Super Potent Rat Poison Harms Wildlife, Pets & Kids

Rodenticides kill more than rats.

A super-toxic type of rodenticide, or rat poison, has flooded the market in recent decades. It’s a concoction more toxic than traditional rat poisons and more persistent in the environment. The brand names include Havoc, Talon, Contrac, Maki, Ratimus and d-CON Mouse Pruf II.

Because it isn’t just rats that come into contact with rodenticides, these very potent chemicals have serious consequences for children, pets and for wildlife. These super potent variants have a longer half-life before they break down, which means they can stay in the environment longer and work their way up the food chain.

Amazingly, between 12,000 and 15,000 children under age six are exposed to dangerous levels of rat poison every year, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. From 1999 to 2003, 25,549 children under age six had symptoms of poisoning after exposure to nine rodenticides.

EPA says that rat poisons are the leading cause of pesticide-related visits to health care providers for children under age six. Low-income minority children are disproportionately at risk, one New York study found.

Children Uniquely at Risk

Children are uniquely vulnerable to pesticides. In terms of their biology and health, they are not just miniature adults. Their internal organs are developing and their enzymatic, metabolic and immune systems may provide less protection than those of adults.

Young children are at risk also because they may innocently handle the products, play on the floor and put objects in their mouths. EPA’s website says, “Adverse effects of pesticide exposure range from mild symptoms of dizziness and nausea to serious, long-term neurological, developmental and reproductive disorders.”

Under EPA Administrator Carol Browner, EPA announced a policy stating that regulatory standards would take into account children’s susceptibility or explain why that was not necessary and President Bill Clinton issued Executive Order in 1997 making this a government-wide policy, both good starts.

Wildlife Harmed and Killed

An American Bald Eagle perched on a tree in Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Photo courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Many animals can come into contact with rat poisons directly, while others, like owls, come into contact by eating rats that have been exposed.  Scientists are finding these super-potent poisons in a wide range of wildlife: owls, bald eagles, golden eagles, hawks, vultures, coyotes, fishers, foxes, skunks, deer, mountain lions, bobcats, squirrels, opossums and raccoons, for example. Scientists are still studying how some plant- or grain-eating animals might ingest them.

Because they are persistent, the products can stay in an animal’s body for six months or longer and work their way up the food chain. They are anti-coagulants and once in an animal’s system, they prevent blood from clotting. Rats that have eaten the poison might hemorrhage and bleed to death. They can stagger around dazed for days, making them easy prey for predators.

EPA biologist Bill Ericks in 2006 wrote that hundreds of wildlife poisoning deaths had occurred and that the pesticides had been found in hundreds of animals. “We’re finding this stuff all over the place,” said John Elliott, an Environment Canada scientist who co-authored an owl study published last year. “There’s a lot more rodenticides in the food chain than we would have ever thought. We’re surprised that there’s that much of the stuff kicking around.”

What Is EPA Doing?

In 2011 EPA issued new rules, but they did not go as far as some wildlife advocates would want.

Reporting for Investigate West, Robert McClure wrote in December 2010 that the Clinton EPA required reformulation of the products to taste bitter, making them unpalatable when eaten and required the addition of a bright dye to better determine if children had put the substances in their mouths. But then the Bush EPA, after meetings with the industry, “reversed course,” according to McClure.

Manufacturers are still fighting, balking at responsible action.

What You Can Do

While it’s been years without systemic government action, and it could be years longer, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself, loved ones and wildlife. Keep in mind the biggest risk comes from using these indoors, where kids are most apt to find them. But outdoor contact can happen too.

  • If you see multiple cases dead wildlife, alert local animal control authorities.
  • Teach your kids not to play with dead animals and to recognize rat poison.
  • Educate yourself about the products. Visit the National Pesticide Information Center, 800-858-7378 or
  • Use non-chemical methods of rodent control such as rat traps. We discourage glue boards since they can be inhumane.
  • Practice prevention. Don’t attract rodents with trash, pet food and bird seed. Seal openings to your home.
  • Use safer products. Visit to find a list of products.
  • Make sure pest control companies that you hire are licensed and do not use unsafe products.
  • Never dispose of a pesticide in the toilet, storm drains, sewer systems or waterways.
  • Check out these resources about protecting children:

Acknowledgement:  Thanks to NWF senior scientist Doug Inkley for editing this post.