Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Help! My Pet Just Ate a.....

Pet Column for the week of March 3, 2008

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Ashley Mitek
Information Specialist

When an elephant accidentally mistakes a gallon of paint for a bucket of water, or a cat decides to try a taste of that new lily you brought home, it's time to call the experts at the national ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center in Urbana, Ill. With a staff of over 30 veterinarians and 13 board certified toxicologists, they run the only animal-dedicated non-profit poison control hotline in North America. Whether a dog decides to try a Sago palm nut or a poisonous box of raisins, there is a veterinarian at the center 24-hours-a-day, waiting to answer a call from a frantic pet owner. In 2007 the hotline received over 130,000 calls.

Dr. Steven Hansen, the ASPCA senior vice president who runs the center and an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, gives the analogy that dogs are like toddlers that can open anything. He explains that when someone has a young child around the house, they use preventative measures to make sure there are no mishaps. But childproof pill containers are no match for the jaws of most dogs--one good bite and the pills are theirs. If only it were that easy for humans as well.

The most common reason a dog or cat owner will call the hotline is due to accidental ingestion of human or veterinary drugs. The 2007 Animal Poison Control Center statistics show that 68 percent of all calls dealt with human or veterinary pharmaceuticals. Unfortunately, sometimes problems are owner-caused. Such as someone mistakenly giving their old, arthritic cat Tylenol (acetaminophen), which is extremely toxic to our feline friends.

According to Dr. Hansen, one of the newer developments that toxicologists have picked up on is the poisonous nature of xylitol, an artificial sweetener in many sugar-free chewing gums. "Just a few sticks of gum ingested by a small dog can cause severe problems," mentions Dr. Hansen. And speaking of man's best friend, this species was responsible for 85 percent of the calls to the poison hotline. Perhaps the saying "curious as a cat" needs to be changed since they were only responsible for 13 percent of calls.

With national poison prevention week March 16-22, 2008, it is great to know that there are experts in Urbana that can help pet owners all over the country if their beloved pet has ingested something dangerous. But Dr. Hansen explains that, "the best thing pet owners can do is use preventative measures to protect their pet." He recommends storing any toxic chemicals in high cabinets your pet cannot reach. It's also important to read the label on any medications. The number one deadly reason for a cat owner to call the poison center is from using dog flea and tick products on their cat. Despite the "dogs only" warning on the label, this easily prevented problem happens much too often.

If you are concerned that your pet has ingested a poisonous substance call your local veterinarian immediately or the Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435 where you can talk to an expert for a $60 fee that includes as many follow up calls as necessary. You may also visit for extensive poison prevention information including toxic and non-toxic poisonous plants and peer-reviewed veterinary articles.