The Dangers of Human Medications and Pet Poisoning

Boxer Sleeping on Sofa at Home
Some medications can make a dog very sleepy. Conrado Dela Cruz / EyeEm / Getty Images

Many of the medications that our pets take are the same medications that are often prescribed for humans but that doesn't mean drugs can be safely administered between species. Even at small doses, many human medications can cause serious harm, if not death to a pet, if they are consumed.

What is a Medication?

The words medications, pharmaceuticals, and drugs are often used interchangeably to describe a medicine. These may also be prescription medications or over the counter (OTC) medications that a doctor does not need to authorize a person or pet to take. Medications are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for human and pet consumption and this allows for regulations, guidelines, and rules that must be followed pertaining to dosages, safety, and effectiveness in each species.

Human Medications that are Dangerous to Pets

There are a variety of different types of medications that people may take and most of these medications can be dangerous to pets.

Common Human Medications That are Dangerous to Pets

  • NSAIDS
  • Antidepressants
  • Acetominophen
  • ADD/ADHD Medications
  • Sleep aids and Benzodiazepines
  • Birth Control
  • ACE Inhibitors
  • Cholesterol Lowering Medications
  • Beta-Blockers
  • Thyroid hormones

NSAIDs

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDS are commonly taken for inflammation, pain, and even headaches. Brand names include Motrin, Aleve, and Advil and are found in homes across the country. Kidney failure as well as stomach and intestinal ulcers can result from even just one or two pills and concerns aren't limited to just dogs and cats. Other pets including birds and pocket pets like ferrets and hamsters can be in danger with these medications as well. Specific NSAIDs are commonly prescribed to pets to treat pain and inflammation but these are usually different types than a human would take. Specific dosages of these NSAIDs that are safer for pets will also be recommended by your veterinarian.

Antidepressants

This type of medication is occasionally prescribed to pets but are commonly taken by people. Brand names include Prozac, Cymbalta, Lexapro, Paxil and Zoloft but many other exist. Dosages for animals differ from those of people so ingestion of antidepressants by a pet can cause blood pressure issues, seizures, sedation, an increased heart rate and other serious symptoms.

Acetominophen

There are many different kinds of pain medications that people may take but acetominophen is often taken by people since it is not a prescription drug. Tylenol is the brand name for acetominophen and can cause red blood cell damage and liver failure in both dogs and cats. Other pain medications include things like opioids and may be prescribed to treat pet pain but acetominophen should never be given to pets.

ADD/ADHD Medications

Drugs used to treat Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder include Ritalin and Adderall. These medications can cause major issues including seizures and an increased heart rate in pets.

Sleep aids and Benzodiazepines

Many people are prescribed medications to help them relax and sleep. Brand names include Ambien, Lunesta, and Xanax and these drugs can cause hyperactivity, a lowered respiratory rate and even liver failure in pets.

Birth Control

Pets obviously should never take birth control pills but if they do accidentally get a hold of these drugs and ingest them, large amounts can cause bone marrow issues and estrogen poisoning. The consumption of birth control is especially concerning for pet birds.

ACE Inhibitors

Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors such as Zestril or Altace are prescribed to people to manage high blood pressure. Occasionally these heart medications are also used in pets but at high doses they can cause low blood pressure, weakness, and collapse.

Cholesterol Lowering Medications

Often referred to as statins, medications used to lower cholesterol in people include Crestor, Lipitor and Zocor. These drugs are not often prescribed to pets but if a pet consumes them accidentally they may cause some vomiting and diarrhea but thankfully nothing more than that.

Beta-Blockers

Another type of heart medication, beta-blockers are used to treat high blood pressure in people. Sometimes they are used in pets but this is not common. Brand names include Toprol, Coreg, and Tenormin and if consumed by a pet they can cause elevated blood pressures and heart rates. The consumption of large amounts of beta-blockers by a pet can be life-threatening.

Thyroid Hormones

Synthroid is a commonly prescribed medication to treat thyroid disease in people and while pets also get diagnosed with hypothyroidism, the amount of thyroid medication a pet needs is much higher than that of a person. Because of this, if a pet consumes thyroid medication intended for a person, it is unlikely anything negative will occur, unless a very large amount was ingested. Large amounts can cause muscle tremors, panting, aggression, an increase in heart rate and other symptoms.

What Should You Do if Your Pet Took Your Medication?

If you suspect your pet consumed one of your medications you should call the Pet Poison Helpline at (855) 764-7661 or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435 to see exactly what is recommended to be done based on the type of medication, how much the pet ate, the kind of animal that ate it, and how big the animal is. These hotlines charge a fee for their services since they employ veterinarians, toxicologists, credentialed veterinary technicians and other professionals.

An emergency veterinary visit may be warranted based on what the poison control hotline recommends but if you are concerned about your pet, taking it to the vet is never the wrong answer. At the veterinarian vomiting to expel the medication may be induced along with the administration of activated charcoal to absorb toxins. Sometimes other medications or supplements to counteract the negative effects of the drugs that were consumed may also need to be administered to protect your pet from serious damage depending on what it ate.

If your veterinarian recommends inducing vomiting at home or on the way to the hospital, 3% hydrogen peroxide is often recommended to be given. A dog should swallow 1 teaspoon per 5-10 pounds of body weight and if the hydrogen peroxide is going to be effective it should work within 10-15 minutes of administration. The hydrogen peroxide can be repeated if it doesn't work the first time.

Preventing Medication Poisoning in Pets

The best thing you can do to prevent your pet from being poisoned by one of your medications is to keep the medication out of your pet's reach. This is of course always easier said than done, especially if your pets can reach the counter tops. Plastic pill containers and sorters make getting the pills more difficult for a pet than plastic bags and storing your medications away from your pet's is also helpful in preventing a mix-up. Finally, never leave your pills out in the open.

A free smartphone app is also available from the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center to help educate pet owners on potential concerns with various medications. This is a good app to review to see if the medications you are taking are toxic to your pet. It might also better prepare in the event your pet does accidentally ingest something they shouldn't.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.