(Original Post Date: 4/21/14)
Many animals and their human family members take medications every day that can treat disorders and improve their quality of life. Unfortunately, pets can ingest toxic doses. Some medications are coated or flavored, so dropped pills or open bottles pose dangers for curious animals. The following are some examples of commonly used medications that can be dangerous.
Antidepressants are frequently used in human medication and are also used in veterinary medicine for behavioral indications. There are many drugs in this category, but some examples of these are Prozac (fluoxetine), Paxil (paroxetine), Zoloft (sertraline), Cymbalta (duloxetine), and Effexor (venlafaxine). Cats are actually attracted to the taste of Effexor. Some animals can exhibit side effects even at therapeutic doses - lethargy, agitation, or decrease appetite. Signs of toxicity involve the digestive system (vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain) and the nervous system (tremors, seizures, dilated pupils, increased heart rate, fever, and agitation). Animals are treated with sedatives, intravenous fluids, muscle relaxants, and anticonvulsants.
Amphetamines are used both legally as prescriptions (to treat attention-deficit disorders (Adderall, Dexedrine for example), weight loss, and narcolepsy) and illegally (methamphetamines, crystal meth, and Ecstacy). Toxicity symptoms and treatment are similar to antidepressants.
Sleep aids are frequently prescribed in human medicine and include Ambien (zolpidem) and Lunesta (eszopiclone), for example. As expected, signs of toxicity in most dogs include depression. However, toxic doses can cause the opposite effect in some dogs, causing signs of stimulation of the nervous system such as hyperactivity, agitation, tremors, and panting.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) are common medications for both humans (Advil, Aleve, aspirin, e.g.) and dogs (Rimadyl, Metacam, Deramaxx, e.g.). Cats are much more sensitive to these than dogs are, and problems can occur at very low doses in cats. Each type of NSAID has a different toxic dose, time that it lasts in an animal?s system, and safety margin. Therefore, if a pet has ingested any NSAIDs, it is very important to know what type and how much they have ingested. Also, an animal with underlying disease (chronic kidney disease, e.g.) will be more sensitive to the toxic effects, and it will take lower doses to cause toxicity. Overdoses of NSAIDs can cause serious damage, including stomach ulcers and kidney failure. Signs of toxicity are vomiting (with or without blood), abdominal pain, diarrhea, lack of appetite, lethargy, even seizures, depending on the severity of the toxicity. Treatment depends on the toxic amount and organ systems affected.
With the increased interest in medical marijuana, there are more chances that a pet can have access to this drug. The most common symptoms involve the nervous system and include dilated pupils, change in mentation, increased breathing rate, and stumbling. Agitation, seizures, and death can occur. Vomiting, diarrhea, and incontinence can occur as well. There is no specific antidote - treatment consists of supportive care and monitoring vital signs (temperature, heart rate, and breathing). Animals will typically recover in 24-96 hours.
Some of the vitamins in human multivitamins can be toxic to animals that ingest a high enough amount. This is another instance where it is important to know the number of pills ingested and the amounts of each vitamin in a pill. Iron and vitamin D are the most concerning components of the vitamins. In excessive doses, iron can damage the lining of the digestive tract and cause liver damage. Signs include vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Treatment consists of digestive protectants, and in severe intoxications, a medication that can be used to bind to excess iron in the body to enhance elimination of iron. Vitamin D overdose can cause high calcium levels in the body, causing lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, and can lead to kidney failure.
If you suspect your pet has ingested a medication, contact a veterinarian or a poison control hotline (ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center: 1-888-426-4435, Pet Poison Helpline: 800-213-6680, or, for pet owners whose pet has an active Home Again microchip membership: 888-HomeAgain).