The Perfect Guide to Veterinary Toxicologists

Veterinary toxicologists are responsible for investigating the effects of toxins on animals. This includes everything from determining the cause of death in a pet to identifying the substances that caused adverse effects in livestock. In this guide, we’ll provide you with everything you need to know about veterinary toxicology, from the basics to more complex topics like environmental toxicology. We’ll also detail the various roles that veterinary toxicologists play in the animal health industry. So whether you’re a pet owner, farmer, or animal lover, this guide is for you!

Dr. Petra Ann Volmer received her DVM degree in 1986 from the University of Illinois.  She worked in both mixed and small animal practices before returning to the University of Illinois to join the National Animal Poison Control Center.  While working as a Veterinary Poison Information Specialist, Dr. Volmer became certified by the American Board of Veterinary Toxicology (ABVT) and the American Board of Toxicology (ABT).  She completed an advanced degree in Toxicology in 1997.  Dr. Volmer is currently Assistant Professor of Toxicology and the Director of the Veterinary Toxicology Residency Program at the University of Illinois.

Veterinary Toxicologists

Description of Specialty
Toxicology is the science of poisons.  Toxicologists are interested in the chemical properties of toxic agents, their identification and analytical methods of detection, their fate within organisms as well as the environment, and the management of the consequences of exposure.  The effects of toxic agents can vary with the compound involved, the species exposed, the duration and route of exposure, and the dose received by the animal.  Because many factors can affect toxicity, a toxicologist must be knowledgeable in a wide variety of areas that cross many disciplines, such as chemistry and biochemistry, cardiology, neurology, renal and hepatic physiology, endocrinology, biostatistics, and pathology.  In addition, a toxicologist must know differences in absorption, metabolism, and elimination of compounds between species, current practices in clinical veterinary medicine, current agricultural and animal husbandry practices, poisonous plants, new and emerging veterinary and human pharmaceuticals, and the toxicology of residential, agricultural, and industrial chemicals. 

Requirements for Board Certification
The American Board of Veterinary Toxicology is a group of specially trained veterinarians that strive to inform and educate the public, private practice veterinarians, and veterinary medical students about toxicologic hazards to pets, livestock, and wildlife. Veterinarians wishing to enter the field of toxicology must spend at least 3 years training under a board certified veterinary toxicologist, during which time toxicology residents are involved in the teaching of toxicology, conducting toxicological research, and managing toxicology cases.  Board certification is bestowed after successful completion of an exhaustive exam covering toxic plants, biotoxins, drugs and feed additives, dose-response relationships, metabolism, safety testing, toxicokinetics, inorganic and organic compounds, radiation, environmental residues, clinical and diagnostic toxicology, and antidotal procedures. 

Board certified veterinary toxicologists are vital members of modern veterinary medical practice.

Advantages to the pet owner and veterinarian for consulting a toxicology specialist…
Consultation with a veterinary toxicologist can provide life-saving information in the face of a poisoning by providing emergency decontamination and treatment recommendations to pet owners and veterinary practitioners.  Additionally, consultation with a veterinary toxicologist can prevent unnecessary and costly treatment following exposure to unfamiliar agents that are actually of low toxicity.  Veterinary toxicologists provide analytical testing of tissue samples and interpretation of results to identify the cause of a suspected toxicosis.  They educate pet owners and practicing veterinarians to help prevent poisonings in the future.  Chocolate was found to be poisonous to animals and Easter lilies were found to be poisonous to cats through the work of modern veterinary toxicologists. In the photo on the right Dr. Volmer consults with a chemist in the laboratory.

Case Presentation
Two pet owners came home from work to find their previously healthy 1 year old, 60 pound male neutered Golden Retriever recumbant in the kitchen.   The dog was conscious but extremely weak.   The owners had been gone 9 hours and the dog had access to the fenced in yard through a dog door.  His food had been eaten and nothing in the house seemed disturbed, nor was anything unusual found during a rapid scan of the yard.  The dog was immediately rushed to a local veterinarian.  On physical exam the dog was found to have an extremely rapid heart rate of 210 beats per minute, weak pulses, and an extremely low serum potassium concentration.  A toxicosis (poisoning) was suspected and a veterinary toxicologist was consulted.  Due to the presentation of the dog, the rapid heart rate, and the low serum potassium concentration, the veterinary toxicologist suspected intoxication with a sympathomimetic drug (has effects similar to adrenalin stimulation) such as albuterol.  Upon questioning, it was found that one of the owners was asthmatic and had albuterol inhalers in the home.  Treatment recommendations were made based on a presumptive diagnosis of albuterol toxicosis.  The local veterinarian initiated treatment with IV fluids supplemented with potassium, and propranolol.  The electrocardiogram and electrolytes were monitored.  Upon returning home the owners found a chewed albuterol inhaler hidden beneath the bed.  The dog was treated, monitored for 24 hours, and recovered uneventfully. 

By the end of this article, you would have known all there is to know about Veterinary Toxicologists.

They are trained experts who can help your pet if it is suffering from poisoning or other issues that could lead to death. So make sure you don’t skip a step in case you come across a suspicious situation with your pet. Just make sure to hire an experienced and trustworthy toxicologist so that they can treat your beloved companion in time!

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is toxicology importance in veterinary medicine?

Animal health, the safety of animal feed, the safety of human meals, and environmental toxicology are all areas where veterinary toxicologists play a significant role. They make recommendations to stop illegal substance residues from getting into the human food chain and diagnose animal intoxication.

Which animals are used in toxicology studies?

Mice, rats, guinea pigs, and rabbits are still used for the majority of this acute testing, and many of the animals suffer from toxic consequences that result in death, acute illness, pain, and anguish.

What are 2 types of toxicology?

1. Analytical toxicology: This field studies the identification and assessment of poisonous substances.
2. Application of contemporary technologies to the early detection of toxicants is the focus of applied toxicology.

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