Top Ten Tips For Pet Poisonings and Accidental Ingestions

Patty Khuly, DVM
Vet Reviewed
By Patty Khuly, DVM on Dec. 20, 2008
Top Ten Tips For Pet Poisonings and Accidental Ingestions

Your kitten doesn’t greet you when you come home from work one day. Instead, she’s hiding behind the toilet engrossed in a grim task: playing with the remnants of a bottle of spilled Tylenol gelcaps. Damn!—you thought you picked up every last one. Meanwhile, an unseen stash was hiding in the corner.

At least five gelcaps have been bitten to shreds. Their contents are oozing on the floor and around kitten's mouth. This can’t be good.

After yesterday’s post, which touched on a tragic loss after accidental rat poison ingestion, it seems appropriate to discuss the right protocol for poisonings. Sure, it’s a different approach for every toxin but there is some common ground for how these situations should be handled. Here’s ten points you need to know:

1. Keep the pet poison control number handy

If you live in the US, the ASPCA’s Poison Control Center is the organization most veterinarians are comfortable with. The center charges $60 per phone call (and it’s well worth it). Keep the number handy or simply bookmark the home page for easy reference.

2. If you suspect poisoning from a specific substance, pick up the remnants of the toxin, the box, the bottle and associated components

Keep this “evidence” handy so you can answer your veterinarian or poison control’s detailed questions.

3. Attempt to ascertain how much of the substance could have been ingested 

Think worst-case scenario for safety’s sake.

4. Try to establish a timeframe for when the poison may have been ingested

It makes a difference whether an hour might have lapsed…or an entire weekend. (Sometimes animal-related evidence reveals itself way after the fact. We understand this. Don’t be shy about revealing the extent of your potential inattention. It can happen.)

5. If you’re not sure whether the offending item is poisonous, call a veterinarian you trust—immediately

Alternatively (in the middle of the night, for instance), call the pet poison control center right away. Do NOT rely on advice from friends, family, neighbors or your vet’s reception desk. Though they may know the right answer, it’s always best to get the info first hand from someone who’s trained to address these issues.

6. NEVER induce vomiting or administer home remedies for poisonings without talking to a trained individual first

I’ve seen seizuring pets die from ill-advised milk and oil administration. Caustic compounds can damage sensitive anatomic structures on their way back up. It’s best to let a professional do these things—or at least walk you through them.

7. Sometimes the item isn’t technically a toxin

Think Koosh ball, for example. Or an entire Kong toy. This is not the poison control’s purview any more; it’s your vet’s—or the ER vet’s. Immediate attention in these cases can make the difference between an easy resolution via induced vomiting or a nasty intestinal obstruction several days later.

8. Open up a file with the ASPCA’s Poison Control Center

Once you’ve determined that the poison your pet ingested requires veterinary attention, my preferred approach—whether it be Tylenol, plants or toilet bowl cleaner—is to open up a file with the ASPCA’s Poison Control Center. You can do this on your way to the hospital (or when you called to determine whether the toxin required medical attention).

(This service costs no more than the $60 phone call. Whether the poison control’s toxicologists need to be in constant contact with your vet for two weeks or tell you your pet will be fine, the fee is the same.)

Poison control will advise your veterinarian as to the best course of treatment: induce vomiting or not, fluids or not, charcoal or not, antidotes, labwork, surgery, etc. I cannot say enough about the value of this service. There’s no better way to treat a poisoning patient than by the poison control’s books, IMO.

Interestingly, this is something not every vet knows about. But YOU can take control of your pet’s care by initiating this clinical interaction. I think it’s especially helpful when sending my patients to the ER. I know they’ll get great care when the poison control’s on the line.

9. Prevention is the final point

Keeping tablets and capsules and cleaners and creams away from pets is obviously the best way to handle toxicities. But…

10. …you can’t do this properly without the knowledge of what’s toxic and what’s not

Read over the ASPCA’s FAQ's when it comes to pet poisons. Some of the items may surprise you.

Image: Flower Power / Shutterstock

Patty Khuly, DVM
Vet Reviewed


Patty Khuly, DVM


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