Dog Vomit Containing Rat Bait Poisons Vet Staff in Three States

After eating rodent poison, dogs vomit, releasing into the air highly toxic gases that can sicken humans.

Anneli Rufus  |  May 2nd 2012

Dog barf is already bad news. What could be worse? Bad news about dog barf.

Veterinary hospital staff in three states have fallen sick after inhaling the fumes from dogs that have eaten a common rodent poison, according to the US Centers for Disease Control’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Zinc phosphide is an inorganic chemical compound commonly added to pellets meant to kill gophers and moles. On contact with stomach acid and water — that is, once swallowed — zinc phosphide produces the highly toxic gas phosphine. After ingesting rodent bait containing zinc phosphide, dogs usually vomit, releasing phosphine into the air, which can poison humans. There is no known antidote.

The CDC reports phosphine poisonings at four veterinary hospitals: two in Michigan, one in Iowa, and one in Washington state. Each of these hospitals had treated a dog that had ingested rodent bait. Eight hospital workers have been poisoned thus far. According to the CDC, all experienced “transient symptoms” related to phosphine inhalation — including chest tightness, shortness of breath, headache, and nausea.

In one of these cases, “a female Dachshund, weight unknown, was playing outdoors when she vomited behind some bushes and collapsed. Her owners rushed the limp dog to a Washington veterinary hospital. She was unresponsive and had diarrhea, a weak pulse, pinpoint pupils, and a temperature of 107F,” reads the CDC’s report. “Subsequently, the semicomatose dog vomited onto paper towels. … A female veterinary technician, aged 34 years, who sniffed the dog’s vomitus on the paper towels to determine whether it smelled like food immediately developed abdominal pain and nausea. … Suspecting [zinc phosphide] toxicity, the veterinarian … retrieved the vomitus about 20 minutes after it was put in the trash, placed it in a plastic bag, sealed it, froze it, and sent it to the Washington State Department of Health.

The State Department of Labor and Industries’ Industrial Hygiene laboratory analyzed the barf and discovered phosphorus and zinc in it.

In one of the Michigan cases, a 70-pound dog was brought into a veterinary hospital after consuming rodent pellets. “Vomiting was induced in the examination room using hydrogen peroxide, and two hospital workers were poisoned.” Each of them experienced multiple symptoms. “The state poison control center advised both victims to ventilate the room and move to fresh air. No other medical care was received. Both recovered completely.

“Four other exposed staff members experienced only one symptom each. … All six workers had been exposed by entering the examination room or a nearby area. Decontamination was conducted by disposing of the vomitus in an outdoor trash container and ventilating the room. All symptoms abated as soon as fresh air was circulated in the examination room and other areas of the veterinary hospital,” reads the CDC’s report.

All four dogs involved in these poisoning cases recovered fully, according to the report. All’s well that ends well, but the less barf the better.

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