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Dr. Sara Lister is a veterinarian with ASPCA Animal Poison Control.  Her previous work includes Oklahoma State University (class of 2007), followed by internship at Friendship Hospital for Animals. She continued to practice emergency medicine and general practice for the past 10 years, before joining Poison Control.

If you think your pet may have ingested a potentially poisonous substance, call (888) 426-4435. A consultation fee may apply.

Tell me a little about the history of ASPCA Animal Poison Control and your particular role.
The Center began as the Animal Toxicology Hotline at the College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Illinois/Urbana-Champaign in 1978. At that time, Dr. William Buck, a renowned veterinary toxicologist at the College and his graduate students started handling and responding around-the-clock to calls on animal-related toxicology issues, using a paging service. In the summer of 1996, the ASPCA acquired the Center from the University of Illinois.  My role is a consulting veterinarian in clinical toxicology, and I speak with clinics and owners alike to help formulate the best treatment plans for their pet.

How many calls do you get each day? Over 600 cases per day

What is the most common toxicity you receive calls about?  Dogs and chocolate!

Why is there a consultation fee?  Unlike Human Poison Control, we are not government funded, and so we rely on the fee to help us stay open and able to help 24 hours a day.

Why do I have to call Poison Control?  Can’t my vet tell me what to do for free? With the huge amount of medications in the world (both animal and human), it would be impossible to have knowledge of every single one of them. It can be especially tricky when a pet is exposed to a human medication that is not used in the veterinary world. Over the last 40 years, we have established a database of over 2 million cases – so there’s a good chance that if your pet has done it, we have seen it. We exist to partner with your vet, and to share our wealth of knowledge with the less-common things that pets get into, as well as the latest updates on more familiar medications. As more info is obtained and more sophisticated treatment methods are developed, treatments and recommendations change. It is a team effort to help your pet in a timely, thorough way for the best outcome possible.

Is it recommended for raisin and grape ingestion to always seek emergency care?
While the minimum toxic dosage has not yet been identified, we are beginning to have an idea about the toxic component of grapes and raisins. Based on our experience, there are some situations in which the risk is low and pets can be monitored at home; however, we often discuss conservative vs aggressive treatment plans to help fit with what the owner and clinic is willing/able to do.

What is the recommendation for when a pet ingests a plant that hasn’t been identified?  We have some master gardeners on staff who are very good at identifying plants. There is not a guarantee that we can tell what it is, but we can give it a good shot if the owner can provide a good photo. There are also resources online that can help in identifying a plant, and we can consult on the treatment once it has been identified.

Are onion or garlic powder ingestion reasons to call poison control? We absolutely can help with this. Many times, the dose can be difficult to calculate, and powdered versions are more potent than raw versions and therefore can be toxic with smaller amounts ingested.

Which lilies are NOT considered toxic to pets?
Cats are the only species that are affected by lily toxicity. True lilies (Lilium and Hemerocallis) are renal toxic. Plants that are not true lilies (peace lily, calla lily, Peruvian lily) are not renal-toxic, though can cause GI signs in any pet.  When owners or clinics call us for a lily case, we frequently ask them to send us a picture so we can help verify whether or not it is a true lily, and what kind of treatment is needed.

Are there any certain situations where Poison Control would recommend an owner induce vomiting from home?  Yes – but for dogs only. There are no safe ways to induce emesis at home for a cat. If the toxin and timeframe is reasonable, and if there are no other existing conditions that would increase the risks of it being unsafe (seizures, cardiac disease, brachycephalic dogs), then there are situations in which we direct owners how to specifically dose and administer 3% hydrogen peroxide. In some cases, an owner is unwilling or unable to seek care at a clinic, so emesis at home is the only chance to recover the toxin. There are situations and toxins in which inducing emesis is absolutely contraindicated, so this decision must be made with the advice of a veterinarian.

For more information and resources, visit ASPCA Animal Poison Control.

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