What medications are toxic to pets?

Holiday & seasonal

One of the most common emergencies that we see as veterinarians is a pet that has gotten into medications. While many human drugs can be safely administered to dogs or cats, overdoses can be dangerous or deadly.

Which drugs are the common ones that pets get into? Here are our top five.

1. Aspirin

Did you know that giving a puppy even a single baby aspirin could be dangerous? Toxic quantities of aspirin can adversely affect all of your pet's organs, including:

2. Ibuprofen (and similar drugs such as Aleve)

For dogs and especially cats, ibuprofen can easily exceed toxic levels. The most common cause of ibuprofen toxicity is a well-meaning owner who tries to alleviate pain in their pet by giving a dose they think is adequate or reasonable without knowing the toxic dose.

The initial toxic effect is bleeding stomach ulcers. In addition to ulcers, increasing or continued doses of ibuprofen eventually lead to kidney failure and, if left untreated, can be fatal.

Additionally, ibuprofen tends to not mix well with other medications. If a pet is on steroids, it can accelerate the development of stomach ulcers. If a pet regularly takes a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, such as Rimadyl, even low levels of ibuprofen can cause toxicities or harmful effects.

3. Amphetamines

Amphetamines are nervous system stimulants, and if ingested your pet may show signs within a brief 1-2 hours – you may not even realize what happened during this short time. Symptoms include:

  • Restlessness

  • Hyperactivity

  • Agitation

  • Seizures

  • Even death

4. Acetaminophen

Acetaminophen (brand name Tylenol) is commonly used for fever and pain in pregnant women and young children. While it sounds like a fairly benign drug, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Unfortunately, many well-intentioned owners mistakenly assume it's safe for pets as well.

Acetaminophen is toxic to both dogs and cats, but cats are much more sensitive to it. Just one 250 mg tablet can kill a cat. Stay far away from this one!

5. Another pet’s medication

A medication that is prescribed and safe for one pet doesn’t mean another pet in the household is welcome to it. Pets, dogs especially, vary greatly in size and weight and there is no "one size fits all" dose. If another pet gets into the medication, talk to your vet immediately. Taking action sooner rather than later is always key.

I have yet to come across a pill bottle that is indestructible. Make sure to keep all bottles secure and away from pets, even while you are cleaning. If you can’t monitor closely, consider crating during your cleaning time or have someone take your pet for a walk. Lastly, if you throw away a bottle of medicine, take the garbage out immediately.

If your pet does eat a pill that they are not the intended recipient of, contact a veterinarian immediately.