Dog ingests deadly human cancer cream


Josephine the dog eats her pet owner’s cancer cream left on counter only to realize the dire consequences

Items left on the countertop can be dangerous to curious dogs. Though pet owners are often worried about their furry friend getting into food, medications left out can also pose a threat, which is the topic of the latest Toxin Tails installment from the Pet Poison Helpline.1

Jospehine the dog. (Photo courtesy of Pet Poison Helpline).

Jospehine the dog. (Photo courtesy of Pet Poison Helpline).

Carson Gilchrist, who lives in Basalt, Colorado, shared that her mom had prescription skin cream to treat cancer they thought was empty, so they left it on the kitchen counter by the phone as a reminder to order more. However, while they were out of the house, their dog Josephine pulled the container off the counter and chewed it up. Gilchrist explained, in the release, “At first, we didn't consider the contents because there was no warning on the container and we thought it was empty, but later that night she started vomiting and we realized something was wrong.”1 They called the veterinarian, who recommended them to call Pet Poison Helpline.

"We receive thousands of calls involving pets who have snatched medication off a counter when their human isn't looking, but this type of medication can be particularly deadly, even in small amounts," said Renee Schmid, DVM, DABT, DABVT, a senior veterinary toxicologist at Pet Poison Helpline.1 Josie had ingested a cancer treatment containing medication known as Fluorouracil (5-FU) and calcipotriene, 2 of the most dangerous topical toxins to dogs and cats.1 It is used to treat human skin cancers (eg, superficial basal cell carcinoma and actinic keratosis).

"While the intravenous form of 5-FU may be used in dogs for certain cancers, the topical version is very poisonous when ingested by dogs or cats," said Schmid.1 She added that even small amounts of it can cause acute gastrointestinal signs (eg, vomiting, diarrhea), central nervous system signs (eg, tremors, seizures, etc), and bone marrow suppression. “5-FU is rapidly absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract, and clinical signs can often be seen within 30 minutes to 6 hours with deaths reported as early as 7 hours after ingestion. Immediate treatment is necessary, and the prognosis with 5-FU ingestion is often grave, especially in cats as they are much more sensitive to poisoning from the medication," Schmid continued. Meanwhile calcipotriene is a vitamin D analog with a narrow margin of safety and ingestion can cause elevated calcium levels that can result in tissue mineralization and kidney damage leading to kidney failure and death.1

"The toxicology experts at Pet Poison Helpline told us that based on the type of mediation and amount potentially ingested, we needed to take Josie to the hospital immediately," Gilchrist said.1 "The first night at Valley Emergency Pet Care, it didn't seem to be too serious. They were treating her with medical grade activated charcoal and had her on intravenous fluids. We took her to our regular veterinarian the next day and she started having serious seizures they couldn't control. Things got progressively worse."

Josephine was then brought to Grand Valley Veterinary Emergency Care, a larger hospital 2 hours from home. The family also thought about taking her to Colorado State University Veterinary Hospital, but their veterinarian was worried about Josephine having uncontrollable seizures during a 5-hour drive. Josie continued to have seizures when she arrived at the hospital the veterinarian gave her a poor to grave prognosis. "The doctor warned us it may not be a good outcome, and told us to prepare for the worst," Gilchrist shared.

"Throughout this whole process, each veterinarian was speaking with the Pet Poison Helpline team to help determine the best course of treatment," Gilchrist said. "The folks in Grand Junction were able to get her seizures under control, but there were still a lot of other worries like low white blood cell counts. Josephine stayed in the hospital three more days, receiving intensive care with lab work monitoring, intravenous fluids, filgrastim for the low white blood cell count, levetiracetam for seizures, antibiotics, and liver protectants, and then we took her home. She was on multiple medications after she was released, and we took her in to our local hospital every three days for blood tests. As symptoms improved, we changed to once a week."1

Josephine further displayed positive signs, and started to come off her medications. After over a month, she returned to full health.

"We could not be more grateful to Pet Poison Helpline, and all the veterinarians who treated Josephine," Gilchrist said. "The one thing we've learned from this experience is to take potential poisonings much more seriously. I wish there had been more explicit directions on the cream bottle that explained it is so toxic to pets. Apparently, it can even be deadly if a dog simply licks it off your skin."1

"Since most human medications don't contain warnings about the effects on animals, we recommend that you keep all your medications out of reach, including your pet's medications," Schmid said.1 "Even drugs specifically prescribed for pets can be dangerous if ingested in the wrong amount, or by the wrong pet."


Counter-surfing dog nearly dies after ingesting cancer treatment cream. News release. Pet Poison Helpline. July 12, 2023. Accessed July 12, 2023.

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