When it comes to your pet’s health, it’s crucial that you remember that what works for people is not necessarily safe for your four-legged friend. One common mistake of many pet owners is administering human medications to their pets without first consulting a veterinarian. 

To highlight the importance of medicating your pet only under veterinary guidance, our Star of Texas Veterinary Hospital team explains the dangers of giving pets human medication and lists common hazardous medications.

Risks of using human medications for pets

Pets, whether they are dogs, cats, or other animals, have unique physiologies and metabolisms that differ from people. Consequently, medications formulated for human use may affect pets adversely, from mild discomfort to life-threatening complications. Some of the most significant risks associated with giving human medications to pets include:

  • Incorrect dosage — Determining the appropriate dosage for a pet based on human medication guidelines can be challenging and dangerous. A pet’s species and weight determine safe medication dosages and may preclude them from certain drugs. Administering an incorrect dosage can lead to ineffective treatment at best and fatal toxicity at worst.
  • Toxicity — Many medications safe for people can be toxic to pets. For example, over-the-counter pain relievers like Ibuprofen (Advil) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) can severely damage a pet’s liver, kidneys, and gastrointestinal tract. Similarly, certain antidepressants, antihistamines, and decongestants pose serious risks to pets if ingested.
  • Masking symptoms — Giving human medications to pets without a proper diagnosis from a veterinarian can mask underlying health issues. A medication may alleviate signs temporarily but is unlikely to address the root cause of the problem, leading to delayed treatment and worsening conditions.
  • Drug interactions — Pets often take multiple medications or supplements for various health conditions. Introducing a new medication without considering potential interactions with existing treatments can cause harmful side effects or diminish the efficacy of both drugs.

You may be tempted to offer your pet relief using medications intended for people, but your pet may suffer severe consequences. From incorrect dosages to toxic reactions, the risks far outweigh any potential benefits. Prioritize your pet’s health and consult with your Star of Texas Veterinary Hospital veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment to ensure your pet receives the care they deserve, without compromising their wellbeing. 

Common human medications that are dangerous for pets

Several common human medications can be toxic to pets and cause a range of problems, depending on the substance and the dosage ingested. Examples of medications that pose significant risks to pets include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) Ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin can cause gastrointestinal ulcers, kidney failure, liver damage, and death in pets. Signs may include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, lethargy, decreased appetite, and black tarry stools.
  • Acetaminophen — Tylenol can cause severe liver damage, difficulty breathing, and swelling of the face and paws in pets, and can lead to acute liver failure and death in severe cases. Cats are exceptionally sensitive to acetaminophen, and should never be given any amount of Tylenol.
  • Antidepressants — Medications used for depression and other mental disorders in people also have a place in veterinary medicine for treating anxiety in pets. However, ensuring an accurate dose of Prozac, Zoloft, or Elavil for a pet can be tricky. An overdose can result in serotonin syndrome, characterized by agitation, tremors, seizures, elevated body temperature, rapid heart rate, and dilated pupils. 
  • Antihistamines — While antihistamines like Benadryl, Claritin, and Zyrtec are sometimes used in veterinary medicine, pets who ingest large doses can suffer vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, difficulty breathing, seizures, and coma.
  • Decongestants — Pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine can cause an elevated heart rate, hypertension, tremors, seizures, and death in pets. Ingestion can lead to significant cardiovascular and neurological effects.
  • Sleep aids and muscle relaxants — Drugs like Ambien and baclofen can cause lethargy, disorientation, sedation, weakness, tremors, and respiratory depression in pets. In severe cases, ingestion can lead to coma and death.

It’s important to note that this list is not exhaustive, and many other human medications can be toxic to pets. Additionally, toxicity severity depends on factors such as the medication type, the amount ingested, the size and species of the pet, and any underlying health conditions.

If you suspect your pet has ingested any medication intended for humans, you must seek veterinary care immediately. Prompt treatment can help mitigate the effects of toxicity and improve the chances of a positive outcome for your pet. Contact a veterinary toxicologist at an animal poison control center or our Star of Texas Veterinary Hospital team for guidance.