Poison is so 1980s: How to protect your children and pets from rodent poisons

Written by Karley Johnson, Environmental Health

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Wild rats and mice living too close to humans threaten our health. They can contaminate food, spread disease, damage property, and cause electrical fires. It makes good sense to keep rodents away from our homes. However, there are safe – and less safe ways – to get rid of them.

Many people’s first instinct is to use rodenticides – also known as rat or mouse bait – to poison the intruders. Unfortunately, misuse and overuse of these poisons are common and can harm children and pets.

Rodenticides are a major risk to children and pets

U.S. poison control centers receive over 10,000 calls every year about children eating rodent poison. Most of these calls are for children under three years old.

Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency reports that “if a child under six goes to the hospital for pesticide poisoning, it’s likely it was related to rat poison. Rat poison is the leading cause of pesticide-related visits to health care facilities in children under the age of six years. They are the second leading cause of pesticide-related hospitalization.” Pets are also frequently poisoned by rodenticides.

Public Health response to poisonings

In 2008 the federal government reduced the toxicity of commonly available rodenticides, the kinds you can buy at a store. In 2020 California banned the use of the most toxic types of rodenticides. This ban includes their use by professional pest control operators (with a few exceptions). Other states are considering similar actions.

Pros and cons of professional vs. do it yourself poison application

You should avoid using rodent poisons as much as possible. If you have a rodent infestation you haven’t been able to control with non-toxic methods, it’s best to call a pest control professional.

If this isn’t an option, and you’ll be using rodent poison yourself, follow these safety precautions:

  • Store poisons out-of-reach of children and pets, such as in a locked utility cabinet or garden shed.
  • Never store poisons next to food, including pet food.
  • Read and follow the instructions on the rodenticide label.
  • Always use bait inside of a bait station (a lockable box that contains the rodent poison)

A small plastic black box used as bait station to hold rodents.
A commonly used rodent bait station

Thanks to federal regulations, the rodent poisons you’re likely to find in hardware stores are usually less toxic than what pest control operators use. However, since they’re not applied by professionals, they’re more likely to be used incorrectly. This means they still pose a risk to children and pets.

The poisons often used by pest management professionals are especially potent. Since they can only be used by professionals, the likelihood of improper use is lower. However, they come with their own risks, especially to wildlife. These poisons remain in a rodent’s body for a long time. When other animals feed on dead rodents, they may ingest the poison and get sick, or die.

All rodent poisons, even those used by professionals, come with some risk. Only use rodent poisons as a last resort, after trying other methods (see below for some ideas). Remember – some rodent problems may be too difficult to control on your own. You may need to hire a licensed pest control operator.

Safer and more effective strategies

To reduce the need for rodent poison and keep rodents out of your home long term, use the Seal Up, Trap Up, Clean Up method:

  • Seal Up: stop rodents from entering your home – check inside and outside for gaps or holes and seal any holes you find. Check for small and large holes – mice can fit through a hole the width of a pencil (1/4 in or 6 mm in diameter).
  • Trap Up: trap rodents around the home to help reduce the rodent population.
  • Clean Up: If you have mice or rats in or around your home or vehicle, clean up all urine, droppings, dead rodents, and nesting materials safely. One of our past blogs (this webpage is in English only) has more information about how to stay safe while cleaning areas with rodents.

More information about these methods is available on the CDC’s Rodent webpage (this webpage is in English only).

What to do if your child or pet ingests poison

If your child has swallowed poison and they collapse or stop breathing, call 9-1-1 immediately. Otherwise, clear their mouth of any poison product and call the poison center at 1 (800) 222-1222. Interpretation services available by stating your language once connected with an operator. Have the poison packaging or name of the active ingredient handy to tell the poison control worker.

If you suspect that your pet has ingested poison, call your vet or nearest pet emergency service immediately. Supply as much information as possible, such as:

  • Your pet’s weight
  • Day and time of exposure
  • Brand name of poison
  • Manufacturer
  • Active ingredients

For more information:

For more information about rodent prevention in Seattle and King County, visit King County’s How to get rid of rats and mice webpage (this webpage is in English only). We have several factsheets and brochures available in multiple languages. City of Seattle residents may be eligible for a rodent prevention consultation, or rodent prevention kit, which can be ordered here (in-language resources available).

Originally published 10/26/2022