What’s the number to a free animal poison control center?
Over the next month while I do my ABCs, I will be referring you to animal poison control a lot. This needed to be said first.
When working in animal poison control, you get used to hearing the same questions over and over again. After speaking with hundreds of people a week, the largest reason people reject using a service is due to the fact that there is a cost associated with it. (Typically it ranges from $45-$65). Most people are not shy about their opinions on this, often times screaming it into the phone quite loudly!
Believe me, I completely understand. Nothing is more frightening than having your pet swallow something dangerous, and then to be confronted with the probability that you will have to pay money for treatment information on top of treatment. I hope to explain some of the more common questions so you understand why there is no free animal poison control before you even have to dial the number. After all, everyone wants to know that they’re receiving something worth paying for.
#1. Human poison control is free, so animal poison control should be too.
I agree! It would be a lovely place to live that provided a free animal poison control service! The misconception here is that human poison control is free. Human poison control centers are not free. This article in the New York Times cites yearly poison control costs to be about $27 million dollars paid by the government. Where does that money come from? Your tax dollars. Even if you never call human poison control, you are still paying for it to exist, each and every paycheck.
In contrast, animal poison control is NOT allocated any funding by the government. Instead, they charge on a case-by-case basis when the call is made. With no tax dollars and no case charge, they would cease to exist.
#2. But aren’t animal poison control centers run by nonprofits? Why are they taking profit?
Another misconception here. Of the two biggest centers, neither receive funding from non-profit donations. In more detail:
- The Pet Poison Helpline is part of a company called “SafetyCall International PLLC”, which is an independently owned company. They work together with industry manufacturers (this is your pharmaceutical companies, your chemical production companies, product manufacturers, etc.) to help collect and report adverse events, tell people how to manage poison situations, and provide advice to medical professionals. This is all done at a cost to the companies, the people calling for advice, and the medical professionals.
- The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center is a self-supporting branch of the ASPCA. Self-supporting means that they don’t receive ASPCA donation funds to keep themselves operating. You can actually visit these pages about the services and programs that receive donation money throughout the ASPCA: grants, animal rescue, animal placement, and animal protection. These are all EXTREMELY worthy programs, they just don’t include poison control. Again, the cost of running the center comes from the owner receiving the service.
If you are an interested self-starter wanting to see a free animal poison control center – please speak out! Write to your local government official. Write to the ASPCA/HSUS/AAHA/AVMA or other animal organization. It takes many voices to get the ball rolling, and it is certainly something I’d like to see!
#3. My regular vet should know these things!
While brilliant in their own way, your local veterinarian is the animal equivalent of your GP/PCP. Some of them have specialties in cardiology, ophthalmology, internal medicine, and some may even have a specialty in toxicology and know exactly what to do for your pet.
But much like you wouldn’t go to your general practitioner if you wanted heart surgery (you’d see a cardiologist), your typical general veterinarian doesn’t specialize in treating toxic exposures. When you go to the ER after being exposed to a toxin, your emergency doctor will call the human poison control center to speak to a toxicologist and get treatment information.
Similarly, when you go to an emergency clinic or vet office, they will contact an animal poison control center to speak to a veterinary toxicologist and get treatment information. This is not a bad mark against your vet. No doctor is a walking book of medical knowledge (except maybe House MD), and medicine is divided into specialties for a reason. You want the best, most informed care for your pet. For a poisoning, that comes from a veterinary toxicologist.
#4. They’re just going to tell me to go to the vet, and I called in to avoid going to the vet!
I will be perfectly blunt here. If you wish to completely avoid vet care for your pet, please think long and hard before you actually decide to adopt one. I know vet care can be expensive, but footing the cost of vet bills, even in emergencies, is part of the responsibility of owning an animal. If that responsibility is not one you’re financially ready for, enjoy other people’s pets and wait until you are secure before you take one into your home. If you already have a pet, explore one of the many resources available for helping families pay for otherwise expensive vet care. Be prepared, check out options for Pet Insurance.
