Just Say No: Keeping Your Pets Safe From Drug-Related Emergencies

Human beings are not the only victims to occupy emergency rooms as a result of drug toxicities and overdoses. According to the Pet Poison Helpline, medications rank among the top 10 causes of toxicity cases in dogs and cats. If you are a pet owner, you can prevent potential tragedy by practicing these five precautionary measures to keep your furry family members safe.

1. Always Be Clear About Their Drugs

When your veterinarian prescribes a medication to treat your furry friend's ailments, never exit the veterinary clinic until you have a clear understanding about how the drug is to be administered to your pet. Things that you need to know to avert risks for overdose include the following:

  • Exactly how much of the drug is to be given to your pet at a time
  • How often the drug is to be given to your pet
  • How long your pet is expected to take the medication
  • What to do if you realize that your pet has missed a dose  

You should also be aware of all possible side effects associated with the use of the medication so that you can monitor your pet for signs of trouble.

2. Never Experiment with Drugs

If your diabetic dog's symptoms worsen, do not take it upon yourself to alter his dose of insulin unless you happen to hold a doctorate degree in veterinary medicine. Being a human registered nurse does not qualify a pet owner to determine safe and effective doses of any medication for a dog or cat. Similarly, do not assume that your older cat's sudden limp is the result of arthritis and respond by attempting to treat her with aspirin. Such decisions as in these examples can kill an animal. Consult your veterinarian before administering or altering the dose of any drug. If your kitten's sneezing and ocular discharge is not improving on the prescribed antibiotic, notify your veterinarian instead of erroneously assuming that you can increase her dose of the antibiotic.

3. Always Hide the Drugs

Keep all medications, for human and animal, out of your pet's access. For cats, this does not mean tossing the drugs on a high shelf, and remember that the curious paws of either species can open certain drawers and cabinets. Leaving drugs sitting in a basket on a table is an invitation for your mischief-seeking Labrador retriever to nosh on some pills, ointment tubes and drug vials. Ingestion of the pills can result in drug toxicity, and ingestion of tubes or containers can cause esophageal or gastrointestinal injury.

4. Never Share the Drugs

If your veterinarian hands you a medication, it has been prescribed to treat a specific problem in a specific species of a specific weight and overall state of health. Even if the symptoms are similar, never assume that your Jack Russell terrier has the same condition that your German shepherd recently had and that you can share the drugs. The no sharing rule applies to your medications as well. You and your Doberman pinscher may share a diagnosis of hypothyroidism, but do not consider sharing your levothyroxine tablets with your canine companion.

Never assume that cats can be treated in the same manner as small dogs. They are two separate species with differing physiology, and some drugs that are used to treat dogs can prove fatal when used in cats. Some common veterinary medications that can be deadly for cats include the following:

  • Any flea or tick preventative that is labeled for use in dogs
  • Any flea or tick control product that contains permethrin
  • Most veterinary nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs

5. Always Separate the Drugs

Always designate separate storage areas for each species' medications. If it is time for your cat's monthly topical application of flea preventative, you will be far less likely to accidentally apply your dog's preventative on your cat if their medications are stored separately. You should also store human medications separately from those of your pets. If you are in the throes of a debilitating migraine, the last thing you need is to accidentally grab and gulp your arthritic Great Dane's NSAID pills because they were sharing a shelf with your migraine remedy. Many human medications can have life-threatening consequences if given to dogs or cats, including the following drugs:

  • Acetaminophen
  • Naproxen
  • Ibuprofen
  • Aspirin
  • Drugs to treat attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Antidepressant drugs
  • Allergy medications
  • Blood pressure medications
  • Cardiac drugs
  • Sleep aids

Separate drug storage will prevent all family members, two-legged and four-legged, from accidently consuming the wrong, and potentially dangerous, drug.

If you suspect that your dog or cat may have ingested medication that he or she should not have, or if you observe any signs of toxicity in your pet, contact your veterinarian at once or bring your pet immediately to a veterinary emergency hospital such as http://www.1stPetVet.com.