What to expect when you call PPH

By Pamela Huyck, CVT
Associate Veterinary Information Specialist

Here is a general overview of what you can expect what you call the Pet Poison Helpline® for a consultation.

We will get a brief summary of why you are calling (saying something like, “My dog ate some medication and I would like to know if it will be a problem” or “My cat ate my dog’s medication and is now very sleepy” give us a quick summary of why you are calling and how your pet is doing).  If you tell us your pet is acting abnormally and we determine that it would be best for your pet to be seen by a vet right away we will suggest you hang up and take your pet into a veterinary clinic and then call back while you are on your way to the clinic or after arriving at the clinic.  Your pet’s well-being is our first priority.  Once we have a summary of what is going on and have determined your pet is not in immediate danger we will verify that you are okay with the consultation fee.  Animal poison control centers do not receive any federal or state funding like human poison control centers do so unfortunately we do need to charge for our services.  There is no charge for any follow-up calls from you or your veterinary clinic regarding your case.

We will ask you for your contact information so we can call you back in case the call gets disconnected or if we need to follow-up with you for any reason.

We will ask you for information on what your pet got into – the name of the poison/plant/product, the ingredient(s), the amount ingested, time of exposure, and other details.  Before calling, it is best to gather as much information as you can about the product – the name, style/color/brand/size, EPA registration number if product is a pesticide/rodenticide, package size, ingredient(s), and how much you think the pet may have eaten.  We know you may not always be able to give an exact amount and that your pet won’t usually share that information with you!  In those cases, we would like you to give us your best estimate.  Giving a range is acceptable: “1-2 cups”, “no more than 1 tablespoon”, “up to half of the 5# box”, or “5-10 pills”.

We will ask you information about your pet – species, breed, sex, whether or not the pet is spayed/neutered, age of pet, weight, medical history, and any medications or supplements that the pet takes.  Some of these questions may seem irrelevant but they are all important.  Certain breeds or ages of pets may be more sensitive to a toxin or medication.  Some medical conditions can make it unsafe to induce vomiting at home or may make a pet more likely to experience signs from the toxin that was ingested.  Some medications interact with other medications and can increase the risk of signs or reduce the effectiveness of the pet’s regular medication.  We take all of the details about your pet into account when we determine the best course of action.

We understand that you may be very anxious and upset and you may find the questions frustrating.  Remember, if we get a brief summary of what is going on and feel that your pet should be seen at a vet right away, we will not take time to gather the rest of the details and will instead tell you that we recommend your pet be taken into a clinic right away.  If you note a change in your pet’s condition at any time during the call, notify us of that change and we will determine if the change in condition warrants immediate veterinary attention or if we have time to finish the consultation.  Our agents who gather details and assess your cases are all Certified Veterinary Technicians, which means they have all completed a 2-year or 4-year program in veterinary technology and passed a national certification exam.  Additionally, they have all had extensive training in toxicology.

After we have gathered all the necessary information, we will place on you on hold so we can evaluate the exposure, run calculations, do research, and determine the best course of action.  We will then go over our recommendations with you.  If there is something you can do at home for your pet we will go over those instructions with you, as well as signs you should watch for and what changes warrant a call back to us or a trip to the vet.  Unfortunately, there are not always at-home treatments or preventatives we can recommend for your pet.  In those cases we will recommend you take your pet in to a veterinary facility for appropriate treatment and our board-certified veterinarians will be available to consult with the veterinary clinic staff regarding the best treatment options for your pet.  Like the veterinary technicians here at Pet Poison Helpline®, our veterinarians have extensive training in toxicology and emergency medicine.  We are not affiliated with any particular veterinary clinic(s) and do not receive any extra payments for sending you in to a vet clinic.  At the end of the call, you will receive a case number (sometimes called a file number or reference number) that you or your vet can refer to if further questions arise  – that number enables us to quickly find and open your case (rest assured, if you forget or lose your case number we will still be able to look up your case).  We are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a years, so you are able to call us at any time.