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Deadly Consequences: Pets and Human Medication

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If your dog or cat gets into the medications you have in your house, it could lead to deadly consequences. But there are things you can do to help protect your pet, such as knowing the signs and what to do in case of a poison emergency.

An Ongoing Problem

Year after year, human medications have topped the list of toxins most commonly ingested by pets, according to the ASPCA® Animal Poison Control Center (APCC). Interestingly, over-the-counter (OTC) medications, including herbal and other natural supplements, moved ahead of prescription medications to take the top spot for the first time in 2015. Here are more facts on human meds* from the APCC:

  • There were over 45,700 cases reported in 2019 involving OTC medications.
  • These cases encompassed almost 7,000 products, making this a broad category.
  • Prescription medications represented 17.2% of all cases the APCC handled in 2019.
  • The types of medications in these cases tended to match up with the most commonly prescribed medications, such as cardiac, ADHD, and antidepressant pills.

The APCC’s list of common pet toxins for 2019 also included insecticides (11,832 cases), harmful human foods (28,072 cases), household items, including cleaning products, fire logs, and paint (17,864 cases), veterinary medications (21,576 cases), chocolate (24,824 cases), and plants (14,152 cases). See the full list in the APCC’s announcement and learn more about common pet hazards at 101 Things You Didn’t Know Could Harm Your Pet.

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Can I Give My Dog Tylenol® for Pain or Is Tylenol Deadly to Dogs?

Before we dive into a list of specific pet toxins, I thought it would be good to take a minute to address this frequently asked question. Never give your dog Tylenol or any other brand of acetaminophen unless prescribed by your veterinarian.

Safe dosage amounts for dogs can vary, and they are different than those recommended for humans. Too much of this medication can cause liver damage and even lead to liver failure for your dog.

Tylenol can be even more dangerous to cats since they lack the proteins needed to help the liver metabolize this drug. In fact, you should never give your pet any kind of medication without the advice and guidance of a veterinarian.

10 Top Human Meds to Keep Away From Pets

This is a partial list of human medications that have a moderate to severe level of toxicity to pets, according to the APCC. If your pet ingests any of these medications, you should use the mindset that the medications are toxic to dogs and cats, and you should seek veterinary care as soon as possible. Medications with severe toxicity are life-threatening, so don’t take any chances by hesitating to get help.

1. Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
As mentioned, Tylenol can help relieve our headaches and lower fevers, but it can have severe side effects for your pet. If ingested by your dog or cat, Tylenol poisoning symptoms can include vomiting, chocolate-colored gums, trouble breathing, and liver failure.

2. Albuterol (Asthma Medication)
You're probably familiar with inhalers containing the medicine Albuterol if you or someone you know has asthma. Keep inhalers out of paw’s reach since this drug can cause rapid heart rate, agitation followed by lethargy, and weakness if ingested by your pet.

3. Aspirin
Aspirin is categorized as having mild to moderate toxicity by the APCC, but it is worth mentioning since it is such a commonly used over-the-counter human med. It can cause vomiting, dark or bloody stool, lethargy, stomach ulcers, and liver failure in pets.

4. Benzalkonium Chloride
You might not recognize the name of this substance, but it is commonly used as a preservative in eye drops. If your pet ingests it, they could suffer from increased salivation, vomiting, oral sores, and muscle weakness.

5. Dextroamphetamine
Dextroamphetamine is a nervous system stimulant that is used in drugs like Adderall to treat ADHD. If you have Adderall in your house, be sure you store it safely away from your pet since it can result in hyperactivity, high heart rate, tremors, and seizures.

6. Fluoxetine
This substance can be found in anti-depressant drugs, including Prozac and Sarafem. It can cause agitation, elevated heart rate, drunkenness, and tremors in pets.

7. Ibuprofen (Advil)
Advil can harm your pet with serious symptoms, including vomiting, dark or bloody stool, lethargy, stomach ulcers, kidney failure, coma, and seizures.

8. Naproxen (Aleve)
Naproxen, which can be found in brands like Aleve and Anaprox, helps reduce swelling and pain for people and can be useful for treating arthritis. However, it is severely toxic to pets and can lead to kidney failure. Symptoms include vomiting, lethargy, and bloody stool.

9. Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed)
Those of us with colds or allergies might reach for the Sudafed to get some little relief from runny or stuffy noses. Unfortunately, if our pets ingest this drug, it can cause agitation, elevated heart rate, tremors, and seizures.

10. Warfarin (Coumadin)
This is another drug that has severe toxicity to pets. It’s used to treat blood clots in people, but it can result in pale gums, internal bleeding, lethargy, panting, and weakness if swallowed by pets.

For an extensive list of pet toxins, especially for dogs, cats, horses, and birds, you can download the APCC’s free mobile app for your iPhone or Android. This app is a great resource because it will help you recognize when your pet has ingested something harmful, and it enables you to call the APCC’s pet poison hotline with a simple tap.

About the Symptoms

As you can see from our list of common toxic medications, the symptoms of poisoning can vary depending on the drug ingested. The severity of the situation will also be affected by the size, age, and overall health of your pet. In some cases, your pet might only have minor symptoms, like an upset tummy. In others, poison ingestion can lead to seizures, coma, and even death.

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Where to Get Help

If you suspect your pet has been exposed to a harmful substance, you should immediately call your veterinarian or the APCC at 1-888-426-4435. The APCC is staffed with trained experts who have handled over 2 million cases!

Please don’t try to treat your pet without professional medical advice.

You could get hurt or accidentally injure your pet by attempting to treat your pet without first seeking professional medical advice. You should also handle your pet carefully. Although it may not always occur, even the sweetest pet can scratch or bite when they’re upset or in pain. In addition, do your best to remain calm, so you can think clearly and focus on getting help for your pet.

5 Tips to Prevent Pet Poisoning

There are precautions you can take to help avoid a pet poison emergency in your home:

  1. Keep medication bottles securely closed so your pet can’t spill them.
  2. Don’t leave medications on low nightstands or countertops where a curious pet could get at them.
  3. If you spill liquid medicine, clean it up carefully and completely as soon as you can.
  4. The same goes for pills dropped on the floor. Make sure you pick up every pill right away and ensure the coast is clear before letting your pet back in that area.
  5. Never give your dog or cat any kind of medication without consulting your veterinarian first.

While these instances of your pet ingesting human medications may not be avoided entirely, it is definitely worth your time as a pet parent to learn some preventative measures. After all, our pets are like our children, and when it comes to children, the number one rule is ‘safety first.’

*ASPCA, “Announcing: The Top 10 Pet Toxins!”

The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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