Rose chewed up a bottle of eye drops. Momo ate a silica gel packet labeled "Do not ingest." Fizz ate a pack of sugar-free gum. Sophie ate a brownie. Polly ate a Flintstones chewable vitamin.
Dogs will try anything at least once — and it's not always easy to know whether a trip to the veterinarian is warranted. That's when it's a good idea to call a pet poison hotline.
When to call
If you think your pet has gotten into something, don't take a wait-and-see approach. Renal failure can occur before you even realize something's wrong. Calling first can save you a trip to the vet or alert you to a serious situation.
Calling before you get to the clinic can also speed up things for your veterinarian. The poison control hotline will have a case number set up for you, and your veterinarian or the emergency clinic can call the hotline back as often as needed at no additional charge. Remember that although veterinarians are well-trained in pet health care, they aren't experts on all the poisons that can affect pets. That's where veterinary toxicologists come in.
"Poison control will guide the treating veterinarian through treating the case and any complications that might arise," said licensed veterinary technician Colleen Clemett.
What you need to know
When you call, the poison control staff will need to know the following: pet age, weight, medical conditions, medication they're on, what you know or think they got into and how much they may have ingested.
You may be asked about behavior or symptoms, such as staggering or vomiting, or whether your pet could have been exposed to fertilizers, insecticides, snail bait or mouse, rat or gopher poisons. Having the packaging or container on hand is helpful, as Nancy Kerns discovered.
When a dog she was fostering ingested most of the contents of a bottle of prescription medication for a previous dog who had died, Kerns called the ASPCA poison control hotline.
They helped walk her through the math of how many pills were remaining in the bottle and how many could have been in the bottle based on the date the prescription was picked up and the date of death of the dog who had previously been taking it. They determined that the foster dog did indeed need to get to an animal ER as quickly as possible, then helped the vet staff there calculate the dosage of medication needed to reduce the dog's blood pressure, which had spiked.
What not to do
It's a common myth that vomiting should be induced if a pet ingests something toxic. It depends on the substance, as well as other factors, said A.J. Jeffers, a consulting toxicologist for the ASPCA. Inducing vomiting is a bad idea if pets are brachycephalic (have a short nose, such as a bulldog, pug or Persian cat); have recently had surgery that required stitches; have heart disease or seizure disorders; or have swallowed sharp objects or caustic substances.
When you are advised to induce vomiting, it's best to use a fresh, unopened bottle of hydrogen peroxide, Clemett said. That's because once opened and exposed to air, hydrogen peroxide eventually breaks down to water. A fresh bottle will do the best job at bubbling in the stomach, causing your pet to vomit. Have a needleless syringe on hand to administer the hydrogen peroxide. The poison control staff can guide you if you're not sure how to do it or how much to use.
Cost and insurance
The number for the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center is 888-426-4435. It operates 24/7. There may be a fee — generally $75 to $85, which covers follow-up calls — so have your credit card ready.
If you have pet health insurance or your pet's microchip is registered, a poison control call may be covered or discounted. Check your policy.