Has your pup ever gotten into something that could harm her? Know the top 10 human medications harmful to pets and what to do if your pet ingests one of them.
While the dangers of chocolate poisoning were recently featured in Woof Report, and past Woof Report tips have listed foods and plants that are particularly toxic to pets, there’s even more that cautious pet parents must protect their pets from: over-the-counter and prescription medications.
Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. (VPI) recently analyzed its database of more than 485,000 insured pets to find the sources behind the poisoning claims submitted between 2005 and 2009, and from the nearly 20,000 claims received, accidental ingestion of pet or human medications was at the top of the list. It topped mouse and rat poison (2nd), chocolate and caffeine toxicity (3rd) and plant poisoning (4th). To add to those figures, of the 98,000 calls the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center received in the first eight months of the year, about one-third involved dogs and cats ingesting over-the-counter and prescription medications.
Accidents Happen; Be Aware
While the stats are frightening, they’re not all that surprising considering our fur family members’ tastes are not that discriminating. Just consider your dog’s fondness for ‘kitty roca’ and the recent news that a Labrador Retriever ate an entire beehive (dead bees included). Also, accidents happen – bottles of pills are knocked over, pills are dropped or consumed through a plastic bag or even the bottle, and pet owners mistakenly give pets their own medicine, accidentally or in an effort to treat their them.
That said, be sure your medications and your pet’s are securely out of paw’s reach, and always have 24/7 Pet Poison Control and 24/7 pet hospital phone numbers handy. Also, direct from Ahna Brutlag, DVM from the Pet Poison Helpline, keep reading to see a listing of the top 10 human medications pets most frequently ingested and tips to poison proof your home at the link further below.
Top 10 Human Medications Pets Most Frequently Ingest
NSAIDs (e.g., ibuprofen, naproxen)
—Topping our list are the common household medications called non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), which include common names such as ibuprofen (e.g., Advil and some types of Motrin) and naproxen (e.g., Aleve). While these medications are safe for people, even one or two pills can cause serious harm to a pet. Dogs, cats, birds and other small mammals including ferrets, gerbils, and hamsters may develop serious stomach and intestinal ulcers as well as kidney failure.
—When it comes to pain medications, acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) is popular. Even though this drug is safe for children, it is not safe for pets—especially cats. One regular strength tablet of acetaminophen may cause damage to a cat’s red blood cells, limiting their ability to carry oxygen. In dogs, acetaminophen leads to liver failure and, in large doses, red blood cell damage.
Antidepressants (e.g., Effexor, Cymbalta, Prozac, Lexapro)
—While these and other antidepressant drugs are occasionally used in pets, overdoses can lead to serious neurological problems such as sedation, incoordination, tremors and seizures. Some antidepressants also have a stimulant effect leading to a dangerously elevated heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. Pets, especially cats, seem to enjoy the taste of Effexor and often eat the entire pill. Unfortunately, just one pill can cause serious poisoning.
ADD and ADHD medications (e.g., Concerta, Adderall, Ritalin)
—Medications used to treat Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder contain potent stimulants such as amphetamines and methylphenidate. Even minimal ingestions of these medications by pets can cause life-threatening tremors, seizures, elevated body temperatures, and heart problems.
Benzodiazepines and sleep aids (e.g., Xanax, Klonopin, Ambien, Lunesta)
—These medications are designed to reduce anxiety and help people sleep better. However, in pets, they may have the opposite effect. About half of dogs that ingest sleep aids become agitated instead of sedate. In addition, these drugs may cause severe lethargy, incoordination (including walking “drunk”), and slowed breathing in pets. In cats, some forms of benzodiazepines can cause liver failure when ingested.
Birth control (e.g., estrogen, estradiol, progesterone)
—Birth control pills often come in packages that dogs find irresistible. Thankfully, small ingestions of these medications typically do not cause trouble. However, large ingestions of estrogen and estradiol can cause bone marrow suppression, particularly in birds. Additionally, intact female pets are at an increased risk of side effects from estrogen poisoning.
ACE Inhibitors (e.g., Zestril, Altace)
—Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors are commonly used to treat high blood pressure in people and, occasionally, pets. Though overdoses can cause low blood pressure, dizziness, and weakness, this category of medication is typically safe. Pets ingesting small amounts of this medication can potentially be monitored at home, unless they have kidney failure or heart disease.
Beta-blockers (e.g., Tenormin, Toprol, Coreg)
—Beta-blockers are also used to treat high blood pressure but, unlike with ACE inhibitors, small ingestions of these drugs may cause serious poisoning in pets. Overdoses can cause life-threatening decreases in blood pressure and a very slow heart rate.
Thyroid hormones (e.g., Armour desiccated thyroid, Synthroid)
—Pets—especially dogs—get underactive thyroids too. Interestingly, the dose of thyroid hormone needed to treat dogs is much higher than a person’s dose. Therefore, if dogs accidentally get into thyroid hormones at home, it rarely results in problems. However, large acute overdoses in cats and dogs can cause muscle tremors, nervousness, panting, a rapid heart rate, and aggression.
Cholesterol-lowering agents (e.g., Lipitor, Zocor, Crestor)
—These popular medications, often called statins, are commonly used in the United States. While pets do not typically get high cholesterol, they may still get into the pill bottle. Thankfully, most statin ingestions only cause mild vomiting or diarrhea. Serious side effects from these drugs come with long-term use, not one-time ingestions.
Reach the Pet Poison Helpline’s 24-hour hotline at 800/213-6680
Reach the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center’s 24-hour hotline at 888/426-4435
Find tips for poison-proofing your home:
Thank you to jpmatth on flickr for the photo of Gabe.
Originally published November 2010; reviewed and updated November 2016.