Definitions

rodenticide

rodenticide

[roh-den-tuh-sahyd]
rodenticide: see pesticide.

Rodenticides are a category of pest control chemicals intended to kill rodents.

Single feed baits are chemicals sufficiently dangerous that the first dose is sufficient to kill.

Rodents are difficult to kill with poisons because their feeding habits reflect their place as scavengers. They will eat a small bit of something and wait, and if they don't get sick, they continue. An effective rodenticide must be tasteless and odorless in lethal concentrations, and have a delayed effect.

Poisonous chemicals

Anticoagulants

Anticoagulants are defined as chronic (death occurs after 1 - 2 weeks post ingestion of the lethal dose, rarely sooner), single-dose (second generation) or multiple-dose (first generation) rodenticides, acting by effectively blocking of the vitamin K cycle, resulting in inability to produce essential blood-clotting factors (mainly coagulation factors II (prothrombin), VII (proconvertin), IX (Christmas factor) and X (Stuart factor)).

In addition to this specific metabolic disruption, massive toxic doses of 4-hydroxycoumarin or 4-hydroxythiacoumarin and indandione anticoagulants cause damage to tiny blood vessels (capillaries), increasing their permeability, causing diffuse internal bleedings (haemorrhagias). These effects are gradual, developing over several days, but claims that they are painless are unfounded: in humans both warfarin poisoning and haemophilia commonly cause moderate to severe pain from bleeding into muscles and joints. In the final phase of the intoxication, the exhausted rodent collapses in hypovolemic circulatory shock or severe anemia and dies calmly. Rodenticidal anticoagulants are either first generation agents (4-hydroxycoumarin type: warfarin, coumatetralyl; indandione type: pindone, diphacinone, chlorophacinone), generally requiring higher concentrations (usually between 0.005 and 0.1%) and consecutive intake over days in order to accumulate the lethal dose, and less toxic than second generation agents, which are derivatives of 4-hydroxycoumarin (difenacoum, brodifacoum, bromadiolone and flocoumafen) or difethialone (4-hydroxy-1-benzothiin-2-one, sometimes incorrectly referred to as 4-hydroxy-1-thiocoumarin, see heterocyclic compounds).

Second generation agents are far more toxic than first generation. They are generally applied in lower concentrations in baits (usually in order 0.001 - 0.005%), are lethal after a single ingestion of bait and are also effective against strains of rodents that became resistant to first generation anticoagulants; thus, the second generation anticoagulants are sometimes referred to as "superwarfarins".

Sometimes, anticoagulant rodenticides are potentiated by an antibiotic or bacteriostatic agent, most commonly sulfaquinoxaline. The aim of this association is that the antibiotic suppresses intestinal symbiotic microflora, which are a source of vitamin K. Diminished production of vitamin K by the intestinal microflora contributes to the action of anticoagulants. Added vitamin D also has a synergistic effect with anticoagulants.

In some countries, fixed three-component rodenticides, i.e. anticoagulant + antibiotic + vitamin D, are used. Associations of a second-generation anticoagulant with an antibiotic and/or vitamin D are considered to be effective even against most resistant strains of rodents, though some second generation anticoagulants (namely brodifacoum and difethialone), in bait concentrations of 0.0025 - 0.005% are so toxic that resistance is unknown, and even rodents resistant to other rodenticides are reliably exterminated by application of these most toxic anticoagulants.

Vitamin K1 has been suggested, and successfully used, as antidote for pets or humans accidentally or intentionally (poison assaults on pets, suicidal attempts) exposed to anticoagulant poisons. Some of these poisons act by inhibiting liver functions and in advanced stages of poisoning, several blood-clotting factors are absent, and the volume of circulating blood is diminished, so that a blood transfusion (optionally with the clotting factors present) can save a person who has been poisoned, an advantage over some older poisons.

The main benefit of anticoagulants over other poisons is that the time taken for the poison to induce death means that the rats do not associate death with eating the poison.

