Animal Poison Control: What to Do and Who to Call

Published on May 13, 2019 by arothstein

Every year, veterinarians and veterinary technicians see animals who have ingested poisonous substances. These animals may be wildlife or household pets. In many cases, owners weren’t aware that the poisonous substance was dangerous to their pet.

If you’re working with an animal or own an animal you suspect has been poisoned, time is of the essence. Most importantly, the longer an animal goes without treatment, the higher the chances of death or permanent disability. If you’re in a workplace with access to a licensed veterinarian, you can seek their guidance. But if you’re on your own, there are other important resources you can access.

Call the ASPCA

The ASPCA has an Animal Poison Control Center that can provide guidance during any poison-related emergency for an animal. The poison control hotline is available every day, 24 hours a day, at 888-426-4435. You may, however, have to pay a $65 consultation fee.

For animal healthcare professionals like veterinarians and veterinary technician, the ASPCA also has a variety of veterinary resources available.

Common Poisons

Some of the items that can poison an animal may be something you never thought about. Make sure to understand which items are poisonous to your pet before feeding them anything out of the ordinary.


There are more than 1,000 plants that researchers identify as poisonous to pets. Some plants are serious enough to cause organ failure in dogs and cats. In contrast, others may just cause upset stomachs. If a dog or cat eats any kind of plant material, it’s possible that they will experience an upset stomach and vomiting. However, if the plant has been proven non-toxic, they shouldn’t experience life-threatening symptoms.

Common Toxic Plants

Some of the most common poisonous plants are lilies, especially in spring. Likewise, Easter lilies can kill cats even if they just groom the pollen off their fur.

Azaleas and rhododendrons are also poisonous to dogs, horses, and cats. As a result, they may cause vomiting, weakness, diarrhea, and cardiac failure.

Tulips are poisonous to horses, cats, and dogs. Consequently, they can cause diarrhea, vomiting, depression, and drooling. The highest concentration of toxic substances is found in the bulb.

Sago Palms are also poisonous to dogs, cats, and horses. They cause hemorrhaging, gastroenteritis, liver damage, liver failure, and eventual death.

Poisonous Houseplants

If you bring any houseplants into a home with pets, you should first make sure they aren’t poisonous. Be mindful if you give plants as a gift to any friends or family with pets.

Human Foods

Many human foods are poisonous to pets, but some foods are more dangerous than others. For that reason, you should avoid feeding pets any kind of human food.

Alcohol and Yeast Poisoning

Alcohol can cause diarrhea and vomiting, depression of the central nervous system, trouble with breathing, tremors, and coma. As a result, if symptoms are severe enough, they can kill a pet.

When yeast dough rises, it can cause an accumulation of gas in a pet’s digestive tract. Similarly to alcohol, yeast causes problems for pets. In cases where this leads to a twisting of the digestive tract, the emergency might become life-threatening. Yeast also creates ethanol as a byproduct, which leads to the same symptoms as alcohol poisoning.

Poisonous Fruits for Pets

Avocado is problematic for birds, horses, donkeys, rabbits, and livestock. Most notably, cardiovascular damage may lead to death for birds. Likewise, livestock may have swelling in their heads and necks.

Raisins and grapes both lead to kidney failure in pets. Although researchers haven’t yet identified which substance within them is toxic, they’re most dangerous to dogs. Another food dangerous to dogs is macadamia nuts, which can cause hyperthermia, vomiting, and tremors.

Toxic Sweets and Candies

Chocolate, caffeine, and coffee are all toxic. These can cause vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, cardiac arrhythmia, seizures, and death. Dark chocolate is the most dangerous type of chocolate.

Xylitol, found in sugar-free gums and candies, can cause many animals to release insulin. The insulin increase can lead to liver failure if not treated. At first, the symptoms include loss of coordination, lethargy, and vomiting. As the poison progresses, pets may have seizures and liver failure.

Common Poisonous Ingredients

Onions, garlic, and chives might cause intestinal problems and could also cause damage to the red blood cells. Cats and dogs are both at risk.

Additionally, raw meat and eggs may carry bacteria and diseases that can cause problems with both humans and pets.

Dietary Irritants

The essential oils and acid in citrus plants can cause digestive irritation and even lead to central nervous system depression when pets eat large amounts.

