Pain medications, anti-depressants and prescription drugs like Abilify and Advair Diskus are leading causes of sickness for dogs and cats.
Have we become a society of pill-poppers? One might think so in looking at the way medication use here is rising each year. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that the fastest growing cause of pet poisonings is the ingestion of human drugs.
Leaving pill bottles on the countertop, nightstand or coffee table is an accident waiting to happen. Dogs in particular can easily chomp through the plastic container and, if you know dogs, will likely consume the entire contents. Occasionally we spill pills on the floor (sometimes thanks to those child-proof tops) and the dog may race us to pick them up. We may not know how many dropped and an errant pill may have rolled under a distant piece of furniture to be found later by a curious pet.
Veterinaries report that the greatest number of drug poisonings is caused by ingesting pain medications. A single dose of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (for example, Advil) and naproxen (Aleve) can cause pets serious stomach and intestinal damage. Acetaminophen (Tylenol, as an example) in its various strengths and concoctions can result in liver failure and damage to a pet’s red blood cells.
Next on the list of common drug poisonings are antidepressants (Cymbalta, Prozac). While antidepressants are occasionally prescribed for pets, their dose is much lower than that for humans. Just one pill can cause serious poisoning in a small animal. Prescription sleep aids (Ambien, Lunesta) have also become common culprits. Perhaps one reason for this is that these are left out in the open or in a handy spot for easy access and so the owner will remember to take one. Unfortunately, it’s easy access for the pet as well.
Among the most widely prescribed drugs, Abilify and Advair Diskus are two of the most lethal. Abilify is an antipsychotic agent that can cause a host of serious problems for pets, including seizures, so immediate veterinary attention is needed. Advair is an asthma medication commonly administered by an inhaler. When a dog chews the inhaler, several doses are delivered at once, often producing a life-threatening situation.
The top three most commonly sold prescriptions, Lipitor, Nexium and Plavix, have what is considered a wide margin of safety. They will make your pet sick, but they’re not considered toxic. Of course, swallowing a large amount of any drug creates a serious situation.
If you see your pet ingest a medication, call your vet or an animal emergency hospital. Be ready to tell them the name of the drug, how many pills were likely ingested and how much time has elapsed. Follow their instructions.
Vomiting is a common reaction to the ingestion of medications and this is usually a good thing, since the greater the amount of the drug that can be ejected from the body the better. If you don’t see your pet ingesting the pills but the animal is suddenly in distress, look for evidence that a drug may have been consumed.
While most people are aware of the dangers of insecticides, herbicides and products that bear the skull and crossbones, they are less mindful of their own medications. Because they are safe for us, we forget that they can be harmful, even deadly, for our pets. Don’t be like the homeowners who install a burglar alarm after they’ve been robbed. Keep drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter, in a secure place that is quite high, out of the reach of dogs and cats. If you keep pills in a bag or purse, store the item on a high shelf.
The senior segment of society takes the greatest number of medications so this caution is particularly important for us. Sometimes even with all the safety measures taken, accidents can happen. Keep on hand the numbers you would call and the places you could go should such an emergency occur. For some medications there are antidotes, so a trip to a veterinary facility ASAP can often save a pet.
Robert Urano was long-time proprietor of a Winnipeg pet food store.