Not all medications used for pets are specifically made for veterinary use, in fact many drugs can be used both for humans and pets, just in different doses. However, there are many human medications that are dangerous, even lethal when given to animals. Many pain medications fall into this category. All drugs can be toxic when given at wrong doses, but there are some drugs that are implicated more often than others.
Most human pain relievers and anti-inflammatories commonly cause problems when well-meaning pet owners want to treat their pets’ pain with human medications. Cats are especially sensitive. Aspirin and ibuprofen are two such drugs that can cause serious harm to the liver, intestines, and kidneys for both dogs and cats. Toxic signs include diarrhoea, vomiting, bloody stools, lethargy, and unwillingness to eat. These symptoms can appear after only a few hours after ingestion but might also take several days. Acetaminophen is another common household painkiller that is particularly toxic to cats, causing a potentially life-threatening destruction of red blood cells. Other dangerous drug categories that pets might accidentally ingest are medications used for the treatment of ADHD (amphetamines), high blood pressure (ACE inhibitors and beta blockers), birth control, depression or insomnia.
If you know or suspect your pet has ingested any of these drugs, time is of the essence. Please take your pet to a vet as soon as possible. Write down the name and strength (in milligrams) of the drug and an approximation of how many tablets have been taken. If possible, take the vial/box of pills with you. If your pet has vomited, it is helpful to look through the vomit to see any evidence of pills or capsules. If the ingestion of the drugs has happened recently, your vet will most likely try and induce your pet to vomit. Activated charcoal is generally also given to protect the intestine from the rest of the drugs. If, however, your pet is already showing signs of intoxication, other methods of treatment must be used, and often include hospitalization, intravenous fluids and symptomatic care. Blood samples might be taken to assess possible organ damage and long-term prognosis.
In conclusion, never give medications meant for human use to your pets without explicit instructions from your vet. Keep all medications you have at home in a secure, closed location that is out of reach of pets. Dogs can easily chew through plastic containers that are left lying around, and cats are good at opening cabinets that are not properly closed or locked. If your pet ingests human medications, immediately contact your vet and do not try to induce vomiting yourself. Don’t use veterinary drugs that were prescribed to other pets or use any left-over medication without veterinary instruction.
Article by Dr. Laura Wessman