CVMA | Documents | First Aid Steps for Poison Control

First Aid Steps for Poison Control

October 23, 2012

Pets come in contact with potential toxins almost every day of their lives. There are many possible sources of poison: indoor and outdoor plants, household cleaners and chemicals, prescription medications, pesticides, herbicides, paints and even foods. 

Poisonings are seen far more frequently in dogs than cats, which tend to be much fussier about what they ingest than dogs. Poisonings are also suspected more than actually witnessed by owners. For this reason, it is helpful for owners to be aware of the clinical signs associated with poisoning.

Symptoms of poisoning depend on the type of poison encountered as well as the quantity:

Ingested Poisons
Ingested poisons often cause intestinal upsets, leading to vomiting, diarrhoea, drooling, and abdominal pain or cramps. Examples of poisons that can cause internal upsets are: antifreeze, weed killers, oils, cleaning solutions, paints and plants.

Inhaled Poisons
Inhaled poisons may lead to sneezing, coughing, bluish-tinged gums and lips, and laboured breathing. Examples of these poisons include: fumes from paints and cleaning fluids, and smoke.

Contact Poisons
Contact poisons tend to irritate the skin and gums, causing irritation, redness, peeling skin, hair loss, swelling, and pain. Examples of these include: solvents, soaps, and insecticides.


  • When dealing with a poisoning, the first step should be to remove the source of poisoning.
  • Next, contact your veterinary hospital and notify them that you are on your way. Let them know what kind of poison is involved and the condition of the pet. This will allow them to contact the Poison Control Centre while you are travelling.
  • Initiate counter-measures, if possible. For ingested toxins, this could include administering neutralizing or antidotal agents. For contact poisons, the contact area could be washed with large volumes of water. For inhaled poisons, immediate access to fresh air should be the first step. Where applicable, check the label on the poison container for instructions on first-aid procedures and antidotes.
  • If the pet is unconscious, do not try to give it anything by mouth. Wrap the pet in a warm blanket and transport it to the hospital with the head lower than the body. This is done to prevent shock and also to permit drainage from the mouth if necessary.
  • If the pet is very excited or is convulsing, keep it from hurting itself, wrap it in a blanket and transport to your veterinarian as quickly as possible. Save the material vomited so that your veterinarian can evaluate it and analyze it if necessary. Also take along containers, boxes, bottles, labels, and anything else related to the poison, since this may provide important clues and helpful information.
  • Induce vomiting only if you are sure that corrosive substances such as alkalis, acids, or petroleum products are not involved.
  • If in doubt, contact your veterinarian for advice.