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Free animal poison control – Does it exist?

No Free Animal Poison Control!

Is it for all that bling?

Where can I contact a free animal poison control center?

Many of you are low-income and cannot afford the poison control rates.  You can speak to an online vet professional here via this link.  These vets may be able to answer toxicology questions or guide you to emergency care.

As someone who worked in animal poison control, I’ve repeatedly heard the same question: Why is there no free animal poison control? It’s not uncommon for people to reject using the service due to the associated cost, typically ranging from $75-$95. In fact, this is the biggest reason people decline to use the service. They often express their displeasure quite loudly over the phone!

I completely empathize with their concerns. There’s nothing scarier than having your beloved pet ingest something dangerous, only to find out that you’ll also have to pay for treatment information on top of the treatment itself. To help you understand why animal poison control comes with a cost, I’d like to answer some of the more frequently asked questions. Everyone wants to know that they’re getting their money’s worth, after all.

#1. Human poison control is free, so why isn’t pet poison control?

I agree!  It would be a lovely place to live that provided a free pet 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.  Where does that money come from?  Your tax dollars.  Even if you never call a human poison control, you are still paying for it to exist.

In contrast, the government does NOT allocate any funding to animal poison control. Instead, veterinary toxicologists charge on a case-by-case basis. With no tax dollars and no case charge, they would cease to exist.

#2. Don’t non-profits run animal poison control? Why are they taking a profit?

Another misconception here.  Of the two biggest centers, neither receive funding from non-profit donations. In more detail:

  • The Pet Poison Helpline is not a non-profit. An independently-owned company called “SafetyCall International PLLC” includes the pet poison hotline in their hotline group.  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. These are mostly 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 organizations.  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, and internal medicine. Some may even have a specialty in toxicology and will know exactly what to do for your pet.

However, much like you’d see a cardiologist for heart issues, you want to see a toxicologist for 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). Medicine is divided into specialties for a reason.  You want the best, most informed care for your pet.  For 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. If you already have a pet, explore one of the many resources available for helping families pay for otherwise expensive vet care. Prepare for emergencies and 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.

Most vets need to speak to a toxicologist either way.

If you unavoidably have to head into the clinic, 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: Maybe. 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, is your pet on any? Vitamins and preventatives count!
  • What about health issues? Something that’s okay for a healthy dog might kill another 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 and time into educating myself about animals. 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 exempts 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.

Why is there no free animal poison control?
My dream job: rolling around in a 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 North America – 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 80 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 free would be more than most states could accommodate. Every one of these people needs to make a living, so no one can dedicate all of their time to something that doesn’t cover the costs of their bills. Vets have just chosen to make their living by helping animals. It should not be a choice between paying your bills or helping animals.

Disclaimer: Some links in this post are affiliate links. I am sometimes compensated with a small commission for purchases made from these links to help cover the cost of upkeep. However, I only link products that are deemed safe, and I will never recommend any product purely for profit.

10 thoughts on “Free animal poison control – Does it exist?

  • We had to call Pet Poison Control a couple of years ago when our dog licked up some kitchen cleaner. I was so surprised when we called the vet, and they said before they would see our buddy (who had thrown up 4 times in the last 20 minutes) we had to call poison control… I mean, my dog was SICK, and it was so frustrating to have to make that expensive phone call BEFORE we could take her to the pet ER.

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  • This has never even crossed my mind. Now I am wondering why more people aren’t concerned. Thank you.

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  • Thank you for sharing this important information!

    I used to work in philanthropy, and ASPCA was one of my grantees. I’m wondering if a free hotline would be possible if there was enough grant funding. Do you have any guesses on how much it would cost to run a hotline for a year?

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    • Hi Donna!
      For a state-run organization, I imagine it would be between 0.5-1 million a year (just judging based on the cost of human poison control, but animals tend to be more prone to put things in their mouths, so animal poison control would be higher in overall call volume). For a national or countrywide foundation? I’d push that estimate up around 10-15 million, depending on where it was located.

      Reply
  • What annoys me isn’t the money I paid.. its the fact that the vet says call Poison control.. I call poison control and they send me back to the vet.. Double billing!! This seems to be a conspiracy among vets.. Paying is not the problem.. playing phone or visit tag is..Plus I had to pay for the call to someplace not even in my own country!!

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    • I can see how frustrating this would be!

      Reply

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