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Animal control officials are reminding pet owners to watch their pets "very closely" after 15 animals were poisoned in Washington County in the past week.

Five cats, three dogs and seven squirrels in Baytown Township, Hugo and the Lake Elmo area have died after suspected poisonings, Companion Animal Control, which provides animal control services to more than two dozen cities in Washington County and parts of Wisconsin, said on Facebook Sunday.

"Since none of these cases have produced evidence of intentional poisoning on private property, at this time we can only conclude that as the temps drop people are putting out rodent poisoning to prevent rodents from occupying indoor spaces," Companion Animal Control said. 

So, the agency is encouraging pet owners to watch their animals "very closely" when they're outside — walk them on a leash to prevent them from eating any potential poison and don't leave them unattended. 

"If you suspect your animal has been poisoned intentionally, immediately go to a veterinarian and contact us to prompt an investigation," Companion Animal Control said. 

Some common signs of poisoning can include vomiting, diarrhea, drooling/hyper salivating, lack of appetite, nausea, coughing up blood, vomiting blood, pale gums, a racing heart rate, weakness or lethargy and collapse. 

Rodenticide is a common hazard for pets and wildlife, and is responsible for regularly sickening and killing unintended animal targets.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, rodenticides were the most common known causes of poisonings among pets in 25 states in 2016, including in Minnesota. 

In 2019, bromethalin rat poison was the top reported pet toxin in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa, as well as seven other states, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) said. Pet poison control can be reached at 888-426-4435.

This is why animal advocates encourage homeowners who want to prevent rodents from getting into their homes in the fall and winter to use nontoxic control methods, such as snap traps, live traps and electronic traps. 

That's because dogs, cats and children could end up eating the poison, harming or killing them. 

And because the poison doesn't kill a rat or mouse right away — it eats the poison and then "stumbles around for three to four days" — it becomes a toxic meal for other animals, such as foxes, coyotes, raccoons, dogs, cats, owls and birds of prey, Audubon says. When nontarget animals eat a mouse or rat that has consumed poison, it can kill them outright, or weaken them so they're more likely to die from another cause. 

If you have to use rodenticides, the Environmental Protection Agency recommends storing pesticides away from the reach of children and pets, and only placing traps or baits where children and pets can't get them. 

The American Veterinary Medical Association adds rodenticides may kill the rodents that eat the poison, but it won't prevent the animals from coming back. 

To prevent future infestations of mice, rats, and other rodents, homeowners need to make their homes less attractive to rodents by sealing holes, storing food and pet food in containers and routinely cleaning. 

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