Meds or Poison? It Can Depend On the Patient

Pet Meds

Poisonings are seen every day in veterinary hospitals. But, guess what, it is not your neighbor poisoning your dog because he doesn’t like him barking. Sometimes it’s us, the owners, who are the perpetrators of the poisoning. Not on purpose. It is a combination of carelessness on our part, paired with the devious curiosity of your dog, or the evilness of your cat knocking things off the counters because…well just because. And, sometimes, it’s due to us wanting to save a couple bucks and getting medications online or buying the knock-off meds at the pet store.

Let’s discuss the online pharmacies a little later. Dogs and cats are just as curious as children and even more athletic. Pet proofing a house is more difficult than baby proofing, because your pet can get to almost anywhere. They table and counter surf, and will chew anything they can find, thinking, “Let’s put this in my mouth first, and ask questions later!” Cats and dogs can also work together. Cats think it is their duty to remove anything they see on any counter or bedside table, and watching the dog destroy the recently displaced object is just icing on the cake. Therefore, keep all your medication closed up in a drawer or cabinet.

Things that are safe for us can be very toxic to our pets. Dogs and cats don’t have certain mechanisms that humans have to detoxify drugs. They are also much smaller than us. Examples:

  • One Tylenol will kill a cat.
  • Ibuprofen will cause gastric ulcers in dogs.

Never give any human medicines to your pet without talking to your vet, and I don’t mean Dr. Google! There is so much wrong information on the internet.

A recent problem has come up with human pharmacists substituting prescriptions written by vets. Pharmacists are extremely educated in the pharmokinetics of humans but, they have no training in veterinary pharmokinetics. So, please, never take a drug substitution suggestion from anyone other than your vet. It’s likely a well-intended gesture from the pharmacist, trying to find you a cheaper alternative, but that alternative could either be toxic or ineffective due to the difference in pharmokinetics.

We all want to save money, but your drugs and your pet’s drugs are not a good place to try to skimp. Let’s be honest: the most expensive medication is the one that doesn’t work, or worse yet, causes a toxicity. Manufacturers of veterinary drugs produce the drugs to be sold by veterinarians and veterinarians only, and that is because veterinarians are the only professionals trained in the pharmacokinetics of animals. No manufacturers of veterinary pharmaceuticals sell to online pharmacies, pet stores, grocery stores, or big box stores. One of the big online pharmacies disclosed in their annual report that they get their medications from a third party (page 6). They are owned by non-veterinarians seeking profits over pet welfare. An estimated 15% of their product is diverted from veterinarians illegally, and the rest are from illegal overseas distributor, where there is no FDA, or counterfeit.

Lest you think this is sour grapes, I’ll be the first to say it: Yes, vets do make a profit selling medication, including flea/tick and heartworm preventatives. Vet offices and hospitals are businesses and we do need to make a profit, but the profit is not what people think. The average veterinary practice makes a profit of 7%. That means for every dollar you spend at the average vet, after all expenses are paid, your vet pockets 7 cents.

Lastly, I’m sad to report that we are seeing an increasing number of pets poisoned by recreational drugs, marijuana being probably the most common. But, we’re also seeing the effects of the heroin epidemic in our clinics, especially in rural Ohio. It is a sad, sad situation, and pets can become collateral damage. Some people think it is entertaining to feed a pot brownie to their dog, to see it get high, but again, the drug has different interactions for animals than it does for you. It’s important that you keep your recreational drugs secured just as you would a prescription.

Your medications should stay between you and your doctor and your pet’s meds should stay between you and your veterinarian. When meds are left unsecured or wrongly administered, it can be life threatening for your pet.

Other posts by Dr. Riggs


Dr_RiggsDr. Rex Riggs grew up in Wadsworth, Ohio, near Akron. Dr Riggs is co-owner of Best Friends Veterinary Hospital in Powell, Ohio. He is also on the board of the North Central Region of Canine Companions of Independence, a board member of The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine Alumni Society and Small Animal Practitioner Advancement Board at The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Riggs lives in Lewis Center, OH with his wife Nancy, their dogs Maggie and Ossa, and cat Franklin. Outside of work, Dr. Riggs is an avid golfer and cyclist, and enjoys travel and photography.


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