Do You Know When To Use A Pet Poison Control Hotline?

Dr. Patty Khuly

Pet Poison Control Hotline
Let me set the scene: You’re out organizing your garage and you spill some stuff from an old bottle with a torn label. No big deal… until you catch your cat licking it up a few hours later. Was it antifreeze, you wonder?

Given that it’s late on a Saturday afternoon, you figure you have no choice but to head over to your nearby pet ER, where you spend a small fortune making sure that whatever she drank hasn’t irreparably damaged her kidneys (certain kinds of antifreeze can do that).

After being reassured that her kidneys are still in working order, you’re told she’s got to come back for lots of follow-up testing. So you decide to seek more detailed information on your own (never a bad idea as long as you’re accessing a credible resource).

It’s midnight now and you’re so worried that you can’t sleep. Where to turn? An animal poison control center, of course. Why didn’t you think of that first?

When you call, they ask a bunch of detailed questions the ER never asked. Among other questions, they ask you to fish out the partial label of the bottle you think may have been antifreeze. They ask you to take a picture and send it.

To your infinite relief, they render a verdict: While you were right that the bottle did indeed contain antifreeze, it was of the non-toxic variety. There was no need for you to panic, or to even seek additional medical services. Case closed. No follow-up visits.

Despite the happy ending, the story is a cautionary tale at heart: While pet ERs are trained to be thorough, animal poison control centers are trained to be specific. This is a generalization, of course, but it tends to hold true.

Here’s the thing: Pet poison control centers specialize in remote poisonings. They know exactly what to ask. They also have toxicologists on staff at all hours to make sure any specialized testing and treatment plans get forwarded to your veterinarian and followed to a T.

Which begs the question: When do you seek the help of a pet poison control center?

  • Any time you think that your pet has eaten or otherwise ingested a toxin. Do not hesitate. Call animal poison control. Don’t use the internet. Call. Keep handy any evidence of poisoning (medicine bottles, cans, bags, or jars –anything your pet could have gotten into).
  • If your pet is in distress, whether foaming at the mouth, vomiting, having seizures, shaking or drooling excessively (among other possibilities), get your pet to the vet immediately. Before you do, however, take any containers of possible toxins with you. If you have assistance, have them call the poison control while you’re on your way.
  • If you’ve arrived at the animal hospital and haven’t called poison control yet, do yourself a favor and either a) ask that they consult with a toxicologist at a pet poison control center immediately (demand if you must) or b) call the poison control yourself. While you might get some pushback on this, just know: It’s never wrong to use specialists, even if you have to hire them yourself.

Here are the two most popular 24-hour pet poison control centers:

ASPCA National Animal Poison Control Center

  • 24 hours a day.
  • 1-888-426-4435 ($65.00 consultation fee)
  • 1-888-299-2973 (for no additional charge follow-up calls)

Pet Poison Helpline

  • 24 hours a day.
  • 1-800-213-6680 ($39.00 per incident includes initial consultation and follow-up calls)

There are a couple of others, but they’re associated with veterinary programs and they aren’t always available.

Here’s hoping you won’t need either of them.

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