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Human Medicines Can Be Toxic To Pets

Updated on October 29, 2017
Bob Bamberg profile image

Bob has been in the pet supply business and writing about pets, livestock and wildlife in a career that spans three decades.


Helpful To Us But Likely Toxic To Pets

Quite often veterinarians prescribe human medications in treating pet illnesses and injuries, but dosages are significantly smaller even than children's doses.

Animals do suffer many of the same diseases that we do, and they're sometimes treated with the same medicine, but pet owners should always consult their veterinarian before treating pets from the medicine cabinet.

It's an oversimplification to assume that, just because the vet says to give Boomer a little kaopectate during intestinal episodes, it's likewise OK to use other non-prescription drugs to treat other minor illnesses.

In roughhousing with the kids or entanglements with other animals, dogs and cats may suffer minor injuries or bruises that we're inclined to treat ourselves.

I once talked to a man who accidentally closed a door on his cat's tail.

Assuming that it probably hurts (ya think?), he was about to give the cat an acetaminophen tablet when his wife stopped him. Good thing.

He could have killed the cat. A single regular-strength tablet can make a cat sick enough that clinical signs of poisoning are apparent.

With humans, it’s a bit different. Enzymes in our livers break down acetaminophen. Cats, however, lack sufficient quantities of those enzymes to adequately break down the drug.

The toxic components then attach themselves to red blood cells and other tissue cells, destroying them.

Although dogs stand a better chance of surviving acetaminophen poisoning, a couple of regular strength tablets are enough to cause significant tissue damage. Smaller dogs, of course, are more susceptible.

An animal suffering from acetaminophen poisoning will develop symptoms fairly quickly and will usually appear weak and show signs of abdominal discomfort. There likely will be excess salivation and vomiting as well.

Unfortunately, those symptoms could also appear in an animal that got into the trash or that is suffering some other condition.

If, however, you suspect acetaminophen poisoning in this instance, call your vet immediately, because it's a life-threatening situation.


Aspirin and ibuprofen present different dangers. Vets will sometimes prescribe these drugs for pain relief in pets, but at dosages considerably lower than what humans take.

The problem with both of these analgesics is that they interfere with the stomach's production of mucous, which is necessary to protect the lining from acid secretions. Without this protection, stomach and intestinal ulcers can develop.

Aspirin and ibuprofen can also cause a decrease in blood flow to vital organs, especially the kidneys.

All it takes is a couple of regular strength tablets to produce noticeable symptoms in small dogs, while cats are even more sensitive.

In addition to different dosages, other factors need to be considered before giving any medications to pets.

Your veterinarian will also balance such factors as interactions with other drugs the animal may be on, the general health of the animal, and its weight, for example.

The Numbers Add Up To A Sizable Problem

How significant is animal poisoning by drugs? According to the American Veterinary Medical Association 75% of all toxin exposures involve drugs, and 20% of toxin-related fatalities are from drugs.

If your dog catches a flying disc in the ribs or if you slam a door on the cat's tail, it's wise not to try and relieve the pain with something from the medicine cabinet until you’ve gotten the OK from your vet.

Even drugs that we may not consider to be potent can be enough to endanger the lives of our pets.

And like the investment ads say, past performance doesn’t guarantee future results. If the vet prescribed a certain dose of a certain drug for a certain condition once before, it may not be applicable this time around.

© 2012 Bob Bamberg


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    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 5 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Thank you so much, Lucky Cats. I appreciate such comments coming from someone who knows a little bit :) about "useful" and "interesting."

      You, Al and thousands of other shelter volunteers and rescuers across the country are doing the Lord's work and are so deserving of our praise and appreciation. How many thousands of dogs and cats are rescued from a life of deprivation and danger, only to be given a wonderful life in forever homes. It boggles the mind!

      Warmest regards, Bob

    • Lucky Cats profile image

      Kathy 5 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California

      Thank you, Bob Bamberg, for educating us about the harmful and, sometimes fatal, effects of giving drugs designed for humans to animals. It is never a good idea to diagnose or medicate our companion animals without first consulting a Veterinarian. This is why there is Veterinary Medicine. I appreciate your article, Bob; it is going to save lives, I'm sure. UP Useful Interesting