At Neighborhood Veterinary Centers, our expert teams care for countless cases of accidental poisoning every year. Sadly, most toxin exposures occur in or around the home and could be prevented. Knowing how to respond when your pet ingests a harmful substance could save their life.
#1: Keep calm and care for your pet
Panic may be your natural response when you discover your pet’s toxin exposure, but your anxiety can instill similar fear and stress in your pet, which may worsen their condition or make catching or transporting them more challenging. Anxiety can also prevent you from thinking clearly and potentially delay your pet’s treatment.
We understand that keeping your emotions in check during an emergency is almost impossible. Fortunately, you will worry less if you know how to respond, plus you will respond logically and more quickly.
#2: Perform a quick pet assessment
If you find your pet unresponsive, seizing, or in active distress (e.g., having trouble breathing, seeming excessively weak), seek immediate veterinary care at the nearest veterinary facility. If your pet is stable and behaving normally, note the time of toxin exposure, which will help your veterinarian make the most effective treatment decisions.
#3: Check your pet’s surroundings for remaining toxin material or packaging
Wrappers, labels, and containers—including chewed pieces—can provide vital information about the substance your pet ingested, such as brand, flavor, and product name. If possible, estimate the amount your pet may have consumed. Your pet’s veterinarian will use this information to determine the active ingredient and whether your pet has consumed a lethal dose.
#4: Do not induce vomiting or try to remove something from your pet’s mouth
Never induce vomiting unless advised by a veterinarian. Vomiting may seem the most effective way to prevent toxicosis, but is contraindicated for many common toxins and may cause your pet unnecessary stress. When performed inappropriately, inducing emesis can also cause aspiration—a potentially dangerous complication in which your pet inhales liquid or debris into the lungs, which may cause choking or pneumonia.
If you catch your pet in the act, you may be tempted to remove harmful items from their mouth. However, pets can react defensively and try to bite, so encourage them to drop the item by offering an irresistible exchange (e.g., pet-safe human food), rather than reaching into their mouth.
#5: Call Neighborhood Veterinary Centers
Although calling ahead is not required for critical pets, this step can help your Neighborhood Veterinary Centers team prepare for your pet’s impending arrival. If your pet is stable and not demonstrating clinical signs, such as vomiting, lethargy, nausea, weakness, rapid heart or respiratory rate, and pale gums, our team can triage your pet’s condition over the phone and advise you on what to do next.
If your pet’s emergency is after-hours, transport them to the nearest emergency veterinary center for immediate care. For non-emergent ingestions, contact our after-hours phone triage support for personalized guidance, including directions to the nearest emergency facility.
#6: Understand your pet’s treatment
Depending on what your pet consumed, clinical signs may not appear for hours or days. To ensure the best possible outcome, pets must receive veterinary intervention before the toxin is metabolized. Your pet’s treatment will vary based on how much time has passed since ingestion and their clinical signs. Steps may include:
- Decontamination — Removing the toxin by inducing vomiting or administering activated charcoal
- Stabilization — Immediate life-saving support, including intubation, intravenous fluids, and aggressive medical therapy
- Hospitalization and monitoring — Intensive care and continuous monitoring for clinically sick pets
#7: Prevent future injury by pet-proofing your home
Accidental poisoning is a preventable emergency. Protect your pet from health risks by identifying and removing or securing common household toxins, including medications, foods, chemical products, plants, and rodent and pest baits. Whenever possible, replace hazardous items with pet-safe formulas or alternatives.
No matter how much we try, accidents will always happen—especially when it comes to our pets. Knowing how to respond during an emergency is the best way to improve your pet’s chances for a successful outcome. If your pet has been exposed to a toxin, take action—contact Neighborhood Veterinary Centers right away.