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All Medications are NOT Created Equal

Author: Dr. Lacy Gilmer, DVM

It happens commonly- one second your dog is our running around, playing with balls or chasing their pals around the yard, and the next minute runs up to you holding one leg up in the air. You head to your medicine cabinet and grab a couple ibuprofen and give it to Rover to help ease the pain and inflammation, just like if you had a hurt ankle right? The answer is a resounding NO!

 Although this may seem like a helpful thing to do for your canine companion, a few hours later you could be dealing with a dog who is vomiting, having bloody diarrhea, and acting super sick. That’s because the class of medications called  NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories) that we humans use including aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen, acetaminophen, and several others can be fatally toxic to animals because they lack the enzyme needed to break it down to safe forms inside the body.  Once the medications are absorbed into your pet’s blood stream it can be toxic to their kidneys and liver.  These medications can also cause severe irritation to the stomach and the intestinal lining of your pet which can result in bloody diarrhea and vomiting blood.  All of these symptoms can lead to expensive and stressful emergency visits to your veterinarian’s office that include bloodwork to assess damage done to internal organs like the liver and kidneys, inducing vomiting if the medications were given recently, fluid support, and possible surgery for ruptured intestines. In the worst case scenario, it could even mean death of your beloved furry family member if they ingest a large amount of medication or if their ingestion goes unnoticed.

In fact, many of the household medications we have in our medicine cabinet can cause severe damage if accidentally ingested. Never give your pet any medication unless directed by your veterinarian. Since animals metabolize (break down and absorb) medications differently than humans, medications that are safe and effective for us can be toxic to them.  Also the dosage of human medications can be drastically different when using them in pets.  Blood thinners, diet pills, human vitamin and mineral supplements (especially any containing Vitamin D), and antidepressants can all be potentially toxic if consumed by your pet. All medicine bottles should be tightly closed and stored in a secure cabinet above the counter where your pet cannot reach them. Any dropped medications should be immediately picked up and disposed of in a sealed trash can.

 Other common household products can be very dangerous too.  Mothballs that contain naphthalene can cause digestive tract irritation, liver, kidney and blood cell damage, swelling of the brain tissues, seizures, coma, respiratory tract damage (if inhaled) and even death (if ingested). Tobacco products, pennies minted after 1982 that contain zinc, and alkaline batteries (like those in your remote controls) can also be hazardous when ingested.

Time is critical for successfully treating an accidental poisoning. Even if you are not sure that your pet actually ingested the medication, call to find out the symptoms to watch for and the recommended treatments depending on what your pet ingested.  Because dogs vary greatly in size, the amount of medication or household item that is safe for a Great Dane could be lethal for a Chihuahua. Call your local veterinarian, local emergency hospital or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (1–888–426–4435) for information on your pet’s medication or toxin ingestion.  Poison Control can provide a case number that will allow your veterinarian to consult with the toxin specialists and determine the best treatment for your pet’s situation. Keep the product container with you to assist in identification so the appropriate treatment recommendations can be made. Keep your pets healthy by keeping medications out of their reach and always consult your veterinarian for recommendations when your pet is sick.  Resist the temptation to reach for something in your own medicine cabinet until you talk to your veterinarian.

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