Ask a Vet: What Would You Do if a Neighbor Tried to Kill Your Dog?

The owner of two dogs found rat poison in her yard. The only possible source was a neighbor. She showed restraint in her reaction. Would you?
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A lot of people are not on good terms with their neighbors. Why do I think this? Because I frequently treat dogs whose owners think their pets have been poisoned by their neighbors. Most of the time I believe these owners are barking up the wrong tree (so to speak).

For instance, not long ago I treated a dog with hemorrhagic gastroenteritis. HGE is a life-threatening condition in which dogs suffer from intestinal distress so severe that markedly bloody diarrhea, bloody vomit, or both are produced. Dehydration can occur rapidly; however, the condition is usually curable with appropriate veterinary care. The owner was convinced that his neighbor had poisoned the dog. However, as we talked further, it turned out that the dog had also broken into the trash the night before the symptoms developed.

Dietary indiscretion is a leading cause of HGE. Poisoning isn’t. I advised the owner of this, yet he remained unconvinced. It didn’t matter, because the the cause of the symptoms would not significantly impact the treatment (IV fluids, pain killers, intestinal protectants, and antibiotics). The dog recovered, but I imagine that neighborly relations took a serious hit as a result of the illness.

A few weeks ago my office received a call from a very worried person. She stated that she believed her neighbor had poisoned her dogs, and that she was rushing them in. I was highly skeptical until she arrived. She showed up with two dogs, neither of whom exhibited any symptoms. She also showed up with several blocks of green rat poison. Some of the blocks had clearly been gnawed — it was not possible to say whether a dog or a rodent had done the gnawing.

The owner had found the poison in her yard just before calling. She had not placed it there. It was found in her backyard, which was fenced and accessible only through neighbors’ yards. She did not know when the poison was placed, or when (or even whether) either of the dogs had consumed it.

There are three types of poisons used in rat bait used in the United States. It is not possible to identify the type of poison present in a block of rat bait by looking at the block; sophisticated chemical analysis is necessary to distinguish them in these types of cases. That type of analysis would take several days. The two dogs did not have several days. The matter had to be dealt with immediately.

All three types of rat bait are poisonous to dogs. The most common class of poisons at this time (although that is likely to change because the government is trying to abolish its use) belong to a group of chemicals that impair blood clotting. These so-called anticoagulant rodenticides cause animals to hemorrhage uncontrollably. Dogs who consume them might suffer from bleeding into the abdomen, lungs, or intestines. They might bleed from the nose or the mouth. They might cough up blood. They will become weak and lethargic. Virtually all will die without treatment. Fortunately, there is an antidote to these poisons: vitamin K. Dogs who have been exposed to anticoagulant rodenticides generally require four to six weeks of vitamin K therapy. Actively bleeding dogs require plasma transfusions.

The second-most-common poison in rat bait is called bromethalin. It causes the brain to swell, leading to progressive neurological symptoms. Uncoordinated walking in the hind legs occurs first. Symptoms might progress to tremors, seizures, exaggerated responses to stimuli, obtundation, coma, and death. There is no antidote, but fortunately dogs are not especially sensitive to this toxin.

Finally, some rodenticides contain a chemical called cholecalciferol. That chemical is also known as vitamin D. Vitamin D overdoses cause the body to deposit minerals in inappropriate areas. Specifically, they cause mineralization of the kidneys in dogs who consume the poison. Affected dogs might die of kidney failure.

In these types of cases, the safest option is to treat for all three possible poisons. Vitamin K should be administered, and the dogs should be hospitalized for two to three days of IV fluids (to protect the kidneys) and symptomatic treatment of any neurological problems that develop.

That sort of treatment is a hard and expensive pill to swallow. And in this case, there was a further complication: One of the dogs was a rescue who had been abused in his previous life. He was a perfectly nice dog, but he did not tolerate any sort of stress or restraint. Hospitalizing him for several days would have caused him extreme hardship.