That being said – some cases can be managed at home, and some cannot. If it can, the fee you are charged provides you with an entire call-center full of educated individuals (a degree in the field was required for every person in the building where I worked) to guide you through the process of managing your pet for less than the cost of a $90+ office call to an emergency clinic. This includes follow-up calls for additional questions about the exposure.
If you have to head into the clinic (which is sometimes unavoidable), you will be facing the vet bill either way. There is also a very large probability that your vet will call poison control when you arrive, and many vets charge an additional fee for having to provide their clinic credit card. If you’re hesitant about whether to pay for the service, (and your animal seems stable), call and ask your vet if they will need to consult. If they do need information from a toxicologist, it will be cheaper for you to call from home and have the possibility of staying at home, or to arrive at the clinic with a case number for your vet to reference and spare you the service charge from your vet.
#5. All I want is a simple yes or no answer!
Is this toxic? Yes or no? The misconception here is that everything is equally toxic for every animal everywhere. It’s not. The appropriate answer to this question, no matter the substance, is always: possibly. Even water is toxic in the right amount.
- There are toxins that will poison cats, but not dogs.
- There are toxins that will affect one breed of dog, but not another (I’m looking at you collie/shepherd/sheepdog owners – we know they’re sensitive to ivermectin).
- There are medications that will adversely affect each other, (vitamins and heartworm prevention count!), is your pet on any?
- What about health issues? Something that’s okay for a healthy dog might kill one with a heart or kidney problem.
- Was your pet recently vaccinated?
- What about recent surgeries?
- An extremely old pet may have more difficulty metabolizing things, or a young one might be more sensitive. How old is your pet?
- How much was swallowed?
- How much does your pet weigh?
- Are there any other active ingredients? (You may be concerned about the vitamin D content of a supplement, but I’m also worried about the possibility of xylitol!)
By the time you’ve answered all of those questions, you’re no longer asking a yes or no question, you’re going through an entire consultation.
There are no simple yes or no answers.
#6. If they really loved animals, they would do this for free.
I could go on with the complaints, but I will end on this one, as it is my favorite. As a veterinary professional, I have invested considerable amounts of money in educating myself about animals. How to help them, how to help their people understand them, how to divert behavioral problems, how to see to their health …. I love animals. That’s why I am here writing this for you, completely free of cost! I want to help you and your animal!
But this is also my livelihood, as it is the livelihood of anyone who works in the animal health field. Like every person everywhere, I need to feed my family, put a roof over our heads, pay our bills, and put gas in my car. (I actually don’t make much more than enough to do all of those things!)
I would love to live in a world where my hard-earned knowledge about animals exempt me from these things. If I could dedicate all of my time to the greater good of animal kind, we would frolic and play, and everyone would be healthy because I would take exceptionally good care of all my furry friends.
My dream job: hiding under this pile of puppies.
But that day has yet to come.
If you work at one of the two animal poison control centers, you handle phone calls from everywhere in the US – including international calls from Canada. There’s someone (and during peak hours, possibly 50-100 someones) there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They are there from 40 hours to upwards of 60 hours a week, advising and informing owners, vets, and other interested parties.
Considering the man hours required to populate such an organization, the number of vets needed to volunteer for 5-10 hours a week would be staggering. Good luck getting a fair number of actual veterinary toxicologists in one state together if there are no paying jobs there for a veterinary toxicologist! Every one of these people needs to make a living. They’ve just chosen to make their living by helping animals. The two do not have to be mutually exclusive.
I’m sure there are less reputable vets out there. There are people looking to scam you in all walks of life. But on the whole, the people caring for your pets are doing so out of the love and passion they share with you over your animals.
Never skimp when you’re dealing with the health of your pet. They rely on us for everything to survive, including love. The love they give in return more than covers the cost of what we pay for them in money. Personally, I think it’s far more valuable than any amount of cash.Follow Me: and/or
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