Metal phosphides

Metal phosphides have been used as a means of killing rodents and are considered single-dose fast acting rodenticides (death occurs commonly within 1-3 days after single bait ingestion). A bait consisting of food and a phosphide (usually zinc phosphide) is left where the rodents can eat it. The acid in the digestive system of the rodent reacts with the phosphide to generate the toxic phosphine gas. This method of vermin control has possible use in places where rodents are resistant to some of the anticoagulants, particularly for control of house and field mice; zinc phosphide baits are also cheaper than most second-generation anticoagulants, so that sometimes, in the case of large infestation by rodents, their population is initially reduced by copious amounts of zinc phosphide bait applied, and the rest of population that survived the initial fast-acting poison is then eradicated by prolonged feeding on anticoagulant bait. Inversely, the individual rodents, that survived anticoagulant bait poisoning (rest population) can be eradicated by pre-baiting them with nontoxic bait for a week or two (this is important to overcome bait shyness, and to get rodents used to feeding in specific areas by specific food, especially in eradicating rats) and subsequently applying poisoned bait of the same sort as used for pre-baiting until all consumption of the bait ceases (usually within 2-4 days). These methods of alterning rodenticides with different modes of action gives actual or almost 100% eradications of the rodent population in the area, if the acceptance/palatability of baits are good (i.e., rodents feed on it readily).

Zinc phosphide is typically added to rodent baits in amount of around 0.75-2%. The baits have strong, pungent garlic-like odor characteristic for phosphine liberated by hydrolysis. The odor attracts (or, at least, does not repulse) rodents, but has repulsive effect on other mammals. Birds (notably wild turkeys) are not sensitive to the smell, and will feed on the bait, and thus become collateral damage.

The tablets or pellets (usually aluminium, calcium or magnesium phosphide for fumigation/gassing) may also contain other chemicals which evolve ammonia which helps to reduce the potential for spontaneous ignition or explosion of the phosphine gas.

Phosphides do not accumulate in the tissues of poisoned animals, therefore the risk of secondary poisoning is low.

Before the advent of anticoagulants, phosphides were the favored kind of rat poison. During the World War II, they came in use in United States because of shortage of strychnine due to the Japanese occupation of the territories where strychnine-producing plants are grown (Strychnos nux-vomica, in south-east Asia). Phosphides are rather fast acting rat poisons, resulting in the rats dying usually in open areas instead of in the affected buildings.

Phosphides used as rodenticides are:

Hypercalcemia

Calciferols (vitamins D), cholecalciferol (vitamin D3) and ergocalciferol (vitamin D2) are used as rodenticides. They are toxic to rodents for the same reason they are beneficial to mammals: they affect calcium and phosphate homeostasis in the body. Vitamins D are essential in minute quantities (few IUs per kilogram body weight daily, only a fraction of a miligram), and like most fat soluble vitamins, they are toxic in larger doses, causing hypervitaminosis. If the poisoning is severe enough (that is, if the dose of the toxin is high enough), it leads to death. In rodents that consume the rodenticidal bait, it causes hypercalcemia, raising the calcium level, mainly by increasing calcium absorption from food, mobilising bone-matrix-fixed calcium into ionised form (mainly monohydrogencarbonate calcium cation, partially bound to plasma proteins, [CaHCO3]+), which circulates dissolved in the blood plasma. After ingestion of a lethal dose, the free calcium levels are raised sufficiently that blood vessels, kidneys, the stomach wall and lungs are mineralised/calcificated (formation of calcificates, crystals of calcium salts/complexes in the tissues, damaging them), leading further to heart problems (myocardial tissue is sensitive to variations of free calcium levels, affecting both myocardial contractibility and excitation propagation between atrias and ventriculas), bleeding (due to capillary damage) and possibly kidney failure. It is considered to be single-dose, cumulative (depending on concentration used; the common 0.075% bait concentration is lethal to most rodents after a single intake of larger portions of the bait) or sub-chronic (death occurring usually within days to one week after ingestion of the bait). Applied concentrations are 0.075% cholecalciferol and 0.1% ergocalciferol when used alone. There is an important feature of calciferols toxicology, that they are synergistic with anticoagulant toxicants, that means, that mixtures of anticoagulants and calciferols in same bait are more toxic than a sum of toxicities of the anticoagulant and the calciferol in the bait, so that a massive hypercalcemic effect can be achieved by a substantially lower calciferol content in the bait, and vice-versa, a more pronounced anticoagulant/hemorrhagic effects are observed if the calciferol is present. This synergism is mostly used in calciferol low concetration baits, because effective concentrations of calciferols are more expensive than effective concentrations of the most anticoagulants. The first application of a calciferol in rodenticidal bait was in the Sorex product Sorexa D (with a different formula than today's Sorexa D), back in early 1970s, which contained 0.025% warfarin and 0.1% ergocalciferol. Today, Sorexa CD contains a 0.0025% difenacoum and 0.075% cholecalciferol combination. Numerous other brand products containing either 0.075-0.1% calciferols (e.g. Quintox) alone or alongside an anticoagulant are marketed.

