Thomas Dock, CVJ, Vet. Technician  
Male, 57
Indianapolis, IN

Interests: animals, Reading (sci-fi and fantasy)
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Top Ten Human Meds That Harm Pets

Jan 07, 2010 - 16 comments

human meds poison pets

Everyday, veterinarians across the country and across the world field phone calls about pets who accidently (or sometimes with the owner's knowledge) ingest medications meant for their human owners. What are the worst offenders and what can you do to prevent a tragedy from happening?

This list was developed by our friends at Pet Poison Helpline and PetDocsOnCall staff DVM Justine Lee.

1) NSAIDs (e.g. Advil, Aleve and Motrin)
Topping our Top 10 list are common household medications called non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), which include common names such as ibuprofen (e.g., Advil and some types of Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve). While these medications are safe for people, even one or two pills can cause serious harm to a pet. Dogs, cats, birds and other small mammals (ferrets, gerbils and hamsters) may develop serious stomach and intestinal ulcers as well as kidney failure.

2) Acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol)
When it comes to pain medications, acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol) is certainly popular. Even though this drug is very safe, even for children, this is not true for pets—especially cats. One regular strength tablet of acetaminophen may cause damage to a cat’s red blood cells, limiting their ability to carry oxygen. In dogs, acetaminophen leads to liver failure and, in large doses, red blood cell damage.

3) Antidepressants (e.g. Effexor, Cymbalta, Prozac, Lexapro)
While these antidepressant drugs are occasionally used in pets, overdoses can lead to serious neurological problems such as sedation, incoordination, tremors and seizures. Some antidepressants also have a stimulant effect leading to a dangerously elevated heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature. Pets, especially cats, seem to enjoy the taste of Effexor and often eat the entire pill. Unfortunately, just one pill can cause serious poisoning.

4) ADD/ADHD medications (e.g. Concerta, Adderall, Ritalin)
Medications used to treat Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder contain potent stimulants such as amphetamines and methylphenidate. Even minimal ingestions of these medications by pets can cause life-threatening tremors, seizures, elevated body temperatures and heart problems.

5) Benzodiazepines and sleep aids (e.g. Xanax, Klonopin, Ambien, Lunesta)
These medications are designed to reduce anxiety and help people sleep better. However, in pets, they may have the opposite effect. About half of the dogs who ingest sleep aids become agitated instead of sedate. In addition, these drugs may cause severe lethargy, incoordination (including walking “drunk”), and slowed breathing in pets. In cats, some forms of benzodiazepines can cause liver failure when ingested.

6) Birth control (e.g. estrogen, estradiol, progesterone)
Birth control pills often come in packages that dogs find irresistible. Thankfully, small ingestions of these medications typically do not cause trouble. However, large ingestions of estrogen and estradiol can cause bone marrow suppression, particularly in birds. Additionally, female pets that are intact (not spayed), are at an increased risk of side effects from estrogen poisoning.

7) ACE Inhibitors (e.g. Zestril, Altace)
Angiotensin-converting enzyme (or “ACE”) inhibitors are commonly used to treat high blood pressure in people and, occasionally, pets. Though overdoses can cause low blood pressure, dizziness and weakness, this category of medication is typically quite safe. Pets ingesting small amounts of this medication can potentially be monitored at home, unless they have kidney failure or heart disease. All heart medications should be kept out of reach of pets.

8) Beta-blockers (e.g. Tenormin, Toprol, Coreg)
Beta-blockers are also used to treat high blood pressure but, unlike the ACE inhibitor, small ingestions of these drugs may cause serious poisoning in pets. Overdoses can cause life-threatening decreases in blood pressure and a very slow heart rate.

9) Thyroid hormones (e.g. Armour desiccated thyroid, Synthroid)
Pets — especially dogs — get underactive thyroids too. Interestingly, the dose of thyroid hormone needed to treat dogs is much higher than a person’s dose. Therefore, if dogs accidentally get into thyroid hormones at home, it rarely results in problems. However, large acute overdoses in cats and dogs can cause muscle tremors, nervousness, panting, a rapid heart rate and aggression.

10) Cholesterol lowering agents (e.g. Lipitor, Zocor, Crestor)
These popular medications, often called “statins,” are commonly used in the United States. While pets do not typically get high cholesterol, they may still get into the pill bottle. Thankfully, most “statin” ingestions only cause mild vomiting or diarrhea. Serious side effects from these drugs come with long-term use, not one-time ingestions.

11) Always keep medications safely out of reach and never administer a medication to a pet without first consulting your veterinarian.

12) Never leave loose pills in a plastic Ziploc® bag – the bags are too easy to chew into. Make sure visiting house guests do the same, keeping their medications high up or out of reach.

13) If you place your medication in a weekly pill container, make sure to store the container in a cabinet out of reach of your pets. Unfortunately, if they get a hold of it, some pets might consider the pill container a plastic chew toy.

14) Never store your medications near your pet’s medications – veterinarians frequently receive calls from concerned pet owners who inadvertently give their own medication to their pet.

15) Hang your purse up. Inquisitive pets will explore the contents of your bag and simply placing your purse up and out of reach can help to avoid exposure to any potentially dangerous medication(s).

16) It is also important to note that while a medication may be safe for children, it may not be safe for animals. Pets metabolize medications very differently from people. Even seemingly benign over-the-counter or herbal medications may cause serious poisoning in pets.

17) If your pet has ingested a human over-the-counter or prescription medication, please call your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline’s 24-hour animal poison control center at (800) 213-6680 immediately.

The key point of this entire blog is that pet owners should ALWAYS discuss the use of medications with their veterinarians. Using human medications, adjusting your pet's medications or even stopping medications should only be done after you have communicated with your pet's doctor!

