaching the rat problem from all the right different angles:
- Ensure you get rid of all the garbage in your house. Do not leave bags with trash inside overnight. Always use tightly-closed metal containers.
- Store food away from the floor in closed secure plastic or metal containers.
- Remove the pet food after use.
- Seal up all the holes, crack, and gaps in your house.
- Think of using safe, alternative, and environmentally friendly methods, such as snap traps, natural and ultrasonic repellents.
- And if you choose to use the rat poison, ensure that nobody has access to it, except the target rodents.
The reason I want you to be extremely cautious while using poison or consider using alternative methods is the possibility of secondary poisoning which may occur both in humans and pets. You have to be especially careful if you have children under 6 years of age in your household. According to Scientific American rat poison endangers more than 10,000 kids per year. Poison Control statistics is even more deplorable: there was 2,710,042 poison exposures in 2016, half of which were comprised by children under six.
Question: When rat poison doesn’t work?
Rat poison will not work if you ignore the preliminary steps outlined above. Getting rid of debris and unnecessary clutter, sealing up holes and cracks, removing garbage and spare foodstuff is crucial for your rat hunt success. Do not ignore those steps!
What to look for when buying?
Consider the following things before investing in any type of rat poison:
- Size. If you have a large rat infestation, then the safest bet is to buy a bucket of rat poison. Otherwise, if you have mice and rats here and there, then the smaller size pellets can work for you beautifully.
- Active ingredient. Depends on how you want your rats to die: from internal bleeding or brain swelling. Sounds horrible, I know, but this is exactly what these rat poisons do. Consider choosing the poison with the lowest or moderate possible risk to humans and pets, in case anyone from your household might inadvertently get in contact with it. Refer to the table below (courtesy of NPIC)
|Secondary poisoning risks to birds and mammals|
|Rodenticide||Secondary risk to birds||Secondary risk to mammals|
|Warfarin||slight risk||low risk|
|Chlorophacinone||slight risk||highest risk|
|Diphacinone||moderate risk||highest risk|
|Bromadiolone||moderate risk||moderate risk|
|Difethialone||highest risk||moderate risk|
|Brodifacoum||highest risk||highest risk|
|Bromethalin||low risk||low risk|
|Cholecalciferol||low risk||low risk|
|Zinc phosphide||low risk||slight risk|
- Approval by EPA. Before buying, check if the manufacturer is approved by the EPA and follows its guidelines in Pesticide Product and Label System.
- Slow rat poisons make the rat die slowly after ingesting the poison a few times, while fast ones will work after a single dose. So, if you want a slowly dying rat to wander away from your premises, then consider choosing the slow poison. However, remember that the poisoned rat can be eaten by other animals, which can die as a result of a secondary poisoning, thus, you are potentially endangering other species by letting the rat go.
If you want the rats to die on your premises, then choose a fast rodenticide. However, your pets can be exposed to the risk of inadvertently eating the dead rat and as a result die the same painful death. So, it’s a double-edged sword, really.
In the next few paragraphs, you’ll read TOP 5 effective rat poisons that can help you battle any rat infestation, however large or small. First, we’ll cover poison buckets, and then small size baits and pellets.
TOP 5 most effective rat poisons
Motomco Tomcat All Weather Bait Chunx, 4lb – slow, less dangerous, but safer; comes in a bucket of 64
The active ingredient in Tomcat All Weather Bait is diphacinone, which is a first generation anticoagulant: it works slower, requires multiple feeding, is toxic and dangerous to mammals in all forms.
So please, take necessary precautions when using the product.
Since, it’s the first generation rodenticide, there’s an increased potential for an already exposed rat population to become resistant to the poison lethal effects.
Interesting fact! While there’s still little data available on diphacinone poison resistance in rats, there’s plenty of information on warfarin, another first generation rodenticide, which after years of exposure caused mutations in the genomes of rats and made them warfarin resistant. The gene will sooner or later become common in all rats and fail to work as a poison at all.
Also, while the first generation anticoagulants are sometimes considered less effective, and require at least 5 to 7 days of continuous exposure to become lethal, they come with a benefit of a low chance of secondary poisoning (it may or may not kill an animal that eats the poisoned rat).
So if the rats in your area are not known to be resistant to first generation anticoagulants and if you have a large rat infestation in your household, then Tomcat All Weather Bait is your safest bet: 4 pound package contains roughly 64 blocks of rat poison.