Although this rodenticide was introduced with claims that it was less toxic to nontarget species than to rodents, clinical experience has shown that rodenticides containing cholecalciferol are a significant health threat to dogs and cats. Cholecalciferol produces hypercalcemia, which results in systemic calcification of soft tissue, leading to renal failure, cardiac abnormalities, hypertension, CNS depression and GI upset.

Signs generally develop within 18-36 hours of ingestion and can include depression, anorexia, polyuria and polydipsia. As serum calcium concentrations increase, clinical signs become more severe, manifesting often via anorexia, vomiting and constipation in the pet. Inability of the kidneys to concentrate urine is a direct result of hypercalcemia. As hypercalcemia persists, mineralization of the kidneys results in progressive renal insufficiency.

Additional anticoagulant renders the bait more toxic to pets as well as human. Upon single ingestion, solely calciferol-based baits are considered generally safer to birds than second generation anticoagulants or acute toxicants. A specific antidote for calciferol intoxication is calcitonin, a hormone that lowers the blood levels of calcium. The therapy with commercially available calcitonin preparations is, however, expensive.

Other

Other chemical poisons include:

Alternatives

Mechanical rat traps are one possible alternative to poisons; another alternative is to have a raptor, a barn owl, or a mouser cat (cats must be trained to kill mice by their mother cat). Both of these methods have a disadvantage of being comparatively messy, a particular problem when the building with a rat problem is to be uninhabited for some months. Anticoagulants have the advantage that their first effect is dehydration from blood loss, causing the unfortunate rodent to leave the building in search of water. Another alternative is the use of biological, non-toxic, yet lethal baits, consisting of anhydrous powdered maize/corn cobs, containing high fractions (over 40%) of α-cellulose, which is incorporated into a solid, gastric-resistant matrix, that is dissolved in the gut. The α-cellulose anhydrous powder released in the gut of the rodent disrupts water and electrolyte balance and so kills the rodent. This material is commonly formulated with taste and flavour additives to increase its palatability, and is compressed into granulate of appropriate size (granules of bigger size for rats, smaller granules for mice). This material is completely non-toxic, leaves no harmful residues, is environmentally friendly and accidental ingestion of it by pets or children is simply treated by giving laxatives, plenty of water and electrolytes. Dead rodents killed by this mean pose no risk of secondary poisoning.

Newer rodenticides have been developed to work by reducing the sperm count in males to deprive them of the ability to procreate rather than to kill rodents outright. They are usually administered in the breeding seasons of most rodents.

NATURAL RODENT CONTROL

Several wildlife rehabilitation organizations encourage natural form of rodent control through exclusion and predator support and preventing secondary poisoning altogether.

The EPA agrees, noting in its Proposed Risk Mitigation Decision for Nine Rodenticides that “without habitat modification to make areas less attractive to commensal rodents, even eradication will not prevent new populations from recolonizing the habitat.” Rodents play an important role in nature. Removing rodent food sources and habitat, while encouraging natural predators, is the only permanent solution.

Eliminate Food Sources: Keep bulk food, seed, and dry pet food in metal cans with secure lids. Pick up fallen fruit. Take birdfeeders inside at night.

Remove potential rodent homes like yard debris, trash, construction waste, etc.

Exclude rodents from your home. Seal openings 1/2 inch or larger around the outside of your house with metal, concrete, or Copper Mesh Wool, which can be found online or at hardware stores.

Include natural rodent predators in your solution. A family of five owls can consume up to 3000 rodents in breeding season. Placing a nest box to encourage a family of owls to make your property home can be a great alternative to commercial pest control methods.

Use catch-and-release traps as a safe, sanitary, and humane solution. Catch-and-release traps will allow you to remove rodents from inside your home, but you must prevent their return by sealing entrance and exit holes and removing attractants (see above). Do not release the animal in an area that is unkown to the animal.

If you exhaust all the above efforts and as a last resort decide to kill the rodents, please consider purchasing a rat zapper or snap traps.

It has also been found that the breed raticus tompkinus can be killed with kiwi fruit.

List of rat eradications

References

C. Gillies; A. Styche; P. Bradfield; K. Chalmers; M. Leach; E. Murphy; T. Ward-Smith; R. Warne (2006) Science for Conservation 270. p. 20. Department of Conservation, New Zealand.

G.A. Morriss; C.E. O'Connor; A.T. Airey; P. Fisher (2008) Factors influencing palatability and efficacy of toxic baits in ship rats, Norway rats and house mice. Science for Conservation 282. p 26. Published by Department of Conservation, New Zealand.

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