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Find information on animal health topics, written for the veterinary professional.

Introduction to Poisoning

By Barry R. Blakley, DVM, PhD, Professor, Department of Veterinary Biomedical Sciences, Western College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Saskatchewan
Rob Bildfell, DVM, MSc, DACVP, Professor, Department of Biomedical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Oregon State University
William D. Black, MSc, DVM, PhD, Professor, Department of Biomedical Sciences, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph
Herman J. Boermans, DVM, MSc, PhD, Professor of Toxicology, Director Toxicology Program, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph
Cecil F. Brownie, DVM, PhD, DABVT, DABFE, DABFM, FACFEI, Emeritus Professor, College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University
Raymond Cahill-Morasco, MS, DVM, New, SeaPort Veterinary Hospital, Gloucester, MA
Keith A. Clark, DVM, PhD, Retired Director, Zoonosis Control Division, Texas Department of Health
Gregory F. Grauer, DVM, MS, DACVIM, Professor and Jarvis Chair of Small Animal Internal Medicine, Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Kansas State University
Sharon M. Gwaltney-Brant, DVM, PhD, DABVT, DABT, Toxicology Consultant, Veterinary Information Network (VIN) and Adjunct Faculty, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Illinois
Larry G. Hansen, PhD, Professor, Department of Veterinary Biosciences, University of Illinois
Safdar A. Khan, DVM, MS, PhD, DABVT, Director of Toxicology Research, ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, Urbana, Illinois
Garrick C. M. Latch, MASc, PhD,
Gavin L. Meerdink, DVM, DABVT, Clinical Professor, Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Illinois
Lisa A. Murphy, VMD, Veterinary Poison Information Specialist, ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center
Frederick W. Oehme, DVM, PhD, Professor of Toxicology, Pathobiology, Medicine and Physiology, Comparative Toxicology Laboratories, Kansas State University
Gary D. Osweiler, DVM, MS, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Veterinary Diagnostic and Production Animal Medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine, Iowa State University
Mary M. Schell, DVM, DABVT, DABT, Senior Toxicologist, ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, Urbana, Illinois
David G. Schmitz, DVM, MS, DACVIM (LA), Visiting Associate Professor, Department of Veterinary Large Animal Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Texas A&M University
Norman R. Schneider, DVM, MSc, DABVT, Veterinary Toxicologist, University of Nebraska
Cheryl L. Waldner, DVM, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, Western College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Saskatchewan

Poisoning occurs when a toxic substance is swallowed, inhaled, or absorbed after coming in contact with the skin, eyes, or mucous membranes. Poisoning is also called toxicosis or intoxication. Because pets are unable to tell whether a substance is poisonous or not, they are often poisoned by eating something toxic, such as antifreeze or a poisonous plant. Pets can also be poisoned by a sting or bite from a venomous insect or snake, or even by a well-intentioned owner giving human drugs that are poisonous to animals.

An animal can be poisoned after a single exposure (with effects most pronounced during the first 24 hours) or after repeated or prolonged exposure to a poison. All toxic effects depend on the dose—the amount of poison present—and on the species. A small dose may be undetectable and have no harmful effects, while a large dose can be fatal.