Coconut and coconut products might cause stomach upset, but rarely have life-threatening complications.

Dairy products cause digestive upset because pets do not have digestive systems equipped to process dairy.

Nuts have fats that might cause diarrhea, vomiting, and potential pancreatitis. As a result, ingestion can have long-term effects on your pet’s health.

Large amounts of salt may cause excessive urination and thirst. In high amounts, pets may also have symptoms of sodium ion poisoning. Symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, tremors, depression, and seizures. At its worst, sodium poisoning can lead to death.

Household Products

Many cleaning chemicals and medications are poisonous to pets. For this reason, all chemicals and medications should be out of reach. Double check the ingredients of your products to make sure they’re safe to come into contact with your pets. And of course, follow the label instructions.

Toxic Cleaners

Bleach can cause serious problems if ingested. If bleach solutions are used properly, they shouldn’t cause harm to pets.

Carpet fresheners don’t generally harm pets though they can cause irritation. As a result, inhalation can cause respiratory irritation, and small ingestions might cause stomach upset. Most carpet shampoos are safe to use, provided the carpet dries before pets are allowed in the room.

Essential oils can cause serious problems in pets. Depending on the oil, they can lead to organ failure and death.

The detergents in fabric softener sheets can also cause serious symptoms if chewed on. Grout varies in toxicity levels depending on the type; alkaline corrosive ingredients can kill pets.

Using a vinegar and water solution can save you money, but you should be careful not to let your pet digest it. As a result, the acid in vinegar can irritate your pet’s mouth, cause them pain, and lead to vomiting and diarrhea.

Many prescription medications, particularly controlled substances like amphetamines and opioids, can be life-threatening to pets. In contrast, many pet medications are harmless if ingested in small doses but can cause serious problems if ingested in large quantities.

Finally, it is important that pet owners not use products on their pets if they weren’t specifically pet-formulated. For example, this includes cosmetics, shampoos, bug sprays, and other grooming tools.

Who You Might Need to Call

The poison control helpline should be a first-line resource. At the poison control center, they can recommend who to call about emergency care if necessary. Poison Control experts have experience in poison emergencies for many different animals.


Veterinarians can provide consultations and emergency care in a crisis. If a veterinary technician isn’t sure whether a pet is in danger or not, it’s important to follow up with a veterinarian. The only drawback is that many veterinary offices have limited hours. For that reason, if a pet emergency occurs on the weekend or after-hours, people may need to use other resources.

Emergency Pet Hospitals

Emergency pet hospitals provide similar services to human hospitals. Veterinary offices are like doctor’s offices; they have limited hours and sometimes struggle to fit people in without appointments. In contrast, emergency pet hospitals are open 24/7 to offer emergency services. For this reason, these types of hospitals are less common than average vet offices. As a result, pet owners in rural areas may need to travel long distances to reach them, so they’re not always an ideal choice.

In-Home Evaluation Services

The poison control helpline may recommend in-home evaluation services when pets are recovering from a mild poisoning. However, in-home veterinarians don’t provide the same services as emergency vets. In emergency situations, pets should be brought to a clinic or hospital because these places have more specialized services available.

A home visit by a veterinarian can help make sure the recovery process is proceeding properly. If the pet needs any prescriptions or diagnostic tests, the veterinarian can do them. They can also recommend further care if they’re concerned about the pet’s health.

Final Thoughts

If you’re worried a pet may have ingested something poisonous, it’s important to get them treatment as soon as possible. By calling an emergency helpline, you get access to important resources and expert guidance on the next steps.

Veterinary technicians will inevitably see poisoned pets and animals during their careers. It’s important to become familiar with the most common toxic substances, their symptoms, and guidelines for emergency care.

Want to Learn More?

Did learning about animal poison control interest you? Ready to start a program to become a veterinary technician? With an associate degree in veterinary technology, you’ll gain the knowledge and skills you need to start an entry-level career as a veterinary technician. Broadview University has been part of the community for more than 40 years, so we’ve developed connections that can help move your career forward. After completing our accredited degree program, you’ll be eligible to sit for the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE). Passing the VTNE allows you to become a Certified Veterinary Technician (CVT), a designation that will give you a competitive advantage when you enter the job market.

Contact us today to learn more about becoming a veterinary technician and working in veterinary technology.

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