Toxic Medications for Pets

What’s Safe for You Could Be Deadly To Your Pet


As pet owners, we dread seeing our furry friends suffer pain. It’s natural to want to ease your pet’s pain if he’s experiencing illness or discomfort. But before you act, you must be aware that common medications used for adults and even children can be toxic and even fatal to your pet.

In fact, animal poisoning by drugs is the most common type of small-animal poison exposure, according the American Veterinary Medical Association.This type of poisoning accounted for 75 percent of toxin exposures in 1990 and resulted in 82 fatalities.

It is always recommended that you contact your veterinarian before administering any medications to your pets. It could be the difference between life and death.

Danger Lurks in the Medicine Cabinet

While some over-the-counter medications are used to treat cats and dogs, the dose is critical, says Dr. David Reinhard, a consulting veterinarian for Nationwide pet insurance. “There is often a fine line between the effective dose and the toxic dose in cats and dogs,” Reinhard says. Below is a list of some of the most dangerous drugs for cats and dogs.

Ibuprofen tablets
  • Tylenol: Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in this pain reliever, is very toxic in cats, Reinhard warns. The drug interferes with oxygen uptake in the blood of cats and can result in death if not treated promptly. Acetaminophen (also used in Excedrin and other aspirin-free drugs) can be used in dogs, but the dose is key. Consult with your veterinarian. Acetaminophen overdose in dogs can cause severe liver damage. As few as two regular-strength pills can cause overdose in dogs.
  • Aspirin: This drug is also very toxic to cats except in a very low dose. At times, veterinarians will use aspirin as an anticoagulant for cats with heart disease, Reinhard says. This should only be done under a veterinarian’s supervision, as aspirin can be fatal. Dogs can tolerate this drug, and veterinarians will sometimes recommend it for use as a pain reliever. Chronic use of the drug produces side effects.
  • Ibuprofen: This is the active ingredient in over-the-counter medications such as Advil, Motrin, and "cold and flu" medications, and is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID). This drug is never recommended for cats or dogs, as it can result in severe gastric ulcers or acute kidney failure. Accidental ingestion should be treated immediately. Dr. Justine Lee, the associate director of veterinary services at Pet Poison Helpline, says that "Ibuprofen and other human NSAIDS should never be used in pets, as there are veterinary specific NSAIDS that are less toxic. Drugs like Rimadyl, Deramaxx, and Meloxicam are veterinary prescribed NSAIDS, and are much safer for pets."
  • Naproxen: This is the active ingredient in Aleve or Anaprox, and is a very potent NSAID. Minute doses can result in severe symptoms of gastric ulcers, stomach perforations, or acute kidney failure in animals, and should never be used in animals.

“There is often a fine line between the effective dose and the toxic dose in cats and dogs.”

Safe Options

There are some over-the-counter medicines that are safe to use on your pet, according to Reinhard. While these are some common medicines that can be safe for your pet, it is very important that you consult your veterinarian for dosage instructions.

  • Imodium: This drug can be used to treat diarrhea in dogs and cats. Collies and related breeds are prone to toxicity from this product, so it shouldn’t be used to treat that particular breed. If the treatment is not effective within 48 hours, stop using it, Reinhard advises.
  • Metamucil: This can be used as a bulk laxative and stool softener in dogs and cats. It is also used to treat fiber responsive diarrhea. However, if your pet is suffering from an intestinal obstruction, Metamucil is not recommended.

What to Do If Your Pet Is Poisoned

If you suspect that your pet has been poisoned by a medication, call your veterinarian immediately. If your veterinarian is not available, call an animal poison control. There is often a charge with these services, but paying a minimal fee could save your pet’s life.

  • Pet Poison Helpline: 1-800-213-6680*

As a precaution, dog owners should keep fresh, non-expired 3% hydrogen peroxide on hand. This is used to induce vomiting in case of accidental poisoning of dogs. For cats, you're out of luck and have to bring your cat in to a veterinarian — they don't respond to hydrogen peroxide, and your veterinarian will need to use special medication to induce vomiting. Always check with a veterinarian or  Pet Poison Helpline first to find out the correct amount of peroxide to give, if it's contraindicated to induce vomiting (i.e., it can make your dog worse!), or if it's too late to induce vomiting (there's only a narrow window of time when we can do so!).

Pets Are Different

Though we like to think of our pets as part of the family, the simple fact is, their bodies are not like ours. Medicines that we use all the time to treat pain or illness can have devastating effects on our pets. Talk to your veterinarian if you have questions about any medications. Never assume a drug is safe for your pet.

If you liked this story, you may be interested in reading about the most common pet toxins and pet food toxins.

*A fee is billed by Pet Poison Helpline. PPH is not affiliated with Nationwide pet insurance.

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