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Guide to history taking for the potentially poisoned pet

For Veterinary Practices
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For Pet & Horse Owners
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Monday, November 7, 2011

The following guideline is meant to facilitate a timely evaluation in the case of accidental poisoning. Feel free to print this out for your medical record if needed!

Pet Information

  1. Species and breed
  2. Sex of animal
  3. Age
  4. Weight
  5. Underlying medical conditions (if present)
  6. Animal’s name (may be multiple animals involved) and owner’s last name
  7. Environmental information [Indoor? Exclusively outdoor?]
Potential Toxin: The following examples may help in determining what pertinent information to collect in any situation.


  1. What is the exact name of the drug?
  2. Is there any formula information? [Extended release (XR), long-acting (LA)]
  3. What is the milligram strength?
  4. How many tablets are potentially missing?
  5. If the container is destroyed rendering identification impossible and a pill is found, what is the pill code printed on the tablet or capsule?


  1. What is the exact name of the plant? Try to find out the scientific and common name of the plant. If it is unknown what kind of a plant it is, it should be taken to the nearest greenhouse for identification once your pet has been stabilized at the veterinarian.
  2. Is it a houseplant, outdoor plant, or weed?
  3. Which part was ingested - bulb, leaves, flowers, berries, stems, fruit?
  4. Approximately how much was ingested?

Household or garden chemical

  1. What is the exact name of the product with the brand name?
  2. What are the active ingredients?
  3. Is there an EPA register number? If the product can’t be identified by name, this number will serve as identification.
  4. What are the label warnings?


  1. What is the active ingredient and the concentration?
  2. What was the net weight of the product to begin with and how much remains?
  3. What is the exact name of the product, with the brand name?
  4. If the package is destroyed, is there a visible EPA register number?

Scenario: What exactly has transpired?

  1. How long ago did this ingestion occur? If it happened while the owner was away, how long was the dog or cat alone?
  2. Is the pet showing any behavioral or physical abnormalities at this time? What are the vitals and physical exam findings?
  3. Is there any central nervous system (CNS) depression or stimulation?
  4. Is there evidence of burns to the mouth, drooling, pawing at the face, etc?
It is important to remember that when a pet has ingested something potentially harmful, the owner of the pet may not be thinking clearly. Try to calmly guide them through this by asking direct questions, which will allow for an expedient evaluation. If you have any questions regarding management of the poisoned pet, do not hesitate to contact Pet Poison Helpline at (800) 213-6680.

Veterinarians: Learn more about treating pet poison victims

Pet Poison Helpline has many critical resources on pet poisonings, some of which we've worked with Wedgewood Pharmacy to compile for you in one eBook. Download the eBook from the Resources for Veterinarians section of WedgewoodPetRx. Additionally, you can attend webinars for CE credit. Register for the next online presentation at PetPoisonHelpline.com. Pet Poison Helpline will be guest blogging here for a few weeks to share with you this important information on treating pet poisonings.

Michael Brown, DVM, MS
Justine Lee, DVM, DACVECC
Associate Director of Veterinary Services
Pet Poison Helpline

About Justine Lee, DVM:
Dr. Justine Lee is a board-certified emergency critical care veterinary specialist, and is currently the Associate Director of Veterinary Services for Pet Poison Helpline. For the previous five years, she was on faculty as an Assistant Clinical Professor at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Lee graduated from Virginia Tech with a BS in Animal Sciences, and then obtained her veterinary degree at Cornell University. She pursued her internship at Angell Memorial Animal Hospital, which is affiliated with the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA). In addition, she has also completed an emergency fellowship and residency at the University of Pennsylvania. Currently, she is 1 of approximately 450 board-certified veterinary specialists world wide in emergency and critical care, and is a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care (DACVECC).

Dr. Lee has been published in numerous veterinary journals, including the Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association, the Journal of Veterinary Emergency Critical Care, and the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine. She is also the author of two humorous pet reference books entitled “It’s a Dog’s Life... but It’s Your Carpet” and “It’s a Cat’s World... You Just Live In It.” Dr. Lee lectures throughout the world on emergency and critical care, and recently was honored with the North American Veterinary Conference Small Animal Speaker of the Year award for 2011.

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Justine Lee, DVM, DACVECC 11/7/2011 9:08:00 AM

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