What to do if your pet eats something toxic

By Nicole Sarrubbo on April 16, 2010 12:01:00 am

I’m the proud pet parent of a bouncing one-year old Yorkie, Lola, who gets into everything her little paws can find (including my favorite black pumps last week!). But things can get scary fast when our furry family members get into stuff they shouldn’t like medications, cleaners, and whatever else they find when they’re exploring our homes.

I read about the ASPCA’s poison control center (888-426-4435) the other day when the Consumerist wrote about a pup’s mishap with Claritin. The story mentioned that there’s a $65 charge to call the poison hotline, so I contacted the ASPCA to find out more about what’s included in the $65 charge.

The call center, which answers more than 200,000 calls annually, is staffed by veterinary nurses, veterinarians, and toxicologists, according to Camille DeClementi, VMD, DABT, senior director of Animal Health Services at the ASPCA. Callers are assigned a case number when they’re charged a one-time $65 fee, which includes all follow-up calls for the pet parent and the pet’s veterinarian.

Here are some more specifics about the poison control service, which Dr. DeClementi told me about:

Q: What is included with the $65 charge?

A: Our team is especially skilled at rapidly obtaining key information on the pet, its clinical signs and information on potential exposures and other possible causes. We leverage our AnTox database to assist our veterinarians and toxicologists in rapidly assessing the situation and providing appropriate recommendations, which often include at-home therapies. Based on our experience, we can typically determine the significance and possible effects of exposures to prescription drugs, pesticides, household products and plants. Since the core of our team are licensed veterinarians, we often determine that a poisoning is not likely and can then discuss diseases and other potential causes for any clinical signs a pet may be experiencing.

Q: What if the advice is to get the pet to a vet right away—will the caller still be charged $65?

A: Situations in which we recommend taking the pet to a veterinarian immediately are ones in which our expertise is often key. We do apply the fee, a process that takes little time, and provide a case number. With the case number, the attending veterinarian can call and talk one-on-one with one of our staff veterinarians to discuss key diagnostic and treatment strategies. In such scenarios we function as part of the treatment team and often help expedite care and keep costs down.

Q: What if the caller can’t afford the $65 fee?

A: Our staff do their best to provide life-saving information. Although we do understand that the fee could be a barrier to some callers, we often save callers money by keeping pets at home that don't require a visit to an emergency clinic. When we do recommend a trip to a veterinary hospital, we can help focus care and keep costs down. If callers do not want to initiate a case we do typically recommend that they call their regular veterinarian.

Q: What type of animals do you offer poison control assistance for?

A: The patients we receive the most calls about are dogs and cats. Our most common call involves a young large breed dog who has probably chewed into a pill vial.  However our staff is comfortable providing assistance for all domestic animals (including horses, cows, goats, pigs, birds, rabbits, ferrets, pocket pets).  We also consult on cases involving wildlife and zoo animals.

Q: I understand that some companies will cover the fee for callers if a pet accidentally eats their product. Do you have a list of companies who provide this fee waiver?

A: We do have an extensive list of pharmaceutical, home product and lawn and garden companies who cover the cost of calls on their products. These companies want the best care available for pets and also want to collect information about accidental, misuse or appropriate exposures. Since this list is always changing we ask pet owners to call and inquire about whether a case is covered or not. This process takes a very short amount of time.

For more info on how to keep your pet safe, check out the ASPCA’s articles on dangerous stuff in your home, a list of the top 10 pet poisons of 2009, dangerous plants and more answers to FAQ about the animal poison control.

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Nicole Sarrubbo

Nicole Sarrubbo

Posted at 12:01:00 AM in
Health | Nicole Sarrubbo | Pets | Safety

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09:38:12 AM on Wed Apr 21 2010

Great info. But you can also often get a nearly instant response by calling your vet, even during off hours. My cat once ate a spiky garden plant and couldn't stop gagging. I called my vet and got a recording that gave a pager number to call in case of emergency. I got a callback within a few minutes. He said that the situation sounded serious enough to warrant taking the cat to a nearby emergency pet clinic that was open weekends. The vets there gave her a medication that was able to stop the gagging.

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