The majority of the time that we spend talking about toxicities, we’re assuming that a patient has ingested a large amount of something bad. While that’s the more common way for things to happen, we’ve had to deal with a fair number of low-quantity toxicities. Some medications/toxins are dangerous at small doses, infrequent doses, or a single dose.
By far, the most frequent issue we deal with is an NSAID. NSAIDs are “non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.” This class includes aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, ketoprofen, and many others. Many of these medications are available over the counter for humans to use. They’re indicated for pain most commonly. A quick peek at Wikipedia cites a source with this frightening information: NSAID-associated upper gastrointestinal adverse events are estimated to result in 103,000 hospitalizations and 16,500 deaths per year in the United States, and represent 43% of drug-related emergency visits. Clearly, these medications are not to be taken lightly.
We do use NSAIDs in veterinary practice. Thankfully, we have a variety of options that have been specifically developed for pets. While all NSAIDS (veterinary and human both) have potentially dangerous side effects, when they are given properly they’re considered safe. Monitoring is necessary to ensure that side effects are not occurring.
The crux of the post today is that human NSAIDS can be extremely toxic to pets. I’ve seen cases where a single Aleve (naproxen) or just 2 doses of ibuprofen have seriously and permanently damaged a dog’s kidneys. I’ve seen stomach ulcers caused by aspirin.
In many of these cases, owners were giving the medication with the best of intentions, to help their pets not be in pain. I can understand the desire to ease pain. What I can’t understand very well at all is the assumption that if it’s OK for people it must be OK for pets. This simply isn’t true!! Dogs and cats have some unique aspects to their physiology that make medications behave differently than they do in the human body. Sometimes this means we have to give more of a certain medication; others, far less nor none at all. Supplements are considered medications as far as I’m concerned. Anything holistic, naturopathic, herbal, traditional medicine, etc. should be considered with the same weight as a “drug.”
I wholeheartedly believe that we can, and should, consider our pets as family members. They’re children, albeit shaggier than their human siblings. What we can not and should not do is treat them as if they’re tiny humans. If we are going to adhere to the idea that we will do what’s best for our pets, giving them any medications/supplements/treatments at all without consulting a qualified veterinary professional is a bad idea. It may be a fatal mistake.
Very few things are as crushing to an owner as finding out that something that was done with the best of intentions is responsible for the death or severe illness of their pet.
I strongly encourage you to call us (or your regular vet!) if you are considering ANY product for your pet. I realize that resources are sometimes limited, so you may not always be able to come in for a consultation or appointment, but at the very least we can help you avoid a terrible mistake. It’s always best to call BEFORE starting a medication or supplement. There may not be much I can do if someone calls and says, “I’ve been giving Product X for the last week and Fluffy isn’t eating, now…”
My last comment from the soapbox today is to mention that even products “made for pets” can be dangerous. I’ve seen flea and tick prevention for dogs and cats cause serious toxicities even when used as directed. I’ve cruised the aisles at pet supply stores and seen huge bottles of aspirin for dogs on the shelf. I’ve seen supplements that contain things that I don’t think are beneficial at best (and dangerous at worst). The point here is that finding something in a pet store doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for your pet!
Thanks for reading! Up next on Thursday is a guest column written by one of our techs. She volunteered to do a post on “Whoops, my dog’s pregnant. Now what?” (Bonus points if you recognize the little face. A flashback from when I was far younger…)