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Risk Assessment: Popular Prescription Drugs and Your Pets


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The IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics recently released a report that included the top five human prescription drugs dispensed in the United States: Lipitor, Nexium, Plavix, Advair Diskus and Abilify.

Because Pet Poison Helpline’s call volume is high for dogs and cats that have ingested human medications harmful to pets, the veterinarians explain how these drugs typically affect pets that swallow them. Some drugs cause only minor symptoms, while some can be potentially life-threatening.

  • No. 1:  Lipitor (atorvastatin) Used to reduce cholesterol levels.Generally when pets get into Lipitor, only mild side effects are seen, such as vomiting and diarrhea. Therefore, Lipitor is not considered to have high toxicity levels for pets. Although some human drugs are utilized in veterinary medicine, Lipitor is not.
  • No. 2: Nexium (esomeprazole)
    An anti-ulcer medication and proton-pump inhibitor that results in decreased gastric-acid secretion. Although it is used in veterinary medicine for some pets, mild side effects can include vomiting and diarrhea. Owners of dogs or cats that get into this drug should watch their pet closely, but not be alarmed because symptoms will generally subside on their own.
  • No. 3: Plavix (clopidogrel)
    Affects platelets in humans, inhibiting clot formation and reducing the risk of stroke. When pets get into Plavix, it has a wide margin of safety and generally is not considered to be acutely toxic. Only mild vomiting or diarrhea may be seen.
  • No. 4: Advair Diskus® (fluticasone propionate and salmeterol)
    Often used for treating asthma and administered through an inhaler, Advair Diskus contains beta-agonist drugs that expand the lungs and steroids that decrease inflammation in the lungs. Because inhalers contain many doses, dogs that chew into them are exposed to massive amounts of the drug all at once. This often results in heart arrhythmias, an elevated heart rate, agitation, vomiting and even acute collapse. Severe electrolyte abnormalities such as very low potassium levels are likely and can be life-threatening without immediate veterinary treatment.
  • No. 5: Abilify (aripiprazole)
    Contains aripiprazole, an atypical antipsychotic agent that is used to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and clinical depression. Keep this drug out of the reach of pets, because ingestion can result in profound lethargy, vomiting, hyperthermia, significant changes in heart rate and blood pressure, and seizures. If a pet ingests this drug, immediate veterinary attention is needed.

To keep pets safe from ingesting these and other dangerous human medications, the veterinarians at Pet Poison Helpline offer these recommendations.

  • Store human medications in a different location from pet medications. Weekly pill holders are irresistible to some dogs, because they resemble chew toys and rattle. The danger is that a dog could ingest a full seven days’ worth of medications, significantly increasing the risk for poisoning.
  • Avoid putting medications into plastic storage bags before traveling. The bags are not pet-proof and can easily be chewed into.
  • Hang your purse out of your pets’ reach. Inhalers, medications, sugar-free gum and other items that are dangerous to pets can be easily snatched out of a purse by a curious dog or cat.

Pet Poison Helpline recently produced a video titled “Handbag Hazards.” Take a look.

If you think your pet has ingested something poisonous, it is always better (and less expensive) to get help immediately. Contact your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline at 1-800-213-6680 for lifesaving help.  Pet Poison Helpline charges$35 per call but the price includes unlimited follow-up consultations.