5 top-selling human drugs: The dangers to pets


Talk to your veterinary clients about keeping these medications out of pets' reach to prevent potentially life-threatening effects.

Nearly half the calls the team at Pet Posion Helpline receives are for pets that have accidentally ingested human medications. With such a high number of incidents occurring 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 dispensed in the United States. As explained below, some of these drugs cause only minor symptoms while others can be potentially life-threatening. Awareness of these drugs and how they affect pets can save lives. Likewise, in cases where a pet has ingested a nonlife-threatening drug, awareness can save the pet owner a great deal of heartache.

1. Lipitor (atorvastatin). Reduces 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. While some human drugs are utilized in veterinary medicine, Lipitor is not.

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2. Nexium (esomeprazole). An anti-ulcer medication and proton-pump inhibitor that results in decreased gastric acid secretion. While it’s used in veterinary medicine for some pets, mild side effects can include vomiting and diarrhea. Pet owners should watch their pet closely but not be alarmed since symptoms will 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 observed.

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4. Advair Diskus (fluticasone propionate and salmeterol). 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.

Help clients prevent poisonings

In order 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. Pet Poison Helpline often takes calls from pet owners who accidentally give their human medications to pets.

> Weekly pill holders are irresistible to some dogs because they resemble chew toys and make rattling noises. 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 are not pet proof (or child-proof), and can easily be chewed into by dogs.

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