Pets are curious by nature and yours, like most, probably assumes any item that goes in your mouth is something she would enjoy as well.
That’s why as a pet parent you must be vigilant about keeping dangerous substances safely out of reach of your inquisitive dog or cat.
Your dog is much more likely to sniff out and eat something he shouldn’t, but on the other hand cats are much more susceptible to the ill effects of drugs meant for their owners.
A few important things to know about pets and human medications:
- Pain medications are especially dangerous for kitties, not just because cats are much smaller than many dogs and of course humans, but also because of their biology.
- Small dogs are more at risk than larger breeds.
- The ingredients in one particular painkiller, Naproxen (Aleve), are especially toxic for dogs.
- Cough, cold and sinus medications, and drugs for weight loss can have a dramatic effect on your dog’s heart rate.
Some human vitamins can be toxic for pets, in particular those that are fat soluble like vitamins A, D and E.
Human medications are not developed with pets in mind.
The furry, four-legged love of your life is much smaller than you (usually) and unable to handle drug doses designed for an adult human. He’s also a different biological creature than you are which means his body doesn’t process what he swallows in the same way yours does.
As a general rule, it’s never a good idea to assume what you take for pain, an itch or a stomachache is safe for a pet with the same symptoms.
But ... My Veterinarian Prescribes Human Drugs for My Pet
On occasion and for a very specific reason, your veterinarian might order a certain human prescription or over-the-counter drug for your dog or cat.
The Animal Medicinal Drug Use Clarification Act (AMDUCA) passed in 1994 made it possible for vets to prescribe people drugs for companion animals. With only a few exceptions having to do with animals raised for food, any currently approved human drug – and any drug approved in the future – can be used in ‘extra-label’ applications to treat pets.
Drug companies have far more financial incentive to develop drugs for humans than for animals. Your dog or cat can develop many of the same diseases humans suffer from, but there are few pet-specific drugs available to treat those conditions in animals.
The upside of the passage of AMDUCA is your pet’s veterinarian now has the ability to use drugs to treat certain disorders that prior to 1994 were untreatable.
The downside is that allopathic, reactive-minded vets – in the tradition of the majority of medical doctors -- are availing themselves of an unending supply of potentially toxic chemicals to treat symptoms of disease in pets rather than the causes of disease.
So the good news is there are drugs available to relieve an animal’s suffering, manage chronic health conditions that don’t respond to lifestyle changes, and as part of a multi-pronged approach to curing disease and even certain behavior problems.
In addition, many well intentioned pet owners assume because some human drugs are safe and useful for their pet, all are.
When misguided parents of dogs and cats experiment with medications for their pets -- or grow careless about leaving drugs around the house – it can have serious, sometimes tragic consequences.
Drugs That Cause the Most Problems for Pets
The following commonly used human medications are the biggest culprits in pet poisonings each year:
- Painkillers, including NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen, as well as acetaminophen. Some brand names: Advil, Motrin, Nuprin, Aleve, Tylenol. Keep in mind ibuprofen and acetaminophen are also added ingredients in other drugs – certain Excedrin formulas, for example, and many sinus and cough/cold preparations. When in doubt, check it out. Read the package labels or ask a pharmacist.
- Cough, cold and sinus medications containing pseudoephedrine, a decongestant. A clue you’re buying an OTC (over the counter) product containing pseudoephedrine is if it’s kept in the pharmacy and you have to request it and sign for it. Brand names: certain formulations of Sudafed, Advil Cold & Sinus, Tylenol Cold, Theraflu, Nyquil, and dozens more.
- Antidepressants and drugs to treat the symptoms of ADD/ADHD.
- Diabetes medications.
- Vitamin D derivatives like calcitriol (Rocaltrol, Calcijex) and calcipotriene (Dovonex).
- The muscle relaxant baclofen.
- The topical preparation fluorouracil, prescribed to treat minor skin cancers. Just a tiny amount of this drug can be lethal to your pet, so great caution should be used to avoid contact with your pet after application.
- The tuberculosis drug isoniazid, brand name Nydrazid.
Good Advice from the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC)
Dr. Jill Richardson of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center and a recognized expert on pet poisoning offers the following Five Commandments for Pet Poisoning Prevention:
- Maintain your animal's overall health with regular visits to your local veterinarian. Make sure you know his or her procedures for emergencies. And keep the telephone numbers of your veterinarian, a local emergency vet service and the APCC in a convenient location, easily accessible by all members of the household.
- Put together a pet safety kit. Richardson suggests including the following items:
- Can of soft pet food
- Turkey baster, bulb syringe or large medicine syringe
- Saline eye solution for flushing out eye contaminants and artificial tear gel for lubricating eyes
- Mild grease-cutting dishwashing liquid and rubber gloves for bathing
- Forceps to remove stingers
- Muzzle to keep animal from hurting you while he is excited or in pain
- Pet carrier for trips to your local vet.
If you suspect that your pet has been exposed to a poison, don't panic! "Rapid response is important," says Richardson, "but panicking generally interferes with the process of helping your animal." For round-the-clock emergency assistance, call the APCC's hotline at 1-888-4ANI-HELP. Be ready to provide:
- Your name, address and phone number
- Information concerning the poison your pet was exposed to, such as the amount ingested, if known, and the time since exposure
- Your pet's species, breed, age, sex and weight
- The problems your pet is experiencing
However, if your pet is seizuring, unconscious or losing consciousness, or having difficulty breathing, contact your veterinarian immediately, or even better, get your pet to the closest emergency veterinarian.
Most vets are familiar with the APCC's consulting services; depending on the situation, your vet may want to contact the APCC personally while you bring your pet to the animal hospital. Do not attempt any therapy without contacting the APCC or your vet.
Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, the APCC's veterinarians are on call to quickly answer your questions about toxic chemicals, dangerous plants and substances commonly found in our homes or the environment that can be poisonous to animals. For more information, visit http://www.apcc.aspca.org.
When Human Drugs Can Improve the Life of a Pet
There are two areas in particular where drugs created for people have proved extremely helpful for companion animals: antidepressants and anti-cancer medications/treatments.
Short courses of antidepressants along with behavior modification can be effective in alleviating emotional or behavioral disorders like aggression, excessive grooming, sudden house soiling (that doesn’t have an underlying physical cause), and separation anxiety.
Human anti-cancer agents, primarily new types of chemotherapy, are being used in veterinary medicine to put certain types of cancer in remission, or more commonly, to extend the quantity and quality of the lives of pets diagnosed with cancer.
If your pet develops a disease or disorder for which your vet prescribes medication of any kind, the two of you should discuss any concerns you have about toxicity and side effects.
If your pet’s veterinarian isn’t familiar with alternative methods of healing, including the use of herbs, nutraceuticals, homeopathic remedies and detox agents in the treatment of disease, I encourage you to consult with a holistic veterinarian as well.
An integrative/holistic vet will be knowledgeable about safe, natural ways to treat your pet so you can provide the best all-around therapy for your furry friend.