Each block has holes for mounting on the steel rods in bait stations, which protect other animals from accidentally gorging on it.
As the name suggests Tomcat All Weather Bait can be used throughout the year both indoors and outdoors.
Motomco Tomcat Bait Chunx – neurotoxin, fast and dangerous
The active ingredient is bromthaline, a neurotoxic rodenticide that severely affects and damages the central nervous system.
Rodents stop eating after a toxic dose, so you’ll need less bait, as many rats can eat from the same poison block.
Bromethalin kill rodents that are resistant to first generation anticoagulants.
4 pound pail contains 64 poison blocks that come with holes for easier insertion onto bait stations.
Although, the neurotoxic poison works after a single dose, it will still take a mouse or a rat 2 hours to die suffering. So the affected rodent can leave your premises and get out in the open, creating a potentially dangerous situation for an existing wild and domestic life around your household.
JT Eaton Bait Block Peanut Butter Flavored – slow, less dangerous, but safer; comes in a bucket of 144
The active ingredient is diphacinone, first generation anticoagulant, which means a rat needs to be exposed to the poison multiple times before dying.
9 pound pack has 144 peanut butter flavored bait blocks.
Again, as described earlier, while this type of poison might be less dangerous to humans and other mammals, it might be ineffective since rats are becoming resistant to first generation anticoagulants.
There’s no hole inside the block, so you can’t mount the blocks onto the bait stations, but the blocks are easily broken into pieces if you want to use them more economically.
D-Con Ready Mix Bait Bits – single dose, highly dangerous, very effective, but expensive; for smaller infestations
The active ingredient is brodifacoum, a second generation anticoagulant, which works faster, requires a smaller dose to become lethal, but is extremely dangerous to birds and mammals, since it has one of the highest risks of secondary poisoning.
After an exposure to brodifacoum rats die from internal bleeding in 3 to 6 days after the first feeding. So only a single dose is required to kill a rat, but it’s going to suffer for almost 4 days before finally dying.
Single bait costs approximately 30 dollars, so it is quite expensive, and if you have a large rat infestation, it can cost you an arm and a leg.
Just One Bite “No Touch” Packs – single dose, dangerous, and for smaller infestations
The active ingredient is bromadiolone, a second generation anticoagulant, often referred to as “super-warfarin” for its ability to kill warfarin-resistant rodents.
Comes in a packet of 6 and relatively inexpensive in comparison with D-Con Ready Mix Baits, but might also be less effective.
Single dose is required for killing, but yet again, the rat dies for 3 to 4 days.
While this product is relatively cheap, it works well for smaller infestations, but if you rat problem seems big, then you might want to consider other options offering buckets of poison.
Question: What is the most effective rat poison?
All types of poison are effective in eliminating rats. However, some are better than others. Check if rats in your area are poison resistant to the first generation poisons, and if so, opt out for the second generation or neurotoxin. Also, if you want to target a large colony of rats, then buying a bucket of poison might be more efficient and effective in your case. Otherwise, go for single poison baits.
Poison Effectiveness: when poison is better than other pest control methods?
While rodenticides are considered highly efficient, they also come at a price in terms of ecological impact. Also, they can hardly be called humane, since whatever the dose required, all of them cause extreme suffering for an animal.
Other than that, chemicals work extremely well at eradicating any pests that have not yet adapted to them. Poisons are easy to use and work with an efficiency of almost 100% (if rats have not become poison resistant). Although some poisons are slow, most of them will work within the 3 to 4 day period.
Poisons come especially handy when other methods have failed to work: rats have become snap trap shy, or you have a large rodent infestation that you need to get rid of quickly before applying any other more humane methods.
If you don’t have any pets and kids, then you have even fewer things to worry about. Although we still recommend taking necessary precautions, which we’ll discuss further.
Pros & Cons
- Very effective, especially if rats are not yet poison resistant.
- Even if slow, will still kill a rat within a 4 day period.
- Easy to use and apply: the manufacturers provide clear instructions in their product descriptions or, otherwise, launch ready-to-use products on the market that are designed for easy use and application.
- Improving productivity: rodenticides are becoming more and more sophisticated and effective by the day, which, unfortunately, sometimes comes at the cost of being more toxic. Nevertheless, researchers, governmental and environmental agencies are committed to working on safer options to minimize the unsustainable effects of rodenticides for humans and other mammals.
- Endanger biodiversity: present a secondary poisoning risk to animals that eat the dead rats.
