Don’t expose your pet to this hidden danger
I was surprised to wake up a few days ago to an FDA Alert that a human medication called Flurbiprofen has caused serious illness in some pets. I’ve heard of this medication being used in human eye drops and some doctors prescribe a topical formulation to apply on the skin, but I have not heard of this non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication being ever prescribed for dogs and cats. Upon further reading, it became clear that this drug had in fact been prescribed to humans to be used on the skin but somehow it ended up getting on the family cat, almost causing kidney failure. This didn’t just happen once, but enough times to warrant this urgent FDA warning.
This FDA warning should alert us to the dangers of human medication becoming somehow dangerous to pets who live in the same household. The FDA Alert goes on to advise healthcare providers and pet owners to become alert to the dangers of this drug, and other topical drugs, to our pets. Even though the medication is being applied topically on the shoulder or the neck of the human, pets can get enough exposure to cause harm and possible death. Human medication can be extremely dangerous to pets even in very small doses. Pets do not metabolize all medication in a similar fashion as humans do, and a drug that is relieving your shoulder pain can be toxic to your dog or cat. Let’s look at just a few specific examples of the dangers of pets getting into human medication, keeping in mind that this list is nowhere near a complete listing of all the potential dangers.
The most popular human medication that has been prescribed for fever and pain for many years is called acetaminophen. This drug has been regularly prescribed in very young pediatric patients and old patients alike. Acetaminophen is the generic name for drug Tylenol, and it is an ingredient in many over-the-counter cold products and headache and pain medications. Even though this drug is regularly used quite safely in humans, this does not translate to it being safe in pets. A small dose of acetaminophen, the equivalent of as little as one tablet, may cause damage to a cat’s blood cells, cause organ damage such as liver failure, and prevent proper tissue oxygenation that is so vital to life.
Another group of medications commonly used in humans but potentially toxic in pets is non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). This is the group of medication that flurbiprofen falls into and has caused toxicities and prompted the FDA Alert. This group of medication also includes some very popular names such as aspirin and Ibuprofen, and can cause some very serious complications in pets. A pretty small dose of an improperly monitored NSAID can cause kidney failure in a dog or a cat. This class of medication also has potential to cause very bad injuries to the stomach and intestines. Small pets such as hamsters and gerbils are also at extreme risk for adverse and quite dangerous side effects from this class of drug. As seen in the cases that are mentioned in the FDA alert, even preparations such as creams, lotions, or other topical medication can and has caused severe harm in pets. If you apply medication on your skin or the skin of a family member, it is important to keep the pet away until the area is washed thoroughly clean from the drug and the area is made safe. One must keep in mind that creams and lotions can get on bedding or over other areas that can expose our pets to extreme danger. Knowing this and watching for it can help prevent a tragedy.
Another class of medication that has been getting more popular in both humans and animals are the antidepressants. These drugs have been used this past decade more than ever to combat the symptoms of depressions in humans and some, such as clomipramine, are now being used to treat certain conditions such as separation anxiety in pets. This class of drugs is extremely dangerous if given in the wrong dose. Just one tablet of a human antidepressant can easily cause seizures, elevated blood pressure, body temperature, and heart rate in a cat. Medications used to treat Attention Deficit Disorder contain stimulants that can also cause tremors, elevations in body temperature, and possible death in a pet.
A very common drug that is used in both humans and pets is called levothyroxine. This medication is used to treat a very common condition known as hypothyroidism. The main concern with levothyroxine is that there is such a huge variety of doses between humans and pets, and between pets of different weight ranges. To further complicate this problem, levothyroxine is extremely dangerous if given in the wrong dose. There is not much margin of safety when dealing with this medication. One small error of giving the dog dose to a cat can easily become fatal. Large overdoses in cats and dogs can cause tremors, seizures, an increase in heart rate, and even cause aggressive behaviors.
Other dangers can be present in sleep aids (both prescription and over-the-counter ones), blood pressure medications, cardiac drugs, all pain medications, medications used to treat anxiety and the list goes on. Some medications even cause the opposite effect in pets than they do in humans. A drug used to help humans get some sleep may cause extreme insomnia in a dog for example. Medications that are used to treat hyperactivity in children can cause pets to become extremely hyper and active. This difference is also often seen between adults and children. It is also very common for a dog who ingests an over-the-counter sleep aid (many contain diphenhydramine) to cause an animal to become agitated instead of sleepy. Many central nervous system medications such as benzodiazepines (i.e. valium) can cause liver damage in a cat quite rapidly.
Sometimes symptoms of the poisoning occur within minutes and at other times they may take several days to show up. These symptoms may include bleeding, vomiting, salivation, seizures, drowsiness, and loss of consciousness. Poisonings are life-threatening events and will usually require quick medical attention. If you suspect that your pet has been poisoned, immediately contact your veterinarian or poison control center. The ASPCA National Animal Poison Control Center phone number is 1-800-548-2423. In case of any adverse drug effect or pet poisoning, a report should also be filed with the FDA.
Other phone numbers that should be kept handy are the phone numbers of your pet’s veterinarian as well as your city’s human poison control center. Many human poison control centers also have information about dog and cat poisonings. If possible, check ahead of time to see what their staffing is like and whether they would be willing and able to provide poison control information to pet owners. Sometimes inducing vomiting may be useful in removing some of the toxins. At other times when vomiting can cause more harm, giving food or liquids may help dilute the toxin or delay its absorption. That delay in absorption may help just long enough to get the pet proper emergency professional help from your veterinarian.
Many ingested or topical medications can also have a bad effect on the kidneys and the liver of the pet. Your veterinarian can do blood tests and evaluate each situation individually to decide on the proper course of action. If, for example, the liver has been compromised for whatever reason, an over-the-counter medication called Denosyl increases glutathione levels, an important antioxidant that protects the liver cells from dangerous toxins. This medication is best given on an empty stomach and can be started a few days after the suspected poison has been ingested.
If you are unsure of the proper dosing of your pet’s medication, or if you have any other medication related questions, please call your 1800PetMeds Pharmacist who will be more than happy to help you.