Service Animals: How they keep us safe

By Candi Amundson, CVT
Veterinary Information Specialist

There are many people living with disabilities ranging from emotional or psychiatric disabilities, physical disabilities, and medical diseases. Many of these people will reach for assistance from a companion animal to help perform major daily tasks or to alert and obtain help when needed. There are different types of service animals: Assistance Animals, Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSD), Emotional Support Animals (ESA), and Therapy Animals. (NSAR-National Service Animal Registry).

These animals are crucial to the lives of others and perform tasks that a person cannot do on their own. When an animal is servicing a disabled person, there can be an increased risk for potential poison/toxicity exposures. Commonly, people who have service animals will take medications or use devices that could increase the pet’s risk for an exposure.

Prescription medications are very common accidental ingestions and can be benign or very life threatening. Some exposures can include medicated patches that were discarded in the garbage that are found and chewed on. Also, there are sublingual films that are applied under the tongue that dissolve quickly. It is safest to fill prescription reminders and take medications in a separate room with the door closed away from the pet to prevent any ingestion of medications. Common medications can include: Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs, ADD/ADHD medications, Antidepressant medications, Sleep Aids, Overactive Bladder medications, and Heart medications.

Pet Poison Helpline® has also assisted service dogs that work as detection dogs with Police officers/handlers. These dogs (and their handlers) are trained to prevent accidental inhalation or ingestion of illicit drugs. Some officers train the dogs to use a passive alert to “point” or sit when a drug has been detected. These dogs and officers are trained extensively to prevent ingestions however; there are some unforeseen exposures that do occur.

The specific job or tasks that these animals are trained to perform are undeniably essential in our lives. The precision these animals use in their daily lives have helped save millions of people and help prevent life-threatening situations from escalating. Some drug detection dogs also help keep the streets, schools, and workplaces safe for others. They truly deserve “a round of all paws” from the staff at Pet Poison Helpline®!