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by Quixotic1, Jan 07, 2010
Thank you!  I have to fight with my cats over my Fish Oil and Vit E capsules.  I win, they act abused.

I would like to add another.  My cat once bit into a Colace (stool softener and known by kids as having a mega-foul taste).  It didn't look like it was punctured, but the poor girl wouldn't even swallow or eat for several hours, letting her saliva just drool out.  I keep all such things away.


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by swampcritter, Jan 09, 2010
The opposite is also true -- many pet medications can be very bad for human critters.

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by dustybrown, Jan 10, 2010
Thanks for posting this. I take a handful of medications for various ailments and I have two dogs that I adore. I also have a tendency to drop the pills on the floor every now and then no matter how hard I try to be careful and it scares me to DEATH!!!! I have to clear the room of my animals and make sure all of my pills are accounted for each time that it happens. I wasn't aware of the 24 hour poison control phone number. Thanks for sharing. I have it on my cork board now just in case, god forbid, I ever have an emergency!  


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by HVAC, Jan 11, 2010
With MS I drop things. I have a tray an inch high I get my pill out of the bottle on so if I spill they are contained. I try to be in another room taking pills but have five animals.

You also have to be careful using dog products or medications on cats. Some flea products which are safe for dogs can kill a cat. When I worked the Veterinary Emergency shift a lot of cats were poisoned by canine flea products.

Oh and eye products. If your pet has problems with an eye never use anything you have around the house before consulting a veterinarian even if it was once prescribed for a pet. If lens is scratched and what you put in the eye contains a steroid you can harm the eye.


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by peggy64, Jan 15, 2010
And don't wash your dog with cat flea shampoo. Did this once, and almost lost my girl.

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by mami1323, Jan 15, 2010
This is good information.  I'm glad to see Benadryl is not on that list.  My dog has the worst allergies.

Avatar universal
by might_be_his, Feb 14, 2010
my grandma is kinda shaky and she said that she lost a levothyroxine pill at 125 MCG (whatever that is) and we recently adopted her and her dog along with our 2 dogs that we had before. If one of the dogs were to eat it, how bad would it harm them?

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by XanaduMist, May 25, 2011
I take some of the medications you named on the list, and have accidentally dropped a few of the pills on the floor before. This is where the beauty of really good dog training comes into play. My Sheltie has been through advanced classes, and she knows what "leave it" means,.If I inadvertentally drop a pill, I immediately stretch my arms out around in a circle where the pill has fallen and give her the command to "LEAVE IT!"  She will stare at the pill as long as it is on the floor and never make an attempt to touch it. I highly recommend good training for all pet owners, even if you don't take any medications.

Avatar universal
by lola200677, Apr 01, 2013
I'm totally OCD with my pills and have 4 cats! None have ever ingested a single pill thank god! Xxx

Avatar universal
by lola200677, Apr 01, 2013
It should however be advertised more in general to the general public...and foods like garlic or chocolate that old kill them by acute poisoning!

Avatar universal
by frogoligust, Jan 28, 2014
Who is this guy? Naproxen is a great pain reliever for Dogs, every dog is different and you should have blood work done before giving it to your pet, I had a German Shepherd that had arthritis very bad, Naproxin added at least 3 years to her life, she was 13 and i gave her 1/2 a naproxin every 2 weeks, it was find some pain relief or put her down, she was that bad, after the 1/2 pill of naproxin she was running around like a puppy, litterly , don't listen to this Quack, i also had a vet roll her eyes at me when i told her how effective the napoxin was, well i did not need a medical degree to tell me what was doing her such good or why. typical so called Vet, won't tell you what to give them without a fee, but happy to spread alarm for free, ahh he's not a vet just a tech, that explains it.

Avatar universal
by BokehGirl, Feb 25, 2014

Indeed, every dog is different. With all possible respect, 1/2 Naproxen can cause SEVERE pain and life threatening renal and GI ulcers/ bleeding in dogs, especially small dogs.

Mr. Dock, CVJ, provided informative, life - saving information and I am thankful.

Next time you feel like writing a disrespectful, ignorant comment, muzzle up instead.

Avatar universal
by likermor, Dec 21, 2014
If my beagle who is 5 ate rawhide treats could that cause her to pee blood.

Avatar universal
by likermor, Dec 21, 2014
I gave her 10mg of aciphex since it works so well on me perhaps her too. I will take her to the vet if she doesn't get better.

Avatar universal
by Bummler, Apr 29, 2015
Rabbits should never have tylenol.  I have kept baby gas meds and children's aspirin.  I know a bun who survived  cancer  and had 3 /4 of one.  If they are grinding their teeth in a squeaky chalkboard way, call the vet  as back up.  The vet will ask questions over the phone to see if your bun only needs one of these or the other above mentioned....tooth grinding can be symptomatic of extreme gas pain partly from not having access to timmy hay every day.  Better yet--just go to the vet. The meds I mentioned are for run of the mill gas and already diagnosed pain.  If so unless told by Mr Vet, if in doubt use one quarter of a children's aspirin. Mint leaves will help gas pain but when in pain, bunny will be hunched up and not eating. This could mean he is trying to work out a fart. If you know this is gas for sure then squeeze some oval mint flavored baby gas stuff into the bunzie being  careful not to send it down the wrong passage.

Avatar universal
by JohnL2017, Apr 22, 2017
Do the medications, DHEA & Vitamin B Complex contain anything that can hurt my cat Pebbles? I am visually impaired and found a broken DHEA pill on my kitchen floor. I just want to make sure my cat won't get sick.  Don't know where the vitamin B complex pill is. So I want to make sure my cat can't get sick from that either.
Please respond ASAP.

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