Based on an article that first appeared at

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. (June 1, 2023)

Given all the time-consuming core courses required for graduation, many veterinarians receive limited toxicology training while in veterinary school. In addition, many clinics are not presented with animal poisonings daily, so when an unusual or challenging poisoning case walks in or is carried through the clinic door, veterinarians often need help determining the severity of the exposure and the best treatment options. That is why a call to the toxicology experts at Pet Poison Helpline can literally be a lifesaver.
“There are nearly 50,000 veterinarians in the U.S., and only 105 of them are active board-certified veterinary toxicologists,” said Renee Schmid, DVM, DABT, DABVT, a senior veterinary toxicologist at Pet Poison Helpline. “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.” The Helpline receives calls directly from veterinary staff and pet owners, and they can contact the toxicology experts as many times as necessary to treat the pet.
In addition to having multiple toxicologists on staff, the company has developed an extensive database of hundreds of thousands of household and commercial products and medications built over decades. The Helpline, which is dedicated to animal toxicology, is part of SafetyCall International, which consults on human poisonings, so both human and animal toxicology data reside within the same organization. This approach allows for the discovery and application of new knowledge across species. Because of this proprietary data and years of experience, Pet Poison Helpline’s toxicology team has access to answers others simply don’t.
“We speak with Pet Poison Helpline daily,” said Nicole Bertolini, DVM, from Veterinary Emergency Group. VEG currently operates 45 hospitals in 17 states. “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.”
Another issue impacting treatment is the overall shortage of veterinarians. According to a Mars Veterinary Health Report, the industry is facing a critical shortage of veterinarians, especially for emergency care. It 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.
“There was a large increase in pet ownership during the pandemic, resulting in more demand for veterinary services,” Dr. 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.”
“We are literally going backward in the supply of veterinary professionals,” said Carlo A. Riolo, DVM, president and CEO of PAW Health Network, Inc. “We are graduating fewer veterinarians than are leaving the industry. The demand for services is so high that we could easily double our current number of veterinary professionals, but in today’s market that simply is not realistic. The stressors of the pandemic were the real game-changer for us. It exploited our inefficiencies which forced us to rapidly enhance our business planning and case-handling strategies. While other clinics were simply shutting their doors, we knuckled down and made the changes necessary to maintain the efficiency of patient care.”
During the summer of 2020, PAW Health Network made the decision to outsource all their toxicology cases to Pet Poison Helpline. “Every single time we have a toxicology case, we contact Pet Poison Helpline. In fact, we even have an automated transfer line to forward toxicology cases directly to Pet Poison Helpline.” Dr. Riolo added. “When a caregiver (pet owner) questions why we use Pet Poison Helpline, we explain that we don’t want to assume we know the answer, even with common intoxicants, which is why we consult with
the toxicology experts. Pet Poison Helpline has fast, reliable, and organized treatment plans which can be dictated to our medical support staff, and are there for ongoing case updates should the patient have a change in status.”
As a result of this shortage, clinics are often understaffed. There are multiple ways a call to Pet Poison Helpline can help relieve some of the strain many veterinary facilities are currently experiencing:
• 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.
“We had a rat poisoning case recently, and the initial information provided by the dog’s owner had us thinking the pet had ingested a deadly amount, requiring treatment,” added Dr. Bertolini. “After the pet owner provided more detailed information to Pet Poison Helpline about the specific product involved, it became clear the dog did not ingest enough poison to be toxic and they didn’t need to bring him in for treatment. An $85 call can save a pet owner thousands of dollars in veterinary bills. That’s great customer service from both organizations.“
• 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.
• Having immediate access to Pet Poison Helpline’s life-saving data and toxicologists can improve a patient’s care and outcome.
“Our mission at Pet Poison Helpline is to save pets’ lives and make the world safer for animals,” said Dr. 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.”
About Pet Poison Helpline
Pet Poison Helpline®, your trusted source for toxicology and pet health advice in times of potential emergency, is available 24 hours, seven days a week for pet owners and veterinary professionals who require assistance treating a potentially poisoned pet. We are an independent, nationally recognized animal poison control center triple licensed by the Boards of Veterinary Medicine, Medicine and Pharmacy providing unmatched professional leadership and expertise. Our veterinarians and board-certified toxicologists provide treatment advice for poisoning cases of all species, including dogs, cats, birds, small mammals, large animals, and exotic species. As the most cost-effective option for animal poison control care, Pet Poison Helpline’s fee of $85 per incident includes follow-up consultations for the duration of the case. Based in Minneapolis, Pet Poison Helpline is available in North America by calling 800-213-6680. Additional information can be found online at