Toxic Medications For Pets

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 or fatal to your pet.

In fact, animal poisoning from human drugs accounts for almost 50% of the calls received by Pet Poison Helpline, a 24/7 animal poison control center.

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 routinely used to treat cats and dogs, there are others that can be deadly, even in small doses, according to Dr. Ahna Brutlag, a board-certified veterinary toxicologist at Pet Poison Helpline. This is often due to differences in the ways cats, dogs, and people metabolize medications. It's important to realize that pets are not just 'small people'.” Below is a list of some of the most dangerous drugs for cats and dogs.

  • Tylenol: Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in this pain reliever, is very toxic to cats, Brutlag warns. Cats cannot metabolize acetaminophen as well as dogs or people can. Just one regular strength acetaminophen table or dose of children's liquid acetaminophen can lead to red blood cell abnormalities. The end results is an inability for the cat's blood to carry oxygen, a condition called methemoglobinemia. Depending on the dose, liver damage can also occur. While dogs are less sensitive than cats to this drug, the same symptoms can occur in large overdoses.
  • Aspirin: This drug is also very toxic to cats except in a very low dose. At times, veterinarians may use aspirin as an anticoagulant for cats with heart disease although due to its long half-life, it is only to be given every 2-3 days. 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.
  • Ibuprofen: This is the active ingredient in over-the-counter medications such as Advil, Motrin, and some "cold and flu" medications. It is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID). This drug is not recommended for cats or dogs, as it can result in severe gastric ulcers or acute kidney failure. Accidental ingestion should be treated immediately. Dr. Brutlag cautions that "Like many other human pain relievers, pets do not tolerate this medication well. There are veterinary specific NSAIDS which are FDA-approved for use in dogs and cats. These drugs are more effective and less toxic. Examples of these medications include carprofen, deracoxib, meloxicam and robenacoxib (Onsior).”
  • 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 pets.

Notable Cautions

There are some over-the-counter medicines that are safe to use on your pet, such as antihistamines which veterinarians may recommend for their canine and feline patients but it's important to be sure you are purchasing just an antihistamine. Look for key words to avoid like “cold and sinus":,“sinus“, “plus“, or “congestion“ as this often means there are multiple medications in a product, some of which can be fatal for a pet. For example,

  • Diphenhydramine: The common antihistamine that goes by the name of Benadryl, may be used in some dogs or cats to lessen the symptoms of allergies or insect bites. But, from a pet perspective, Benadryl-D is very different from plain Benadryl.The &rdquo:D&rdquo: means it also contains the decongestant phenylepherine. This decongestant is also found in Benadryl Allergy Plus COngestion. While decongestants can be helpful in people, they can cause significant issues in dogs and cats.

What to Do If Your Pet Is Poisoned

If you suspect that your pet has ingested a medication it was not supposed to have, call your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline at (855) 289-0358 immediately. The sooner you act, the better the prognosis for your pet.

As a precaution, dog owners should keep fresh, non-expired 3% hydrogen peroxide on hand. Depending on what your dog ingested, this may be used to induce vomiting in case of accidental poisoning. For cats, you're out of luck as there is no available at-home emetic— it's not safe to give them hydrogen peroxide so 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 it's safe and effective to 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, and is not affiliated with Nationwide pet insurance. Pet Poison Helpline is a 24/7 animal poison control service available for pet owners and veterinary professionals who require assistance with treating a potentially poisoned pet. Pet Poison Helpline has the ability to help every poisoned pet, with all types of poisonings. Pet Poison Helpline is the most cost-effective animal poison control services and is available in North America, Canada, and the Caribbean by calling 855-289-0358