The Pet Poison Helpline offered tips for the prevention of pet poisoning caused by human medications.
Justine A. Lee, DVM, associate director of veterinary services at the helpline, said as far as animal poisonings go, “they are unfortunately very, very common.” The 24-hour helpline is available throughout North America for veterinary professionals and pet owners who need help treating a potentially poisoned pet.
Tens of thousands of phone calls are fielded on human prescription drugs, rat poisons and environmental/home toxins, Lee said. Nearly half the calls involve over-the-counter and prescription medications for humans.
The top 10 human medications most frequently ingested by pets are:
- NSAIDs (e.g. Advil, Aleve and Motrin) Common household medications called non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) top the list. The names include ibuprofen (e.g., Advil and some types of Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve).
- Acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol) Even though this drug is safe, this is not true for pets — especially cats. One regular strength tablet of acetaminophen may cause damage to a cat’s red blood cells.
- Antidepressants (e.g. Effexor, Cymbalta, Prozac, Lexapro) While occasionally used in pets, overdoses can lead to serious neurological problems such as sedation, incoordination, tremors and seizures. Pets, especially cats, seem to enjoy the taste of Effexor and often eat the entire pill. One pill can cause serious poisoning.
- ADD/ADHD medications (e.g. Concerta, Adderall, Ritalin) Minimal ingestions of these medications by pets can cause life-threatening tremors, seizures, elevated body temperatures and heart problems.
- Benzodiazepines and sleep aids (e.g. Xanax, Klonopin, Ambien, Lunesta) About half of the dogs who ingest sleep aids become agitated instead of sedate. In addition, these drugs may cause severe lethargy, incoordination and slowed breathing in pets.
- Birth control (e.g. estrogen, estradiol, progesterone) Large ingestions of estrogen and estradiol can cause bone marrow suppression, particularly in birds. Additionally, female pets that are intact are at an increased risk of side effects from estrogen poisoning.
- ACE Inhibitors (e.g. Zestril, Altace) Pets ingesting small amounts of this medication can potentially be monitored at home, unless they have kidney failure or heart disease.
- Beta-blockers (e.g. Tenormin, Toprol, Coreg) Small ingestions of these drugs may cause serious poisoning in pets. Overdoses can cause life-threatening decreases in blood pressure and a slow heart rate.
- Thyroid hormones (e.g. Armour desiccated thyroid, Synthroid) Large acute overdoses in cats and dogs can cause muscle tremors, nervousness, panting, a rapid heart rate and aggression.
- Cholesterol-lowering agents (e.g. Lipitor, Zocor, Crestor) Most “statin” ingestions only cause mild vomiting or diarrhea. Serious side effects from these drugs come with long-term use.
At the Pet Poison Helpline, there are numerous veterinary professionals on staff, including board-certified veterinary internal medicine specialists, board-certified veterinary emergency critical care specialists, veterinarians and certified veterinary technicians specifically trained in the field of toxicology. “We also have the added benefit of pharmacologists (PharmD) on staff; this multi-disciplinary approach is very important for us,” Lee said, as more than half the calls are about human drugs. The helpline number is 800-213-6680.