The low dose of acetaminophen found in some dog and cat food poses the greatest risk to cats, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) said.
“Early information on this contamination suggests that concentration levels are not high enough to have an adverse effect on most dogs,” said Louise Murray, director of medicine at the ASPCA’s Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York City. “Cats are more at risk.”
Cats’ particular sensitivity stems from their low level of a specific enzyme that could metabolize the drug better, Murray said. They are generally more susceptible than other animals to red blood cell damage too, she said.
ExperTox of Deer Park, Texas, reported finding low concentration levels of acetaminophen, a common pain reliever used in Tylenol, in multiple brands of dry and wet dog and cat food it tested at the request of individuals and manufacturers. The low concentration “can be a problem for pets,” said Donna Coneley, a spokesperson for ExperTox.
The company declined naming the brands that tested positive.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is investigating this report and collecting samples to test for acetaminophen or other compounds, according to Vash Klein, a spokesperson for the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine.
Depending on the amount of acetaminophen ingested, animals might experience methemoglobinemia, which can restrict blood cells’ ability to carry oxygen to organs or result in liver damage.
“Our data show that if an average-sized cat ingests as little as one extra-strength acetaminophen pain-reliever caplet and is not treated in time, it can suffer fatal consequences,” said Steven Hansen, a board-certified toxicologist and manager of the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center in Urbana, Ill.
Symptoms to Watch
Symptoms of acetaminophen poisoning in dogs and cats might include depression, weakness and difficulty breathing, Hansen said. Cats and, in very rare occurrences, small dogs, might also show swelling of the face and paws.
“We also see a condition called ‘cyanosis,'” Hansen said, “which is literally when their gums and tongue start turning a muddy color due to the lack of oxygen.”
Because little information regarding this current finding is available, pet owners that remain alert to these symptoms will be more likely to save their pets’ lives, the ASPCA vets said.
If your pet exhibits any of the above symptoms, take it to a veterinarian immediately.