Keep your medicine to yourself!

Dr. Julie Hunt

So many of us take prescription or over the counter medications that we forget just how powerful and potentially deadly they can be if taken incorrectly. So imagine the consequences of your pet getting into those same medications. Since pets weigh less and have different physiology from humans, they are many times more likely to suffer an accidental poisoning if given (or stealing!) your medications.

On average, almost half of Pet Poison Hotline calls are about pets swallowing human medications. Naturally, this happens more often in dogs since they are notorious for sniffing out any and all aromatic food- like items. With the advent of chewable, tasty human and pet medicines, this problem is only getting worse and cats are not exempt.

Let’s discuss the most common human drug categories that cause pet poisoning and some tips to prevent accidental ingestions.

NSAIDS, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, are the worst offenders. These are the common over the counter pain relievers like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Alleve, Naprosyn). Just one pill can cause serious stomach ulceration or kidney failure. These drugs should never be given to pets.

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is another over the counter pain reliever, which can also have devastating effects in pets. It can cause liver failure or red blood cell damage, and in cats a single dose can be lethal.

Anti-depressants are commonly prescribed for humans. Though it is true that veterinarians occasionally prescribe them for pets with behavioral problems, doses and formulations differ widely between pets and people. Human forms generally cause extreme agitation in pets.

ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) medications can be deadly in pets, too. Tremors, seizures, high fevers, and heart problems can occur in pets that ingest these drugs. Make sure children who take these medications are aware of their toxicity in pets!

Sleep aids and anti-anxiety medications (called benzodiazepines) are meant to calm people, but if pets ingest them, they cause either serious sedation or agitation. Since these medications are often put on a bedside table to be taken at night, animals easily get into
them. Keep all medications up high enough to prevent accidental pet ingestion.

Heart and blood pressure medications both have the potential to cause dangerous and lethal side effects in pets. ACE inhibitors (enalapril, benazepril, captopril, lisinopril) and beta-blockers (propanolol, atenolol, metoprolol) can cause fatal low blood pressure or low heart rate. Cholesterol lowering drugs called statins treat a condition that rarely affects pets, and luckily they have few dangerous effects in pets. Regardless, heart medications should never be given to pets or left within their reach.

By now it should be obvious that most accidental pet poisonings can be prevented with some simple safety rules:

  • Keep human and pet drugs in different locations so you won’t accidentally give your pet your medications, or vice versa! Keep all medications high enough and in a secure container so pets can’t get to them. And don’t rely on the pill vial or bottle to keep animals from the pills. Countless dogs have chewed through the pill vial to get to the pills.
  • If you keep medications in your purse, briefcase, backpack or computer bag, keep it in a secure high place whenever you are home or visiting someone with a pet.
  • If you use a pill organizer, be sure to stow it out of harm’s way. Some dogs think they are a toy!
  • Don’t keep any medications near your bedside if you have pets.
  • Dispose of your medications properly. More than one dog has ingested pills when rummaging through the garbage. In general, you should dispose of your drugs by bringing them to a federal or state medicine take-back program. If your pharmacist or town informs you that no take-back program is available in your area, dispose of drugs in a sealed bag with coffee grounds or kitty litter and then in a secured trash container. NOTE: The Exeter, NH Police Department is holding a disposal day for prescription drugs on Saturday, April 28, 2012 from 10 AM-2 PM at the police station. The FDA also offers advice about proper disposal of unused or expired drugs.
  • Never give human drugs to animals without direct veterinary advice. Very few are appropriate and even children’s medications are unsafe for pets.
  • Be especially cautious when storing chewable pet and human medications. Recently, one of our own client’s dogs ingested a whole bottle of tasty Calcium/Vitamin D supplements and had to undergo costly treatment to prevent lethal consequences.
  • Any pet with a Home Again microchip (whose owner pays for the full service annual membership) is eligible for veterinary poison control hotline consultation 24/7 at no charge. This represents at least a $60 value.
  • Last, but maybe the most important, call your veterinarian or emergency veterinary hospital immediately after any accidental drug ingestion for the best possible outcome.