Dogs and cats are intelligent, inquisitive creatures and as much as we try to keep them safe, everyday objects in our home can be a tempting danger to them. VRC has covered common household threats to pets such as toxic food items, poisonous flowers, and household chemicals, but today we’re going to write about your prescription medications and what their presence in your home can mean for your pets.
Clarke is a 2-year-old male Labrador from the greater Philadelphia area who is always exploring and getting into trouble. Clarke came into VRC after biting his owner’s albuterol inhaler. Commonly used as an asthma medication, albuterol opens the bronchial airways for people with breathing issues, but it can cause life-threatening concerns when consumed in large doses. Symptoms of albuterol poisoning include severe arrhythmia, high blood pressure, and electrolyte disturbance.
When Clarke came into VRC, he had a heart rate that was twice what’s normal in a dog his size and age, a blood pressure level of 230/165 (for dogs, 120/80 is around normal), and a potassium level low enough to be concerning. Thankfully, the owner knew the inhaler had been bitten, and got Clarke to a specialty veterinary healthcare hospital quickly where we were able to immediately administer IV fluid therapy and medications to block the effects of the albuterol. Thankfully for Clarke, albuterol leaves the body within 12-24 hours, so we felt confident that a short course of aggressive supportive care would save him. As it turns out, we were right! Clarke’s blood pressure and heart rate stabilized within half an hour of being admitted, and within twelve hours we were able to release him to his owners.
Next, let’s look at Buddy, a 7-year-old male pug, and his best friend Delilah, a ten-year-old female pointer mix. Though usually well behaved, Buddy and Delilah love their snacks and treats, which recently got them into trouble, necessitating a visit to our greater Philadelphia area veterinary hospital.
As dogs age, it’s common for them to get arthritis in their joints. While aging is a natural part of any dog’s life, we can help them with medications such as omega 3 fatty acids, glucosamine chondroitin, and sometimes non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs). Buddy had been prescribed beef-flavored steroid pills for his hip dysplasia. While his owners were out of the house one day, Buddy and Delilah knocked the bottle of steroids off the counter and ate them all. Once Buddy and Delilah’s owners came home, they found the empty pill bottle and brought both dogs in to VRC for 24/7 emergency care.
As there was no way for us to know how many pills either dog had eaten, we had to assume a full bottle’s worth of pills was consumed by both. NSAIDs have a narrow safety margin, meaning overdose can happen even with one or two extra pills—not only that, but NSAID overdose can lead to severe stomach ulcers and failure of the liver and kidney. First, we induced vomiting, but when no pills were produced, we had to admit both dogs to our hospital to flush them with IV fluids and administer medications that helped reduce the risk of ulcers.
NSAIDs are usually metabolized within 48-72 hours, so we kept both dogs for observation over that time. Buddy’s liver and kidneys were fine, so he was discharged before Delilah, who had to be hospitalized for an additional two days due to injury to her kidneys from the overdose. Delilah was sent home after she stabilized, but it was a close call. If her owners hadn’t gotten her to the veterinarian so quickly, her kidneys might have shut down.
All’s well that ends well, but the moral of both stories is that it’s important to keep all medications away from your pets unless they’re being carefully administered. Given how difficult it can be to get a pill into your pet sometimes, it may seem like your animal is safe from accidentally ingesting medication, human or animal, but accidents can happen. especially This is especially the case with medications that are flavored to be tempting as well as with human medications that may look or smell interesting or unusual.
Best practice is to keep all medication, human or animal, on counters they can’t reach, or even better, behind the doors of your medicine cabinet. Don’t leave bottles on nightstands—even “child proof” plastic bottles can be destroyed by the powerful jaws of animals that like to chew.
August 31st is International Overdose Awareness Day. Yes, this day is for human overdoses, but pets can overdose too, and International Overdose Awareness Day is as good an excuse as any to look over your home and see what’s lying about waiting for an accident to happen, or to make things even safer by tucking your medicines even further out of reach!
VRC is a specialty veterinary healthcare hospital located in the greater Philadelphia area. If you suspect your pet has overdosed, contact our emergency medicine and critical care center. It’s open 24/7, 365 days a year.