Outside toxicology experts can save pets’ lives


Lack of toxicology experts in the industry and overall veterinary shortage make these resources critical

Serhii / stock.adobe.com

Serhii / stock.adobe.com

A Pet Poison Helpline release1 recently shared that because of the time-consuming courses required post-graduation, many veterinarians receive limited toxicology training when in veterinary school. Also, clinics typically don’t see animal poisonings daily, so veterinarians often need help with presented with this kind of case and that is where having access to toxicology experts can come in handy.

"There are nearly 50,000 veterinarians in the US, and only 105 of them are active board-certified veterinary toxicologists," stated Renee Schmid, DVM, DABT, DABVT,a senior veterinary toxicologist at Pet Poison Helpline, in the release.1 "The chances of having a veterinary toxicologist on staff at your local clinic or regional emergency center is extremely low, and that's where we can step in. We are fortunate to have multiple boarded veterinary toxicologists on staff, and many more veterinarians who are working towards board certification in toxicology, giving us one of the highest concentrations of veterinary toxicology knowledge available to the public."

Pet Poison Helpline has a team of various toxicologists and has created a comprehensive database built over decades of hundreds of thousands of household and commercial products and medications. This animal toxicology helpline is a part of SafetyCall International, which consults on human poisonings, so both human and animal toxicology data stay within the same organization for the discovery and application of new information across species.

"We speak with Pet Poison Helpline daily," said Nicole Bertolini, DVM, from Veterinary Emergency Group. "In most cases, we have the pet owner call Pet Poison Helpline directly and start a case. It really puts the pet owner's mind at ease when we involve a toxicology specialist in the conversation. Having that second opinion really helps encourage pet owners to follow our recommended treatment plan."1

Along with the lack of veterinary toxicologists available, there is also a shortage of veterinarians altogether. A Mars Veterinary Health Report predicts that even with the new veterinary graduates expected over the next 10 years, a shortage of nearly 15,000 veterinarians will likely still exist by 2030.2

"There was a large increase in pet ownership during the pandemic, resulting in more demand for veterinary services," Schmid explained. "In addition, veterinary professionals are leaving the field faster than they can be replaced, compounding the shortage. There are multiple reasons for this exodus, including the high cost of veterinary education, the retirement of older veterinarians and compassion fatigue."1

Some ways Pet Poison Helpline can help alleviate stress of veterinary clinics include1:

  • A pet owner can call Pet Poison Helpline directly following a potentially toxic exposure. If the exposure does not require a visit to the hospital, it frees up clinic staff to treat other patients in greater need. In many cases, no treatment is needed, and in some situations the pet owner can treat the patient at home.
  • In cases where a pet requires veterinary treatment, the pet owner can call the helpline first and provide the exposure details, allowing the veterinary staff to continue serving other patients until a treatment plan recommendation has been developed by the Helpline's toxicology team.
  • When a veterinarian is ready to treat the patient, they consult with the toxicology experts on the best treatment options available based on the breed, size of the patient, and the type and level of toxic exposure. The veterinarian did not have to independently research a potentially unknown toxin, saving valuable time and resources.

"Our mission at Pet Poison Helpline is to save pets' lives and make the world safer for animals," said Schmid. "Immediate and appropriate treatment of a toxin exposure can save an animal's life, and we're very proud to be part of that process."1


  1. When treating a toxin exposure, many veterinarians rely on outside experts. News release. June 1, 2023. Accessed June 1, 2023. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/when-treating-a-toxin-exposure-many-veterinarians-rely-on-outside-experts-301839407.html
  2. Tackling the veterinary professional shortage. Mars Veterinary Health. March 2022. Accessed June 1, 2023. https://www.marsveterinary.com/tackling-the-veterinary-professional-shortage
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