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Common human meds can harm pets

When pets ingest human medications Pet PoisHelpline can advise. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media

When pets ingest human medications, the Pet Poison Helpline can advise. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media

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When my dog Coco was a puppy, she bit my foot as I was opening my morning medication pill container. I jumped and pills went flying all over the living room. I immediately grabbed Coco and put her in the kitchen, then scoured the living room for pills and vacuumed thoroughly.

Puppies are fast and I wasn’t sure if she had eaten a pill. I called my vet and was referred to the Pet Poison Helpline (800) 213-6680 ( ), which offered me the advice and peace of mind I needed.

Pet Poison Helpline is a service available 24 hours, seven days a week for pet owners and veterinarians who require assistance treating a potentially poisoned pet.

The staff can provide treatment advice for poisoning cases of all species, including dogs, cats, birds, small mammals, large animals and exotic species. The fee is $35 (payable by credit card) and includes unlimited follow-up consultations.

The expert on the helpline asked me what kind of pills I had dropped. They looked it up and told me it could be a problem and that I should watch my dog for two hours for symptoms that included labored breathing and a tongue hanging loose out of the mouth. In that case, I was to rush her to an ER vet.

Coco ended up being fine, and thanks to the helpline, I knew what I was dealing with.

If you think a pet may have ingested something harmful, take action immediately. Contact the Pet Poison Helpline and your vet.

Here is a list of the top human medications ingested by pets, according to experts at the Helpline:

† NSAIDs (Advil, Aleve and Motrin): Topping the list are common household medications called non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), which include common names such as ibuprofen and naproxen (Aleve).

Even one or two pills can cause serious harm to a pet. Dogs, cats, birds and other small mammals (ferrets, gerbils and hamsters) may develop serious stomach ulcers as well as kidney failure.

† Acetaminophen (Tylenol): One regular strength tablet of acetaminophen may cause damage to a cat’s red blood cells, limiting its ability to carry oxygen. In dogs, acetaminophen leads to liver failure and, in large doses, red blood cell damage.

† Antidepressants (Effexor, Cymbalta, Prozac, Lexapro): Overdoses can lead to serious neurological problems such as sedation, incoordination, tremors and seizures.

Some antidepressants also have a stimulant effect leading to a dangerously elevated heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature. Pets, especially cats, seem to enjoy the taste of Effexor and often eat the entire pill. Unfortunately, just one pill can cause serious poisoning.

† ADD/ADHD (Concerta, Adderall, Ritalin): Medications used to treat Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder contain potent stimulants such as amphetamines and methylphenidate. Even minimal ingestions of these medications by pets can cause life-threatening tremors, seizures, elevated body temperatures and heart problems.

† Benzodiazepines and sleep aids (Xanax, Klonopin, Ambien, Lunesta): These medications are designed to reduce anxiety and help people sleep better. However, in pets, they may have the opposite effect.

In addition, these drugs may cause severe lethargy, incoordination (including walking drunk), and slowed breathing in pets. In cats, some forms of benzodiazepines can cause liver failure.

† Birth control: (estrogen, estradiol, progesterone): Small ingestions of these medications typically do not cause trouble. However, large ingestions of estrogen and estradiol can cause bone marrow suppression.

† ACE Inhibitors (Zestril, Altace): Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors are commonly used to treat high blood pressure. Although overdoses can cause low blood pressure, dizziness and weakness, this category of medication is typically quite safe. Pets ingesting small amounts of this medication probably can be monitored at home.

† Beta-blockers (Tenormin, Toprol, Coreg): Unlike the ACE inhibitor, small ingestions of these blood pressure drugs may cause serious poisoning in pets. Overdoses can cause life-threatening decreases in blood pressure.

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