5 top-selling human drugs and the dangers to your veterinary patients
Your clients likely keep at least one of these top-selling human drugs in their medicine cabinets. Find out whether they need to worry if their pet accidently ingests one.
Nearly half the calls to Pet Poison Helpline are for pets that accidentally ingested human medications. With such a high number of incidents each year, it's critical that you stay up to date in case your veterinary clinic is the first place clients call for help.
A recently released report from the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics lists the top five human prescription drugs sold in the United States. As you'll read here, some of these drugs cause only minor symptoms while others can be potentially life-threatening. Being aware of their effects can help you save pets' lives and, at the very least, help you ease clients' fears.
1. Lipitor (atorvastatin): Reduces cholesterol levels. Generally when pets get into Lipitor, only mild side effects such as vomiting and diarrhea are seen. Therefore, Lipitor is not considered to have high toxicity levels for pets. While some human drugs are utilized in veterinary medicine, Lipitor is not.
2. Nexium (esomeprazole): An antiulcer medication and proton-pump inhibitor that decreases gastric acid secretion. While veterinarians use it for some pets, mild side effects can include vomiting and diarrhea. Owners of cats or dogs that ingest Nexium should monitor their pets but not be alarmed since symptoms generally subside on their own.
3. Plavix (clopidogrel): A drug that affects platelets in humans, inhibiting clot formation and reducing the risk of stroke. It's rarely used in veterinary medicine. 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.
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 can result 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.
5. Abilify (aripiprazole): Contains aripiprazole, an atypical antipsychotic agent that is used to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and clinical depression. Clients should keep this drug out of pets' reach, as ingestion can result in profound lethargy, vomiting, hyperthermia, significant changes in heart rate and blood pressure, and seizures. If a pet ingests this drug, it needs immediate veterinary attention.
3 tips for poison prevention
In order to keep pets safe from ingesting dangerous human medications, follow these recommendations:
- Store human medications in a different location than pet medications. Pet Poison Helpline often takes calls from pet owners who accidentally give their human medications to pets.
- Watch those weekly pill holders. They're irresistible to some dogs because they rattle and resemble chew toys. 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 baggies before traveling. These bags aren't pet-proof (or child-proof) and can easily be chewed into by cats or dogs.
Dr. Ahna Brutlag, MS, is assistant director of veterinary services at Pet Poison Helpline.