April 2, 2018


Human Drugs Can Be Harmful (Even Fatal) to Your Pets

by Aili V. Heintz, DVM

We all want to do what’s right for our pets. Sometimes we take them for walks even when we don’t feel like going. Other times, we give them extra treats when they give us pleading looks. Still other times, we try to make them comfortable when we think they are in pain.

But sometimes trying to do something good for your pet can actually be very bad, especially when you give your pet human pain medications without consulting your veterinarian. Did you realize?

  • that many of the drugs that we as humans use can be harmful and even fatal for pets?
  • that many times (if we can use human medications) the dosing amount for animals is significantly different from the dosing for humans?
  • that a wrong dose of a good medication may cause more harm than good?

Are all human drugs bad for my pet?

No. Actually, we do use some human medications for pets. However, the amount of a drug your pet needs may be dramatically different from a dose that you might take. In some cases, your pet needs such a small dose that it is impossible to cut your medication to that size. In other cases, your pet may require more of the medication than you would take. If you think that your pet is having a problem it is always, always best to call your veterinarian so that she can help you find a safe medication option for your pet.

What human drugs are harmful to my pet?

This is a shortened list of some commonly misused human medications that are actually toxic to pets and may cause death to our companion animals. This list is not all-inclusive, but it represents the most common drugs we see.

Anti-inflammatory Medications (aspirin, Advil, Motrin, Midol, Aleve)

Your pet may react to these drugs with vomiting, decreased appetite, or lethargy. These medications can cause ulcers in the stomach and intestines and could potentially lead to kidney or liver failure.

Pain Relievers (Tylenol)

Acetaminophen can damage your pet’s red blood cells and cause liver failure. Symptoms you might initially see include vomiting, lethargy, or a decreased appetite.

Antidepressants (Zoloft, Prozac, Paxil, etc.)

Sometimes we do prescribe antidepressants for pets, but the dosing for animals is significantly different from that of humans. If your pet gets into your medication bottle, or if your pills spill on the floor, the amount of the drug that your pet might ingest could poison him. Reactions to this medication include tremors, seizures, increased heart rate, and elevated body temperature.

Medications for ADD or ADHD (Adderall, Ritalin, Focalin, etc.)

These drugs contain stimulants that, even in small amounts, can be life-threatening for your pet. She might experience tremors, seizures, and/or serious heart problems.

Sleep Aids (Lunesta, Ambien, etc.)

Medications that help relax humans can often stimulate pets. Animals that ingest human sleep aids may become very agitated. Other symptoms include lethargy, slowed breathing, and stumbling when walking. The drug in many sleep aids can cause liver failure in cats.

The ASPCA has a complete list of human drugs that can be toxic to your pet.

Tell your veterinarian the truth

If you did give your pet a human pain-reliever, please tell us. If Fluffy got into your medication, or if pills spilled on the floor and Fido got to them, please tell us. It is important that you tell us the name of the drug and the amount your pet may have ingested. Too often, pet owners are too embarrassed to tell the truth about the situation.

If you are honest, we can immediately determine how to treat your pet. If you hide the truth, we might have to perform diagnostic tests delay treatment that could help save your pet. We won’t judge you. We just want what is best for your pet, and the sooner we know what happened, the more effective the treatment will be.

Always consult with your vet before medicating your pet!

I cannot stress the importance of contacting your veterinarian! We are here to help you and to help your pet. Trust me, we are not in this career path for the money! We are in this career because we genuinely love and care for animals and their families.

As vets, we are here to help in any way that we can so that you and your pet stay comfortable and happy. We will know if a medication is potentially toxic for your pet. We will also be able to help figure out alternatives and correct dosing of any medications that your pet might need.

Another important thing to consider is that some drugs can interact and cause problems if you are using them together. There is no way for you to know this, but a veterinarian will. A simple phone call to our office may help stop a bad drug interaction or a fatal overdose for your pet.

Your pet is a very important part of your family. You want to do what is best for him and would never mean to hurt him. The best way to help your pet is to always check with your veterinarian if you think that your pet is having any sort of problem.  Together, you and your veterinarian can determine the best treatment to get your pet feeling as happy and healthy as possible for as long as possible!


Dr. Heintz is a small and exotic animal veterinarian at Countrycare Animal Complex in Green Bay, WI. She earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from University of Illinois – Urbana/Champaign. Her passion is helping all animals, whether furry, scaly, or feathered, lead long and healthy lives.