Whether it is a well-intentioned mishap or unfortunate accident, many dogs are poisoned by human medications. The pet emergency hotline fields more than 45,000 calls involving prescription and over-the-counter human medications every year.
While humans take various medications to treat ailments, from headaches to sleep disturbances, many pet dogs are accidentally poisoned. Pillboxes and plastic baggies are enticing chew toys for many dogs, so while you might not think twice about it, there are a few simple steps you can take to prevent these types of accidents.
What Human Medications Should You Avoid for Your Canine Companion?
The pills in your medicine cabinet are intended for human consumption. While a few of them may be safe for your dogs, many can be very dangerous. And nearly all of them are dangerous if ingested in large enough quantities. Here are some common culprits to watch out for:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (e.g., Advil, Aleve)
- Acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol)
- Antidepressants (e.g., Cymbalta, Prozac)
- ADD/ADHD Prescriptions (e.g., Ritalin)
- Sleep aids (e.g., Xanax, Ambien)
- Hormonal birth control (estrogen, progesterone)
- Blood pressure medications
- Thyroid hormones
- Cholesterol drugs (e.g., Crestor)
Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory painkillers like Ibuprofen (Advil) and Naproxen (Aleve) are toxic to dogs in any dose. These drugs work by inhibiting chemicals in the body that cause inflammation. Unfortunately, in dogs it also inhibits beneficial enzymes needed for gastrointestinal and kidney function.
Tylenol is another common over-the-counter painkiller common for minor aches and pains. But for dogs, this medicine can be toxic with little or no symptoms. Tylenol affects dogs in two ways; first, it damages the liver, responsible for managing chemical levels in the blood. Second, it interferes with the red blood cells' ability to carry oxygen. Both of these conditions interfere with essential bodily processes and can lead to death.
Some dogs do take antidepressants under the care of a veterinarian, but things can turn tragic when they get ahold of human doses. This includes popular prescription antidepressants like Cymbalta, Lexapro, and Prozac. Many of these drugs cause neurological problems like noticeable incoordination or seizures. Others contain stimulants that can increase heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature to dangerous levels.
Many ADHD medications, like Ritalin, are strong stimulants and can cause seizures and heart problems in even small doses. The good news is that if exposure is caught early, most pets do recover with veterinary care. Symptoms like elevated body temperatures and high blood pressure can be treated clinically, and long-term organ damage is rare.
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One in six adults has a sleeping disorder, and many supplements using sleep aids like Lunesta or Ambien. Many sleep aids are designed to cause sleep and sedation in humans but have the opposite effect in dogs. Hyperactivity, aggression, diarrhea, vomiting, and tremors may all occur. Ingestion of sleep aids may also damage the liver.
Hormonal Birth Control
Hormonal birth control pills usually contain estrogen and/or progesterone. Luckily, in small doses so ingesting a single pill is probably not cause for concern. However, if your dog accidentally gets into a whole package, the main concern is estrogen poisoning. The dog may present several clinical symptoms like a depressed appetite and pale mucous membranes, but the bigger concern is with the suppression of bone marrow production.
Blood Pressure Medications
ACE inhibitors are commonly prescribed to treat high blood pressure in humans and dogs, but when a high dose is ingested by accident, the medication becomes toxic. Animals who already suffer from cardiac conditions or kidney failure are the most at risk. Otherwise, healthy animals should recover from generalized symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure, and weakness.
Many dogs suffer from thyroid conditions, just like humans and most animals tolerate these medications well. It is also helpful to point out that dogs are typically prescribed much higher doses of these hormones than humans because of how their body synthesizes the hormone. What this means is that toxicity from thyroid hormones is rare — but not impossible. If a dog does become ill, you will most likely notice a rapid heart rate, panting, and aggression.
Thankfully, the most serious dangers come with long-term use. More than 35 million people take medicine to help lower their cholesterol levels. This means that accidental ingestion, even in high doses, is not likely to cause more than mild illnesses like vomiting and diarrhea.
Tips to Keep Pets Safe from Human Medications
Most accidental ingestion incidents occur because a curious pet was able to access medication. Pet owners can help keep their pets safe by keeping all pills and medications safely out of their reach. Keep these tips in mind:
- Do not leave pills in Ziploc bags.
- Keep weekly pill containers safely out of reach.
- Store human and pet medications in separate areas.
- Keep your purse out of reach.
- Consult your veterinarian before treating your pets with human medications.
- Avoid letting your pet lick topical ointments and medications.
If you suspect that your animal has ingested human medication, contact the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Hotline at (888) 426-4435.
The Bottom Line on Human Medications and Dogs
While a veterinarian may prescribe human medications for some uses in dogs, many are unsafe, and many have very different dosing requirements. Many pet owners mistakenly leave their pills in weekly pill-minder boxes or plastic baggies that are irresistible chew toys for their furry friends. Depending on what pills your dog gets a hold of, illness can range from mild vomiting to life-threatening organ failure. It is always best to avoid accidents where dogs may ingest the human medication.
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