Faced with such a mind-blowing array of possible problems and complications, I did what any experienced emergency vet would do: I called animal poison control. The ASPCA offers a 24/7/365 poison-control hotline staffed by specialists in veterinary toxicology. It is an amazing resource, available to veterinarians and pet owners at any time. There is a fee for the service, but in my opinion the fee is a small price to pay for this invaluable resource.

I have spoken with the toxicologists at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control hotline on many occasions. I have worked through some very complicated cases with them. But I can honestly say that, in terms of time intensity, no other case has come close to this one. I spoke with a toxicologist and explained the situation. She spent some time thinking and looking a few things up, and then she called another toxicologist for additional consultation. After about a 30 minute phone call, we came up with a plan that seemed to work for everyone. It boiled down to this:

  • Test blood clotting and kidney function in both dogs immediately (result: thankfully, normal in both dogs). Re-test kidney function daily for the next three days, and hospitalize for IV fluids if any abnormalities developed.
  • Administer vitamin K to both dogs for four weeks. Test blood clotting after completion of vitamin K.
  • Monitor both dogs for any abnormal symptoms, especially lethargy, weakness, disorientation, poor appetite, and vomiting. Seek immediate further care if any such symptoms developed.
  • Call the police to report the incident, and scour and cleanse the yard of any further poison.

While the technicians and I worked on the first three steps, the owner worked on the last one. The police came to her house, and several additional blocks of rat poison were found in her yard during the investigation. The owner, understandably, was upset and angry. Last I heard, both dogs were doing fine and the police were investigating the matter further.

What a crazy situation. My neighbors, fortunately, are uniformly nice people. But the incident made me think: If someone tried to poison my pal Buster, I’d be livid. How would I react? The owner of the dogs in this story seemed to exercise remarkable restraint; she was angry, but she was willing to let the police deal with the matter. However, I have a hunch that some folks might not be content to handle the matter in that way; some people, when faced with such a situation, might opt to take justice into their own hands.

What would you do if someone tried to poison your dog? Tell us your feelings in the comments, but please use restraint concerning language.

Read more by Dr. Eric Barchas:

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12 thoughts on “Ask a Vet: What Would You Do if a Neighbor Tried to Kill Your Dog?”

  1. I have a neighbor who's intentionally trying to kill my two dogs. For the past 2 weeks she has been spraying Raid all over the back stoop landing right before I take my dogs out one last time every night. She lives on the first floor and I live on the 3rd.
    Up until last Friday there was a rug on part of the landing and she was spraying in front of it and around it, so I didn't think too much of it.
    But now the rug is gone, and she saturates the whole landing with it now.
    This woman has made it known to me that she hates my dogs and wants them gone.
    I've lived here three months and this is the fifth thing she's tried to do to get rid of them.
    The other things she tried was complaining about constant barking they never do. And blatantly putting herself in their path when I am taking them outside or coming back in with them.
    I have informed the landlord and they said they'll take care of it.
    But I swear, if it was legal, I would kill anyone who tries to kill my dogs.
    There is NO WAY this woman doesn't know that my dogs walking through wet roach spray won't kill them.

  2. Man its sad to hear what people are doing to animals these days I have two french bulldogs and both my neighbors have dogs but I am suspecting the house behind our house is throwing trash and different stuff in my yard one day I found my oldest Frenchie eating a dirty sponge I took it out of his mouth and threw it away I asked my husband if he used a sponge and accidentally left it out there and he said no I asked both of my neighbors the same thing and they both said no also I am suspecting that it was the neighbors behind us.

  3. If someone ever hurt my dog intentionally I’d kill them. Now I know that seems over the top but my dog is the only reason I ‘n still here on this earth. In the other hand if it was unintentionally and trust me I’D KNOW. I would probably sue and beat the crap outta ’em.

  4. If animal control says there’s nothing they can do because “rat poison is legal”, but cats in our neighborhood are still being poisoned/disappearing, what can we do to stop it? I’m beyond frustrated that we’ve lost so many animals in the neighborhood (feral & pet), suspect we know who’s doing it, yet can’t do a darn thing about it.

