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 national 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.

Pain Relievers are a Danger to Pets

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 damage red blood cells and cause harm to the liver. 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 signs can occur in overdoses.
  • Aspirin: This drug is also toxic to cats except at 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 if the dose is too high. Dogs can tolerate this drug, and veterinarians will sometimes recommend it for use as a pain reliever although better, dog specific medications, are usually preferred.
  • Ibuprofen: This is the active ingredient in over-the-counter pain relievers 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 painful bleeding, stomach ulcers and/or 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. Those drugs are more effective and less toxic. Examples of medications approved for pets include carprofen (Rumadyl), deracoxib (Deramaxx), firocoxib (Previcox), grapiprant (Galliprant), meloxicam (Metacam), 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 and painful stomach ulcers, stomach perforations, and acute kidney failure in animals, and should never be used in pets.

Notable Cautions

There are some over-the-counter antihistamines, which veterinarians may recommend pet owners purchase for use in your cat or dog but it’s important to be sure you’re purchasing just an antihistamine. If you see words like “cold and flu”, “sinus”, “plus”, or “congestion” this often means there are multiple medications in a product, some of which can be fatal for a pet. For example, fexofenadine, the common antihistamine that goes by the trade name Allegra, may be used in some dogs or cats to lessen the symptoms of allergies  or insect bites. But beware the similar sounding Allegra-D! This is very different than plain Allegra. The “D” means it also contains the decongestant pseudoephedrine. While decongestants can be helpful in people, they can cause significant harm, including death, 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 Pet Poison Helpline or your veterinarian 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 given them hydrogen peroxide so your veterinarian will need to use special medication to induce vomiting. Because inducing vomiting in dogs at home can also have side effects, always check with Pet Poison Helpline or your veterinarian before giving hydrogen peroxide to determine if it’s safe to do so, what the correct dose to give is, and if the timing is right. 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 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.

About Pet Poison Helpline

Pet Poison Helpline Is an animal poison control center available 24/7 for both pet owners and veterinary professionals that require assistance treating a potentially poisoned pet.  The staff provides treatment advice for poisoning cases of all species, including dogs, cats, birds, small mammals, large animals and exotic species.  As the most cost-effective option for animal poison control care, Pet Poison Helpline’s per incident fee includes all follow-up consultations throughout the duration of the poison case.  Pet Poison Helpline is available in North America by calling 855-289-0358.  Additional information can be found online at