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Phospine Danger To People When Pets Ingest This Rodenticide

Updated on October 8, 2015
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How Pets Can Vomit Hazmat

If you have a dog or cat and use a pesticide to control moles and other digging rodents in your yard, this should be of particular importance to you. Comedy writers would have a field day with this one, but it is a serious subject that pet owners should at least be aware of. Then, you can crack all the jokes you want.

A readily available rodenticide, zinc phosphide, is used more commonly in products to control gophers and moles, and when it mixes with stomach acid and water, it produces a highly toxic gas known as phosphine.

When animals ingest the zinc phosphide it usually causes them to vomit. If they’re brought into a veterinary hospital, vomiting will be induced if it hasn’t already occurred spontaneously. And that’s where the trouble started.

Between 2006 and 2011 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recorded poisonings at four different veterinary hospitals that had treated dogs that ingested zinc phosphide.

When the dogs vomited, staff in the immediate area were affected right away. Symptoms varied from person to person but included shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, headache, nausea and lightheadedness.

In one instance, state poison control officials advised the staff to ventilate the room and move the affected personnel to fresh air. No other medical care was received, the employees recovered completely and they lost no time from work.

In another incident a 42 year old veterinarian with multiple sclerosis induced vomiting in a 62 pound dog that had ingested three zinc phosphide pellets. She experienced respiratory pain, headache, dizziness, chest pain, sore throat, and nausea. After 15 hours of symptoms she went to the emergency room and was admitted overnight for observation. It took about 2 ½ weeks for her symptoms to subside.

A third incident involved a female dachshund that vomited behind some bushes and collapsed. The owners rushed her to the vet hospital where she was unresponsive, had diarrhea, a weak pulse, pinpoint pupils, and a temperature of 107. Subsequently, the dog vomited onto paper towels.

A 34 year old vet tech sniffed the vomit in an attempt to see if it smelled like food and she immediately developed abdominal pain and nausea. The symptoms lasted for 20 minutes, and she did not seek medical care.


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The CDC report offered this disclaimer: “The findings in this report are subject to at least two limitations. First, acute poisoning from Zn3P2 (zinc phosphide) products might be underreported. Because symptoms might only last a few hours and can resolve without medical treatment, victims might never associate symptoms with poisoning.

In addition, cases in victims who do not seek medical care or advice from poison control centers are not recorded by surveillance. Also, cases are only identified if Zn3P2 (zinc phosphide) or PH3 (phosphine) are listed as responsible for the poisoning. In a veterinary setting, the substance ingested by an animal often is not readily determined.

Second, for this report, seven persons who had only one symptom did not meet the poisoning case definition.”

Needless to say, when using zinc phosphide products to control vermin in your yard, follow instructions to the letter. Should your dog or cat ingest some of the product, bring them to a veterinary hospital right away, and be aware that if they vomit, it could give you any of the symptoms described above.

If conditions allow, it would be good to bring the container of pest control product with you so that the veterinarian can positively identify the toxin.


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    • KathyH profile image

      KathyH 4 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

      Wow! I had never heard of this, amazing. Sounds like a dangerous chemical that probably shouldn't be used in yards where dogs and cats are, but I know that animals run all over the place so they might still come in contact with this. Fascinating, and important information to share! Great job! :)

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
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      Bob Bamberg 4 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi Kathy,

      That was my initial reaction, too. I had never heard of it until I stumbled across it while researching other toxins.

      The pesticide is meant to be put down the holes of the target animals so pets shouldn't come in contact with it, unless the human doesn't use it properly or the animal digs that area.

      My knee jerk reaction is that it's people misusing the product. I sold pesticides for a couple of decades in feed and grain stores, and I saw it all the time.

      People don't read the labels thoroughly, apply it the way Grampy always did it, or put it on a little heavier to make sure it gets the job done. If I had to quantify it, I'd estimate that 85% of the users are haphazard about it.

      When used according to directions contemporary knowledge assures that it's safe. That doesn't mean that, at some later point, researchers won't discover something to the contrary, though.

      Thanks for stopping by; it was nice hearing from you. Regards, Bob

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