  5. I am convinced someone is trying to slowly poison my dog. She got very sick this past Jan. – Feb. My vet was convinced it was cardiac myopathy because she is a Great Dane. Cardiologist confirmed Feb. 28th it was not. She did not have enough blood in circulation, her heart was the size of a 90 lb. dog, she is 148 lbs. The cardiologist stressed she needed to drink more water, however she always had water available, her bowl holds 2 quarts. I started watching her and whenever she went for water she would take 3 or 4 laps, stop then smell the water and walk away. So I started changing her water every time we left the house and returned and started putting her food in heat sealed plastic bags. She started getting better. She went to the cardiologist last Thursday, her heart is now the size of a normal Great Dane, normal blood flow, and only has normal age related signs, she is 7.5 years old. She had a bout shortly after eating this week and was sick and wouldn’t eat for a couple of days. Thinking back I had left her food bag in the fridge instead of taking it with us two days in a row and think her getting sick after eating came from this, that tells me someone is still trying to poison her.

  6. my dog was killed by my neighbours, she was an old dog but perfectly healthy.
    she got a bleached splatter on her nose and 12 weeks later she was dead,
    as I was suspicious I had an autopsy,she had cancer of the oesophagus,liver and kidney
    and a strange beige substance in her lungs.
    My neighbour breeds cats and two dogs have died from gastrointestinal problems on the other side to them, both young.
    normal people don’t kill dogs,
    The people who kill animals are generally psychopaths.

  7. Elizabeth Cordova

    My Dog was poisoned and ge died Feb. 5. He was a great pyrenees 150 pound healthy dog. Neighbors to the right don’t have dogs don’t like dogs made awful comments. – that is what happens when dogs bark. They also are very insistent in raising the fence. The wife asked if it was “the white one” they are the only ones that did not offer condolences. I know it was them. They fed him rat poison. I will continue to investigate and not give up until I get to the bottom of this. My heart is ? broken.

  8. Donna sue bongardt

    My dog was killed by rat poisoning. We never saw it. She threw up and couldn’t walk. We rushed her to the vet not knowing what it was. Blood tests confirmed rat poisoning. They administered a transfusion and Vit K but she did not make it. Our hearts are so heavy and sad. She was a loving, faithful friend, always eager to be with us. Our children are having a hard time. The police came over and walked our yard. Said people put rat poisoning in their attics and garages for squirrels. Squirrels grab it and run and can drop it in your yard.
    I sent a letter to all our neighbors. I wanted them to know what happened, and also NOT TO USE rat poisoning. It still is a struggle.

  9. My pit bull, Boudreaux, just recently died due to poisoning. I believe it was rat poisoning because when I found him he was lifeless and bleeding from the nose and foaming from the mouth. I had been at work that morning and found him as soon as I got home at 3:00 in the afternoon. I was devastated to say the least…I know he had been poisoned but there was no sign of anything in the yard. He had gotten out of his outdoor kennel so I am not sure where it happened or if it was intentional or not. My guess is that he got into someone’s trash and there was rat poison inside it… I thought this until we buried him that evening. I came home from work the next day and there was a footprint very deep and noticeable to be seen on the freshly buried dirt. I asked my husband if he had been out there and he said he had not. Now I am very concerned if someone intentionally poisioned him and after we buried him left their mark to let us know it was intentional. I don’t know! Am I crazy?! I’ve never had this happen before and I live in a small town in Texas. I am very concerned for my 2 other dogs. (They both live inside however). What do you do in my situation?!

    1. Hi Ashley,
      So sorry for your loss. We suggest contacting your local law enforcement to see if they can help.

  10. One thing people must always remember is that rats, mice and other rodents will collect food (including poison pellets or grains) and bring them back to their nest. Just because you find something in your fenced yard does not mean a person placed it there, it could simply be the rodent or even a bird dropped it there. Fact is, rats can travel as far as 300 FEET from their nest EACH night in search of food.

  11. My neighbour here in UK threw a sharp chicken breast bone into my garden, luckily I saw dog chewing and took it off her. Didn’t see neighbour throw it over but know it was her as she’s very strange, nasty and pervasive in covert ways.
    I’ve said nothing but it’s worrying.

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