When was the last time your pet had a headache?
How do you know if your dog has a headache? You don’t.
Obviously our pets can’t complain about minor aches and pains or make a dramatic scene to let everyone know how much they suffer. If our pets have mild aches and pains, most of the time they will simply wait it out in silence. While you might think this creates a disadvantage for them, I do have another point of view. There is a separate condition that develops when we give medication for every little problem and it’s called over medication. In other words, we try to solve one problem and many times we cause another one.
Here are a few common medications that, while they may be useful for treating mild pain, have the potential to cause major problems, even in small doses:
Acetaminophen Even a small dose can be fatal to your cat!
Acetaminophen (for example, Tylenol, among others) is often prescribed to children with fevers and to adults with pain. It is also seen in many combination products such as Vicodin and Tylenol w/codeine. Many over-the-counter cough and cold medication such as Nyquil and Dayquil also contain acetaminophen. The list of products that contain acetaminophen could easily fill the pages of a small book, which is why reading the label is very important. If this medication is given in reasonable doses it has proven pretty safe in humans; however, that does not mean that it is also safe in pets. Many cats have gone into liver failure after ingesting even a very small dose.
Within 20 to 30 minutes after ingestion, acetaminophen levels can be already measured in the blood and can begin causing damage. The first thing that acetaminophen usually attacks is the liver, causing extensive damage and at times this could lead to liver failure. Another potential consequence is damage to red blood cells—the blood no longer has the ability to carry oxygen. All cells in the body need oxygen to survive.
Symptoms of acetaminophen toxicity in pets may include fast breathing, stomach pain, the gums may be discolored brown (cells not carrying oxygen properly) or blue (inadequate blood supply), there may be swelling of the extremities, and finally this toxicity could lead to collapse then death.
If you realize that your pet has just ingested acetaminophen, inducing vomiting can remove the drug from the pet’s stomach before absorption. Call the vet immediately. Since absorption occurs so quickly and vomiting might not be enough or fast enough, your veterinarian has a variety of options to prevent further absorption (e.g. activated charcoal). Your pet’s veterinarian also has a variety of medications such as N-acetylcysteine that prevent toxic substances from forming and causing further liver damage. The veterinarian may want to do blood transfusions, place the pet on intravenous fluids, or provide other medications that could help support the liver such as Denamarin tablets. Denamarin contains the antioxidant Silybin which has shown to improve liver function by raising glutathione levels. Glutathione is an antioxidant that helps protect cells from toxins such as the byproducts of acetaminophen metabolism.
Since most cases of acetaminophen toxicity are preventable, the best advice is to childproof your home and place all of your medications someplace safe from both pets and children. Another way to prevent toxicity is to make sure nobody gives your pet any medication without checking with you first. That being said, it is important to know what your pet can and cannot take. Last but not least, if your pet gets into something such as acetaminophen, the most important thing to do for the health of your loving companion is to take him or her to the veterinarian. In cases of poisoning, your veterinarian may be able to do some things early on that are not available later after the damage has already occurred.
NSAIDs (e.g. ibuprofen, aspirin, carprofen)
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs are used all the time by humans and are prescribed frequently to our pets. Although the NSAIDs that were developed later may have a less side effect profile, using even a small dose to a sensitive pet can and has caused major reactions. These reactions can be things like gastrointestinal bleeding, vomiting, kidney failure, liver disease, vomiting, and a multitude of other problems.
When prescribed properly to your pet, drugs such as Rimadyl, Previcox, Deramaxx, Metacam and similar drugs can do wonders for treating certain major aches and pains. These drugs require monitoring on a regular basis. Keep in mind that these drugs do have side effects and there is a real risk if using them because we “think” our pet has a headache or other ache or pain. Even in humans there have been many recent discoveries that these types of drugs, even in small doses, can cause major side effects not only in the gastrointestinal tract but also on the cardiovascular system. Although the use of these drugs seems to be pervasive, they are not as innocuous as many believe.
Tramadol (central nervous system effects, opiate)
Tramadol is a drug that is used for moderate or even severe pain. It can be used to relieve various causes of pain, including post-surgery pain or chronic pain. Tramadol can and has been given as an alternative in pets who can’t take NSAIDs. Tramadol blocks certain receptors in the brain that are important for transmitting the sensation of pain throughout the body.
Although Tramadol is frequently used in pets, it does have a rather extensive side effect profile. This drug must absolutely be given under the direction of a licensed veterinarian. Firstly this drug is a controlled substance and having possession of it without a prescription is a crime in most places. Secondly, without proper dosing and monitoring, Tramadol can cause serious health problems. This is not a drug that can be given just because we suspect our pet is in pain.
Corticosteroids (e.g. prednisone, methylprednisolone)
Corticosteroids are another class of drug that can be very useful in reducing pain and inflammation, but they also can be extremely harmful if not used properly. Long-term use of corticosteroids has been implicated with the development of many adverse effects, more than can be listed here. It is crucial that these medications be prescribed, taken and monitored properly.
The drugs listed here are only a small portion of the drugs used for pain which have the potential to cause a problem in your pets. This is not an all-inclusive list, and there are many others that haven’t been mentioned here due to space constraints.
While our pets can’t tell us that they are in pain, there are certain signs that pet owner should be aware of that indicate that there is pain or discomfort. For example: restlessness, unwillingness to move or play, loss of appetite, or any change in usual habits could indicate pain. Many pets even vocalize the fact that they are in pain. Using safer measures such as Yucca Intensive or giving joint medication such as Super Joint Enhancer has helped in certain cases and may be considered an option. These drugs are considered safe and natural supplements that have been shown in many cases to reduce pain and inflammation.
If, however, the natural over-the-counter remedies do not work and your pet is still in pain, only your veterinarian is in a position to make an accurate diagnosis and prescribe the right medication for your own pet’s particular needs. Your pet’s veterinarian will also be in a better position to monitor the dose, blood levels, the liver, kidneys, and any other parameter that may require monitoring. Following these guidelines and having a good relationship with the veterinarian is essential for your pet’s wellbeing and health. If you have any medication-related question, your 1800PetMeds pharmacist is also available to answer those for you.