Are Rat Poisons and Rodenticides Harmful to Adults and Children?

Rats and mice can cause no end of damage to your property both inside and out, can contaminate food, and pose a serious risk to your health. The easiest solution to eradicating them quickly and efficiently is through poisons and rodenticides. But with small kids in the house and little fingers that are well adept at fitting in the tiniest of gaps and holes, how safe are they to use and what can we do to minimize the risks?

No domestic or commercial owner wants to share their property with pests and the easiest solution to getting rid of these unwanted guests is through potent poisons and rodenticides. These buy off-the-shelf pesticides are made up of toxic ingredients which are fatal for rodents. However, when exposed, ingested, or inhaled by adults and children they can also be known to cause serious health issues. Below I will explain to you why:

rat poison pelletsWhat chemicals are found in rat poison?

Although rats and mice are omnivores, they are scavengers by nature and will pretty much eat anything they can lay their claws on – be it leftover crumbs or electric cabling! In order to appear enticing, rodenticides tend to contain ingredients such as peanut butter, molasses, and grains that are particularly appealing to rats. These poisons also include an anticoagulant – a deadly component that causes internal bleeding – as well as other solutions such as sodium borate, cholecalciferol, strychnine, zinc phosphide, bromethalin, and compound 1080. All are extremely effective for eradicating rats and when formulated as bait, and prove too good for most rats to resist.

How does rat poison work?

Rat poison works effectively, thanks to the anticoagulant hidden within the rat poison which interferes with the body’s vitamin K, thinning the blood and causing internal bleeding. Over a short period of time, this results in death for the rat or mouse. And, when you combine the anticoagulant with borax, known for causing neurological damage; zinc which contains toxic gases, and cholecalciferol which once ingested leads to renal and cardiac failure; you end up with a pretty potent solution.

What are the risks of rat poison to adults and children?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, rat poisons are the leading cause of pesticide-related visits to medical services for children aged 6 and under.

Credit: Pixabay

As small children are naturally inquisitive, exploring the world through touch, taste, and smell, these poisonous pellets prove enticing for tiny mouths. Rat pellets are often sweet, made from ingredients such as peanut butter and brightly colored like candy, to easily attract attention. So, it comes as no surprise to learn that over 10,000 children a year are unintentionally exposed to dangerous levels of rat poison, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

It is important to remember that anticoagulants and the other ingredients found within rat poison have the same effect on us as they do on rodents. Side effects tend to range from dizziness, nausea, and vomiting but can be as extreme as long-term neurological, developmental, and reproductive damage. As the dosage required for rats is relatively small, the implications are unlikely to be fatal when consumed by humans.

What should I do if someone I know has inadvertently eaten rat poison?

The moment that you suspect that you, your child, or someone you know has touched or eaten rat poison or rodenticide, you should contact the poison control center straight away on 1-800-222-1222.

Rat poisoning pellets are successful in killing rats due to their delayed reaction. This means that the rat will continue to forage for food day after day, returning to the source of the poison before dropping down dead just a few days later. This slowed-down effect is also true for humans as we may not experience any side effects straight after ingesting rat poisoning. Therefore, we should be aware of the following symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Vomiting blood
  • Blood in the urine or stool
  • Bruising
  • Dizziness
  • Shock
  • Low blood pressure

These symptoms, if left untreated, could become serious so you should always be examined by a medical professional.

pets and rat poison

The problem rat poison poses to Pets

It’s not just humans that can suffer the toxic consequences of rat poisoning, pets and wildlife can too. Many animals are susceptible to coming into contact with rat poisons, no matter how well you hide them. In fact, according to the American Association for Pet Cruelty, it is one of the most common toxins that your pet can be exposed to.

Rat poison will kill dogs and cats, so it is imperative that you recognize the common symptoms of toxicosis in pets. These include loss of appetite, reduced physical movement, paralysis of the hind legs, muscle tremors, seizures, and depression of the central nervous system.

If you think your pet has been exposed to rodenticides, you should contact your veterinarian or an animal emergency resource center immediately, in order to receive treatment. The prognosis for rat poison depends on the type of chemical used to make it, the amount eaten, and the time in which your pet ingested it.

Recommended reading: Is rat poison bad for dogs?

Rat poison and the surrounding wildlife

The circle of life leaves many carnivorous animals such as owls, eagles, foxes, and skunks being indirectly exposed to the dangers of rodenticides. This super-potent poison can remain in an animal’s body for over six months, enabling the toxins to work their way back up the food chain. Just like the effect, it has on rats, the anticoagulants cause these animals to bleed to death.

How can I minimize the risks of rat poisoning?

There are many ways in which you can reduce the risk of others becoming affected by the poisons you use. These include: –

  • Following and complying with the product instructions on the label.
  • Making sure that you store any types of poison well out of reach from children, ideally in a lockable cupboard.
  • Never let your children or pets play in an area that you know contains rat poison.
  • Always removing dead rodents promptly to reduce the risk of further poisoning to pets and wildlife. To do this, you should make sure that you only handle them when wearing gloves, scoop them up with a shovel, place them in a plastic bag, seal it and either call a pest control company or dispose of them yourself in an outside trash bin.
  • Always ensuring that there is no residual smell that may attract further pests.
  • Once you have used your rat poison, make sure that the bottle or container is disposed of in a sealed bag.

What alternatives are there to using rat poison?

Rats are scavengers, feasting on leftovers and foraging in overflowing bins. To ensure that you do not attract unwanted pests to your house, make sure that you tidy up and clean any surfaces where food has been prepared. After all, if they can’t find what they want at your house, they will soon move on to somewhere they can.

Never leave trash bags on the ground. Rats have sharp claws and can easily access your discarded scraps and if you have pets, make sure that their food bowls are not left unfinished. Empty them regularly, wash them and ideally only put them out at mealtimes.

Rats hate certain smells – one of them being peppermint – so to deter them, try using peppermint oil soaked in cotton wool, and place them where you think the rodents may live.

These natural remedies are safe for you and your pets and can drive rodents away in a humane way. If, however, they are persistently visiting you may want to think of another alternative such as a bait box.

Bait boxes do require the use of rat poison or rodenticides but contain them safely within the box so that children and pets are not put at risk. The poisonous pellets entice the rat to enter the bait box before shutting firmly behind them, safely enclosing them for you to dispose of.

rat bait boxes
Rat bait boxes contain poison safely away from pets and children.


So, although I would never deter you from using rodenticides, after all, they are the most effective form of DIY rat pest control available when used correctly, I would heed a warning. Always read the label of ingredients, reduce the risks wherever possible, and if you do have pets or small children, it may be wise to consider an alternative solution.

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