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Emergency Pet Care: What to Do if Your Pet Swallows a Toxin

Would you know what to do if your pet swallowed a toxin? In this blog post we walk you through a poison protocol that outlines the 5 steps to take if your pet ever consumes something toxic.

Unfortunately there are countless everyday items that are extremely poisonous to our pets - foods, plants and various household substances. For a comprehensive reference list of pet poisons by species, head to the ASPCA Poison Control website. When a pet consumes any of these items that are considered toxic to their system, time is of the essence. The faster the pet receives veterinary care specifically targeted to address the impact of the particular poison consumed, the less damage the poison is able to cause.

For a list of signs and symptoms associated with poisoning, read our blog post Recognizing the 5 Most Common Pet Health Emergencies.

Familiarizing yourself with the poisoning protocol outlined in this article will help you stay calm and productively advocate for your pet in the event of a poison emergency.

In the event your pet swallows something poisonous, follow these FIVE steps:

First: Gather Helpful Information

Your pet's emergency veterinary care will be most effective if the medical team knows what your pet consumed, how much and when. These details will allow your pet's veterinary team to formulate a treatment plan specifically designed to target the unique adverse affects associated with the particular toxin consumed. It's important to gather this information quickly and efficiently, as to avoid delaying access to medical care - information gathering should take just a few moments!

What Information to Gather and Tips on How to Gather It Quickly:

  • How Much Was Consumed? It's important to take note of how much of the poison was consumed. The quantity consumed in relation to your pet's body weight will determine the level of toxicity they'll experience.

  • When Was It Consumed? The passage of time plays a key role in determining the treatment plan for a poisoning. If your pet consumed a toxin 1 minute ago their plan will look much different than if they consumed the toxin 5 hours ago.

  • How Much Does Your Pet Weigh? This will be one of the first questions the veterinary team asks you. If your pet has had any significant weight loss or gain since their last veterinary appointment, be prepared to mention this as your pet's weight will be different than the last weight in your pet's medical chart.

  • Did You Order The Item Online? Stop to think if the product was something you purchased online. If it was, you will likely have an online order history on your phone, which will provide all the information about the product needed, so you may not need to spend any more time gathering product details.

  • Bring Packaging With You: If the poisonous substance came in a package that is small enough to take with you (a pack of gum, for example), it's ideal to just bring the packaging with you to the veterinary hospital. This is the fastest way to provide the medical team with loads of helpful information, including the brand and product names, net weight quantities, and likely an ingredients list. If any needed details are missing from the packaging, having at least the brand/product names will make it easy to look up further information needed.

  • Take a Photo of Packaging and/or Ingredients List: If it's not possible to bring the packaging with you, snap a photo of it on your phone. Important things to include in the photo are the brand name, product name and the ingredients list.

  • Pet Ate a Plant? Snap a photo! It's difficult to accurately identify plants, so even if you think you know what kind of plant it is, it's always ideal to snap a photo prior to heading to your veterinary hospital to ensure everyone is on the same page in terms of what kind of plant toxicity is being treated. Note: There's an app for that! There are now apps available that assist in plant identification via photo recognition!

Note: BE HONEST about whatever it was your pet consumed. The veterinary team is there for one purpose and one purpose only: to help your pet. The faster you provide the veterinary team with honest information about what your pet consumed, the faster they can appropriately treat your pet.

graphic showing nine common household items toxic to pets

Second: Act Fast! Contact Your Veterinarian

Note - This step applies to those who have on-demand veterinary care close by and accessible.

After you've taken a moment to gather the key pieces of information your veterinarian will need, call  their office right away! When dealing with poison, time is of the essence. Do NOT wait to see if your pet presents with concerning symptoms before contacting your veterinarian - in many instances, by the time we are seeing the effects of a poison, it is too late. Once in contact with your veterinary team, calmly provide the information you've gathered (what your pet ate, how much and when). From here, the veterinary team will likely instruct you to head right down to their office with your pet. If they do not have the appropriate medical equipment to treat your pet, they will refer you to the closest 24 hour emergency hospital that is equipped to treat your pet.

Third: Act Fast! Contact Pet Poison Control

Note - This step is especially helpful to those who do not have on-demand veterinary care close by and accessible.

Pet Poison Control is a fantastic resource, especially if you are in a situation where you do not have quick access to a veterinary hospital. Perhaps you are in a remote location, on a camping trip with your dogs out in the woods. Or perhaps you are at home without means of transportation. In these kinds of scenarios where immediate access to veterinary care is not possible, contact Pet Poison Control. They too will need all of the same information as a veterinary team, so be prepared to calmly relay all of the information you've gathered in Step 1. Based on the information you provide and what tools you have available to you, they will advise on best next steps.

  • There can be long wait lines associated with pet poison control hotlines, so if there are multiple adults present, we suggest each of you dialing a different hotline to place yourselves in multiple queues.

  • Typically there is a consultation fee associated with Pet Poison Control, so be prepared with payment to provide over the phone.

ASPCA Poison Control: (888) 426 4435

Pet Poison Helpline: (855) 764 7661

graphic showing the varying pet toxicity level of different kinds of chocolates

Fourth: Create a Safe Transit Plan

Having a pet consume something toxic is very stressful for pet parents, and driving under this kind of duress can be very dangerous - especially if you are distracted trying to monitor your pet during the drive. If there are multiple adults in the home, we recommend that two people embark on the car ride to the veterinary hospital. One person to focus on driving, the other to focus on monitoring the pet and communicating with the veterinary team as necessary. Minimize the risk of a secondary emergency by coming up with a safe transit plan. 

Fifth: Prepare Finances

Once your pet is in the hands of the veterinary team, it's important to consider a practical plan for financing the recommended treatments. When treating toxicity, time is of the essence so it's best to start financial preparation as soon as you have a moment to yourself in the waiting room, rather than waiting to see a treatment plan before investigating financial options. That way, right when the veterinary team suggests a care plan, you know exactly what you can or cannot agree to.

There are several financing institutions that offer an easy, immediate application and approval process that you can access right from your phone. Every veterinary hospital has unique policies in terms of which lending programs they collaborate with, so be sure to ask prior to beginning any application process.

Two common veterinary financing companies include Care Credit + Scratch Pay. For more information, review the Payment Support section of our website. Here you can also learn about signing your pet up for pet insurance, which could cover a significant portion of the veterinary care associated with a toxin ingestion.

For a list of signs and symptoms associated with poisoning, read our blog post How to Recognize the Five Most Common Pet Health Emergencies.


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