Ironically, medications intended to help heal humans are the very ones that often harm their pets. Human medications are by far the most common source of animal
poisoning, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Many cats swallow these medications accidentally because they are left out on a table or counter. Often, however, cats are poisoned because well-meaning humans erroneously believe that if the medication is safe for children, it must be safe for cats. The truth is that numerous human medications are deadly to cats, says Fred Oehme, DVM, director of the Comparative Toxicology Laboratories at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas.
Common dugs, disastrous results
Not only are cats much smaller than humans and thus need much smaller doses of medication, but every species has a different metabolism and body chemistry, says J. Edward Kirker, RPh, chief pharmacist at the Cornell University Hospital for Animals. Cats lack several enzymes that humans use to detoxify substances.
As a result, drugs are metabolized and detoxified very differently by cats than humans, he says. Take acetaminophen, for example, the drug in Tylenol and one of the most common of the fatal drug poisonings in cats. Cats have much less of the enzyme that livers use to break down and detoxify acetaminophen. As a result, it can be very toxic to cats.
With cats having much less of the necessary enzyme, the acetaminophen components that are broken down bind to and alter red blood cells so they can no longer carry oxygen; this can severely damage the bodys tissues. As little as one tablet, in fact, can poison a cat; two tablets can kill it, says Kirker.
Aspirin, ibuprofen, and other anti-inflammatory remedies commonly taken by a cats human companions are also potentially toxic to cats because they dramatically reduce mucous production in the stomach and damage the kidneys.
Other agents that may be toxic to cats include cold medicines and decongestants, benzocaine (a topical cream or spray), hemorrhoid preparations, lindane (lice treatment), hexachlorophene (an antibacterial agent found in some prescription skin care products), phenazopyridine (or Pyridium, used for urinary tract infections), phenytoin (or Dilantin, an anti-seizure medication), phosphate enemas, and even vitamins and diet pills.
For cats only
In addition, medications formulated for dogs can be highly toxic to cats as are topical medications intended for dogs. Flea and tick sprays and shampoos have very powerful chemicals that, if swallowed, could seriously poison a cat. Small quantities of certain topical canine flea medications, for example, could kill a cat, says Oehme.
Signs of medication poisoning vary widely, from vomiting and depression to weakness and seizures. Cats that have swallowed acetaminophen often develop swollen paws and face, difficulty breathing, and darkened mucous membranes. If you suspect that your cat has swallowed any medication whatsoever, call your veterinarian or veterinary poison control center. Be prepared to say how much your cat weighs, how much you think hes swallowed (or youve given him), and how long ago the medication was ingested. Every minute matters.
Under no circumstances, should you ever give your cat any medication, including topical ointments, that your veterinarian has not specifically prescribed for your cat, concludes Oehme. By far, the best treatment for acetaminophen and other medication poisonings is prevention.