Medical Care

Are Your Pet's Medicines Safe?

The federal Food and Drug Adminstration (FDA) receives reports of accidental medication overdoses in pets as part of the agency’s overall system for monitoring drugs used in animals. Some of these reports involve pets getting into their own medications or medications for other pets in the household. A lot of pet medications are flavored to smell and taste good—which is a positive when Princess takes her pill easily but a negative when she sniffs the pills out on her own and eats the entire supply at once. Some pets with less discriminating tastebuds will eat medications that aren’t even designed to be tasty.

Other reports of accidental overdoses involve pets getting into people medications, such as a dog eating an entire bottle of his owner’s ibuprofen. About 25 percent of all phones calls to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center are regarding pets that ingest medications intended for people. The center receives hundreds of calls every year involving pets that accidentally eat ibuprofen or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

“It just takes a second for a dog to chew open a bottle of medication left in an owner’s purse or on the counter,” said Sharon Chase, a veterinarian at FDA. “Even medications sealed in child-proof containers can be no match for a hungry dog with a keen sense of smell.”

FDA receives more reports of accidental overdoses in dogs, but the curious nature of cats and ferrets can get them into trouble too.

Help protect your pet from an accidental overdose by following these safety tips for storing pet medications:

Keep pet medications in their original containers with intact labels. It’s important that the directions for use and the pet’s name are legible.

Keep pet medications in a secure location. What you may think is “out of reach” of your pet may, in fact, not be. Cats are good jumpers and ferrets are good climbers, so kitchen and bathroom counters, shelves, and other high places may not be secure enough. And a determined dog with a good nose can devise clever ways to reach that pill vial at the back of the cabinet, especially if the medication is flavored.

Also, medication containers that are child safe may not be pet safe. Pets are known to chew through a variety of medication containers, including plastic pill vials, boxes, and blister packages.

Keep pet medications away from children. Children may think a pet medication is candy, especially a chewable or liquid product. Some liquid pet medications are made to smell like banana or strawberry and may be especially attractive to children.

Store pet medications away from people medications to prevent a mix-up. FDA sometimes receives calls from panicked owners who mistakenly took their pet’s medication or gave their personal medication to their pet. (If you accidentally ingest a pet medication, call your physician or local poison control center. If you accidentally give a medication intended for people to your pet, call your veterinarian or an animal poison control center.) To prevent mix-ups, store medications for each person and each pet in your household separately.

If your dog goes to the barn with you, be sure to keep medications for horses and farm animals in a secure location. Many medications intended for horses contain flavoring that dogs may find attractive. Also, medicate horses and farm animals in an area that your dog can’t access. And don’t dispose of leftover dewormer paste or other liquid medication on the ground. Your dog may find the spot and lick it up. These precautions also apply to barn cats.

Get rid of expired, unused, or unwanted medications properly. Pets, especially dogs, are known to go dumpster-diving and get into the garbage, so follow these guidelines for throwing out medications in your household trash:

Mix medications (do NOT crush tablets or capsules) with a substance that doesn’t taste good, such as kitty litter or used coffee grounds;

Place the mixture in a sealable container, such as a zip-top plastic bag; and

Throw the sealed container in your household trash.

FDA recommends getting rid of certain potentially harmful medications by flushing them down the sink or toilet. This gets rid of the medication right away and helps keep both the people and pets in your family safe.

Community-based drug “take-back” programs offer the best solution for disposing of expired, unused, or unwanted medications. The same take-back programs available for people medications will also take back pet medications.

Click here for further information from the FDA on how to safely dispose of expired, unused, or unwanted medications for both people and pets. You can also click here to find out more on how to dispose of “sharps” (needles and syringes) that a pet might need for diabetes.

What to Do When There’s a Problem

If your pet experiences a side effect from a medication, stop giving the medication and call your veterinarian. If your pet has an accidental medication overdose or eats something poisonous, call your veterinarian or an animal poison control center, such as the Pet Poison Helpline (click here) or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (click here). Similarly, if your pet has a health problem related to a pet food or treat, stop feeding the food or treat and call your veterinarian.

FDA encourages pet owners to report adverse reactions and other problems with a pet medication, pet food, or treat.

Reporting Problems with Pet Medications

An adverse reaction or other problem related to a medication is called an adverse drug event or an adverse drug experience (ADE for short). An ADE is an undesired side effect associated with the drug, or the drug doesn’t do what it’s expected to do (it has a lack of effect).

If your pet experiences an adverse reaction to a medication, including an accidental overdose, FDA encourages you to work with your veterinarian to report it. For a drug that’s approved for use in animals, the agency recommends that you or your veterinarian call the drug company. Drug companies are required to submit all ADE reports for approved animal drugs to FDA. If the drug isn’t approved for use in animals, such as a drug intended for people or an unapproved animal drug, or you’re unsure of the drug’s approval status, you may submit the report directly to FDA.

Reprinted courtesy of FDA Consumer Health Information. For more updates, click here.

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