- Extremely dangerous to birds, humans, and other mammals, that can inadvertently come in contact with the rat poison.
- Promote evolution: the use of chemicals stimulates rodents to develop resistance to survive.
- Extremely inhumane: cause severe suffering by either internal bleeding or damage to the central nervous system.
Poisons & pets and humans: symptoms and first aid
Since any rodenticide is dangerous for the reasons of secondary poisoning in non target animals and humans, please, follow the precautions, which are often outlined in the instructions that come with the rodenticide.
These are the basic handling and storage precautions that are necessary for safety of both humans and animals:
- Store only in original container in a cool, dry place, inaccessible to pets, wildlife, and children.
- Do not contaminate water or food. Keep containers closed and away from other chemicals.
- Do not handle the product near food, pet foodstuffs, and drinking water.
- Do not use near heat sources and hot surfaces.
- Wash hands immediately and thoroughly after use or applying bait.
- In case of accidental exposure call 911 or Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 for expert guidance and help immediately. If you think your pet or any other non target animal may have ingested a potentially hazardous or poisonous substance, call Animal Poison Control at 1-888-426-4435 immediately.
Rat poison and pets
PetMD offers a detailed guidance on symptoms, types, causes, and treatment of accidental poisoning in both cats and dogs, you may refer to this website for further guidance and holding oneself ready and prepared in case of emergency.
Common symptoms of rat poisoning include (some symptoms can take hours or days to appear):
- Loss of appetite.
- Impaired movement.
- Paralysis of limbs.
- Blood in vomit.
- Difficulty breathing.
- Abnormal weakness.
- Rotten odor in breath.
As soon as you notice any of those symptoms, have your pet seen by the veterinary doctor immediately or before your pet’s condition becomes critical.
Rat poison and humans:
As with rat poisoning in animals, the symptoms can take days to appear. Some of the common symptoms include:
- Nosebleeds not caused by trauma, bleeding gums, blood in urine and/or bloody diarrhea.
- Hair loss.
- Depression and constant fatigue.
- Shortness of breath.
If any of those symptoms occur and the rat poisoning is the most likely cause, Call 911 or Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 immediately.
Only if directed by an operator on a helpline or your doctor, use activated charcoal and syrup of ipecac.
Do not use activated charcoal or any other medication without direction from a professional. For some poisons activate charcoal do not work! Never self treat yourself, always follow professional advice.
Vitamin K shots might be necessary for full recovery from exposure to the first and second generation poisons. There is no known antidote, however, to non-anticoagulant (aka neurotoxin) poison yet.
Question: Is rat poison dangerous for cats/dogs/foxes/rabbits/chipmunks/etc?
Yes, rat poison is dangerous for all species. If any other animal eats a poisoned rat or poison by itself, it will die the same painful death.
Usage tips & life-hacks
- Try prevention steps first (as outlined in the beginning of this guide), which may include removing sources of food; storing foodstuff in sealed plastic or metal containers; fixing leaky plumbing and sealing holes, gaps, breakage; removing clutter; and using natural or ultrasonic repellents.
- Keep pets and children away from the areas where rodenticides have been applied.
- Always follow the instructions carefully.
- Try to use relatively low-risk rodenticides. Check the risk at the National Pesticide Information Center’s website
- Choose the poisons that can be used in bait stations to prevent accidental exposure.
- Rodenticides not contained in baits or traps should be applied only to targeted locations, away from non target species and children.
- Choose ready-to-use products.
- Check if the manufacturer of your choice have been approved and cleared by EPA.
- Don’t use outdoor chemicals indoors.
- Dispose of the leftover rodenticides carefully and according to the instructions provided by the manufacturer.
- Do not use too much of rat poison thinking it will work better.
- Store rat poison only in original containers.
- If you suspect accidental exposure, call 911 immediately.
Comparative chart of Rat Poisons
Tomcat All Weather Bait
Tomcat Bait Chunx Pail
JT Eaton Peanut Butter Flavor
D-Con Bait Pellets
Just One Bite “No Touch”
When the rat poison seems like the only option you have been left with after all your previous attempts to eradicate rats have failed, take a step back and think again. While rodenticides are, indeed, brilliant at killing rats, they can come at a cost of harming the surrounding environment, accidental exposure in non-target animals (like your pets, for example), and even children. They are highly dangerous and inhumane. Please, follow the prevention steps first, and see where they can bring you. Perhaps, you won’t need poison at all after you try to tackle the rat problem humanely and naturally.