Most Human Medications, Including Common Pain Relievers, Are Dangerous or Deadly for Pets
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Most Human Medications, Including Common Pain Relievers, Are Dangerous or Deadly for Pets

many things, including people medications, people food, and household plants can be very harmful in even tiny amounts

October 5, 2021

It's torture watching our pets deal with pain and we will do anything to give relief as soon as possible. While it may be tempting to use people medications on our pets, it could be dangerous or even deadly. Pets react quite differently than people to many things, from food to medications. So it's important to know what's harmful to our pets and to see a veterinarian when they're sick or in pain.

Never Presume a Medication is safe

If you're like most people, when you have a question about whether something is good for your pet, you search on Google. But don't presume that the information you find is correct and never presume that any medication is safe. Many reputable sources of information exist, but it's also possible that you'll run across a forum or another website that has prepared its content using inaccurate information from other sources. Whenever you have a question about whether a medication or even a food is good for your pet, contact your veterinarian. Your veterinarian knows animals, especially your pets, the best. A particular medication might even be good for your pet based upon reputable sources, but it might not be good for your pet depending upon your pet's health, history, and current medications.

Dosage Amounts Can be difficult to assess

A common problem when giving a medication to a pet is determining the appropriate dosage. Most pets weigh significantly less than people, so the appropriate amount of medication is often significantly less. The small amount can be hard to measure when most human medication is manufactured in higher dosages. Even if the medication is safe, a pet may only need a tiny amount. It can be difficult, for example, to split a 50 mg human pill into a dosage. of only 7.5 mg that might be needed. Further, pets react differently to different medications. So while 10 mg might be good for a dog, the same 10 mg may kill a cat. A veterinarian will be able to assess exactly how much of which medication the pet needs and then provide you with that medication in the appropriate dosages.

Common NSAIDS can be deadly

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) drugs are some of the most common pain relievers for people, and are most of the time very effective at providing pain relief. You may know these medications as ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen, which are under the brand names Bayer, St. Joseph, Advil, Motrin, Midol, Nuprin, and Aleve. Because of our common use of these drugs, it can be tempting to reach for them if our pet is hurting. But it is not safe to give any amount of anti-inflammatory drugs meant for people to your pets. They last longer, have a higher absorption rate, and reach higher blood levels than in people. These medications are dangerous to dogs, but are deadly to cats.

NSAIDs relieve pain by inhibiting an enzyme called cyclooxygenase, which produces prostaglandins that promote inflammation, fever and pain. These prostaglandins, however, play other key roles in the body, such as ensuring blood flow to the kidneys, blood clotting, and protecting the lining of the stomach. A dog that is given this type of medication will develop vomiting, bloody diarrhea, appetite suppression, and kidney or liver failure. Following these symptoms, the pet may die without getting medical intervention.

Tylenol isn't safe either

Tylenol, or Acetaminophen, also isn't safe for your pets even though it's not an NSAID. If dogs ingest a toxic dose, it will cause liver damage, kidney damage, and prevent oxygen from being utilized throughout the body resulting in tissue damage. Cats are especially sensitive to Acetaminophen, so much so that even small amounts can cause death.

What to do if your pet is experiencing pain

Any time your pet is experiencing pain or if you have any concerns about its health, contact your veterinarian. Don't try to fix the problem on your own. Pets, unlike people, can't really tell you what's going on. While you might be able to tell that your dog has an ear infection based upon how it rubs its head against you, you can't really tell if the dog is experiencing a mild case of stomach upset, muscle pain, or inflammation. That's why it's important to have your veterinarian examine your pet to rule out more serious medical concerns. If your pet experiences periodic pain from a chronic condition, such as arthritis, your veterinarian can provide you with an ample supply of an appropriate medication that you can give as needed.

Keep human medications out of reach

Just like you'd keep medications away from children, you should keep medications away from pets. Never presume that your pet won't eat a medication because it tastes bad. Pets are naturally curious and will eat nearly anything, including shoes, socks, garbage, grass, aluminum cans and even bank accounts.

Anyone who has a dog knows that there is a high likelihood that it will get into the trash at some point, so it's important to avoid disposing of medications in your kitchen trash where it could become mixed with food scraps. A better option is to flush it or place it into your collection bin inside its original container. We have an article about how to dispose of medications properly.

If you have guests to your home, make sure they know to keep medications secure and away from pets. When people travel, it can be tempting to place medications into another container or even a plastic bag. Pets can get to these medications quickly without your knowledge.

Signs of a toxic reaction

Medication reactions can take place within as little as an hour or as long as a week. Different medications may cause different symptoms to develop. Common signs of medication toxicity may include:

  • vomiting, especially frequent or with blood;
  • diarrhea, especially with blood;
  • lethargy, weakness or overall appearance of being tired;
  • lack of appetite, especially for pets that love food;
  • black stool, which indicates internal bleeding;
  • seizures;
  • staggering or instability while standing or walking; and
  • delayed response times.

If you suspect or know that your pet has consumed medication, don't wait for symptoms to develop. Contact a veterinarian immediately.

Other Considerations

While pet lovers should never give people medication to animals unless directed by a veterinarian, there are other things in the environment that can be just as bad for pets but are much more common and easier to ingest.

Some people food is safe for pets and some is not. Chocolate, alcohol, caffeine and sugar substitutes are harmful for pets in even minute amounts. Other foods, such as grapes and onions, are harmful but not usually in smaller amounts and can have a cumulative effect over time. Some foods may be OK, but certain parts might not be. Apples are popular treats for dogs, but the seeds release a chemical when eaten that will produce cyanide. Some prepared and packaged food may contain seasonings, food ingredients, or chemicals that can cause stomach upset or even serious medical issues. It's best to not give people food to your pet unless you know it's safe.

Side from foods, plant poisoning is also common. Common plants that can cause illness and death include azaleas, rhododendrons, tulips, daffodils, sago palms, lilies, poinsettias, holly, mistletoe and even Christmas trees. Make sure you keep an eye on your pet when outdoors and ensure that household plants are out of reach.