A recent study by the insurance company MORE TH>N has revealed some very worrying trends relating to owners choosing to self-medicate their pets. It was shown that over a third of owners have given their pets human medicine in order to avoid paying vet bills, or simply just because owners believed their pet’s health problems weren’t serious enough to visit the vets with.
Worryingly, the study also showed that many owners have given their pets’ protein shakes or diet pills to encourage their pets to ‘look better’. Although dogs and cats eat meat and require protein, many of the proteins found in protein shakes aren’t found in nature, so they can actually harm pets instead of providing additional muscle strength or assisting in weight loss. Diet pills are also hugely risky, as the metabolism of our pets is very different to our own, meaning side effects are much more likely.
The most common drugs we see being given incorrectly to our pets are over the counter pain relief, like paracetamol and ibuprofen. Both of these medications can be exceptionally toxic to our pets, causing liver and kidney failure, and potentially even leading to death.
It’s worth noting that not even children’s medicines are suitable for our pets. Sadly, at one of our practices, a dog suffered from liver failure after its owner had given it a toxic dose of Calpol.
Paracetamol is extremely toxic to our feline friends, and your vet will never prescribe this medication for your cat. Very rarely, your vet may prescribe paracetamol for arthritic pain control in your dog. It’s important to remember that your vet will have worked out a specific dog dose, and this isn’t at all comparable to the doses used by us. Your vet will also have the knowledge to prescribe the drug correctly, ensuring it doesn’t clash with any other medication or act negatively toward any other conditions your pet may have.
Dogs and cats are very sensitive to ibuprofen, and it is toxic for them. It can cause stomach ulcers and is commonly fatal, so it should be avoided at all costs.
Although dogs, cats and humans do suffer from similar diseases, subtle differences within our anatomy and physiology are often the reasons we need different doses and therefore can’t have the same medication. In the case of paracetamol, cats don’t have the liver enzyme required to break down paracetamol into non-toxic waste products when it’s processed by the body. Humans have this enzyme, which is why it is safe for us to use pain relief medication. As the liver can’t process paracetamol, signs your cat may be ill are similar to that of liver failure, which includes: yellow/brown gums, lethargy, swelling, blood in the urine and difficulty breathing.
Aspirin is another medicine that is often incorrectly given to our pets. As well as its anti-inflammatory properties, aspirin greatly thins the blood, and can cause pets to have serious bleeding disorders which may prove to be fatal. Again, this medication may be prescribed at suitable doses for certain conditions (often not related to pain) by your vet, but it’ll never be used long term.
Not only is self-medicating your pet extremely dangerous and expensive if your pet has a bad reaction, it can lead to legal prosecution. In 2012, an owner was prosecuted for giving her cat several doses of paracetamol for its arthritis. The cat unfortunately died as a result of this treatment, and the owner was prosecuted by the RSPCA for causing unnecessary suffering to an animal. She was fined £280.
Many owners often ask if it’s safe to give herbal or homeopathic medications to their pet. We do sell safe, animal supplements at the vets, but some people still choose to use human medication. This can make existing conditions worse, or even cause toxic reactions to our pets. For instance, some of the oils used by humans to relieve arthritic pain shouldn’t be given to pets with a history/risk of pancreatitis, as these will almost certainly exacerbate the condition. Another common myth is that giving garlic tablets to your pet will kill fleas. Garlic doesn’t kill fleas, but is toxic to a pet’s liver, and can be fatal.
Obviously, pets should never be given any type of human medication, prescription or over the counter medicines. If you feel your pet needs medication, or may benefit from a herbal/homeopathic medicines, it’s always vital to discuss this with your vet. Remember, our pets rely on us to take care of them and make the correct choices for their health.