Human OTC Pain Drugs That are Poisonous to Cats

Posted on 16 Dec 2015 08:05 by EricT

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Many people, when their cat is not feeling well, assume that what works for a human will work for a cat. However, most of the drugs that humans take, and even which are given to dogs, cannot be given to cats. Cats are extremely sensitive to a variety of drugs and many common over-the-counter medications are toxic to cats, and may lead to death if ingested and immediate medical care is not given.

Although there are some over-the-counter drugs, such as Benadryl, that can be given to cats, you must NEVER give your cat any drug unless directed by your veterinarian, even if this article lists the drug as generally safe for cats. Let me repeat this. Even if a drug is considered generally safe for cats, contact your veterinarian first, to receive advice and instructions for dosage. Once you describe your cat's symptoms to your veterinarian, her advice may not include the medication you are thinking of giving your cat.

Be aware that if someone tells you a medication is safe for a cat, what they may not mention is that this medication is safe at the right dose. It can be difficult to determine the proper safe dose the and difference between a safe therapeutic does and a dose with unpleasant side effect or even toxicity can be slight. Also, it may be near impossible to change some human sized pills in into cat-size doses, when the margin for error is slight. In these cases, it may be better to have your veterinarian prescribe a pet-sized dose that you can purchase from the pharmacy, or often, from the veterinary clinic itself.

Frequently, dosage sizes for cats are extrapolated from dosages for other animals, especially dogs, resulting in acute or cumulative toxicity.

The importance of proper dosage and veterinarian advice cannot be over-stated. Your cat's pre-existing health conditions could well influence the dose given.

It must be stated that most, if not all, of the human over-the-counter drugs used for cats have not been approved specifically for use in felines. There may have been no clinical studies to determine their safety or exact dosage range. Often, the dosages given have been developed through anecdotal evidence, or simple trial and error. Error is not a good thing when it comes to using human drugs for cats. There physiology is sufficiently different from hours that an error may well final.

Again, let me repeat that almost all the information you will see is based on anecdotal evidence. There is usually enough of such evidence that we can be reasonably assured of using these drugs with veterinary supervision, but this does not mean we can be cavalier about such drugs.

What this all means is that anytime you give a human OTC drug to your cat, there is risk involved!


cat getting pill medicine

Any drug that you give your cat should be prescribed
by or under the guidance of your veterinarian.



Be careful that your cat cannot come into contact with any drugs. If a capsule or pill is dropped on the floor, especially a colorful one, make sure you do not leave it there. It is common for pills to be lost on the floor, having ended up underneath something. You may think nothing of it if you can't find it, but if your cat finds it and plays with it, chews on it, or eats it, the consequences could be very serious.

If you drop a pill or capsule and your cat is near, he may be attracted to it and try to chase and eat it. Cats may take things into their mouths just out of curiosity, or as part of play. A pill or capsule doesn't need to be swallowed for your cat to get some of the drug. Capsules containing liquid are especially dangerous. So, when it comes to household drugs, treat your felines like children.

Common Drugs Which Poison Cats

Common human drugs that cats are exposed to leading to harm or overdose are pain killers, including nonsteroidal OTC pain killers; antidepressants, antihistamines, sleeping pills, diet pills, blood pressure pills, and heart pills. Also, multivitamins can be toxic for cats.

Drugs classified as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS), which are ubiquitous in our households, deserve special consideration.

What are NSAIDS?

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are drugs that are used for their analgesic, or pain relieving affects as well as their anti-inflammatory effects. For pain relief, they differ fro narcotics, such as codeine. Unlike prescription opioid pain relievers, NSAIDs are not addictive. For their anti-inflammatory effects, they differ from steroid containing medications, such as corticosteroids, in that they have much fewer side effects. We use these drugs without any doctor supervision, because they are relatively safe. They are so safe, in fact, we tend to think nothing of them.

The most familiar NSAID, historically, is aspirin. The most common NSAIDs today are ibuprofen (Advil), and naproxen (Aleve). Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is not usually considered an NSAID but for our purposes, we can consider it as part of this group of drugs. Acetominophen overdoses are even dangerous for humans, let alone for a cat.

Cats lack the enzymes necessary to detoxify these drugs so they can be safely eliminated from the body. The specific enzyme that is most important is a liver enzyme called glucuronyl transferase. This enzyme breaks down the drug, so that the results can be metabolized by the body, and eliminated. Cats are deficient in this enzyme, so the liver cannot break down the drug. Dangerous substances are left in the blood when the body tries to metabolize the substance, which build up, becoming toxic.

Of all household drugs, accidental ingestion or therapeutic use of NSAIDs is the most common source of poisoning by drugs in cats, as well as in dogs (dogs can generally handle NSAIDs better, but do not give your dog these drugs without veterinary supervision and instructions).

Symtoms of NSAID Toxicity in Cats

One of the first symptoms of NSAID ingestion in a cat is vomiting. Other symptoms are:

  • abdominal pain
  • salivation,
  • weakness

If your pet gets a high enough dose, kidney failure or sudden death can occur due to respiratory failure and heart failure.

Symptoms of Acetaminophen (Tylenol) Ingestion in Cats

The symptoms of acetaminophen toxicity in cats are more severe. Your cat's gums may turn blue and your cat may have difficulty breathing, and his face and paws may swell. Other symptoms are weakness, vomiting, and severe lethargy.

Although buffered aspirin is given to dogs fairly routinely, it is not often given to cats because of its potential danger. Some veterinarians may prescribe what they consider safe dosages for cats, occasionally. This does not mean that you should take it upon yourself to determine a cat-safe dose of aspirin.

What Should I Do If My Cat Ingests NSAIDs?

Hopefully, since you've read this article you will take steps to insure that your pet does not come into contact with household drugs. Certainly, you will not give your cat a dose of Ibuprofen or Aleve.

If your cat does accidentally ingest one of these drugs, the faster you take the necessary steps, the more likely your cat can be effectively treated. Veterinary treatment, especially with smaller doses and within the first few hours, is often successful.

You should have the number of your vet handy. If they are open, call your vet immediately and report what has occured. Then follow your vet's instructions before bringing your cat in to be treated, to your vet's clinic or an emergency clinic nearby, should your vet recommend you do so. If your veterinary office is not open, hopefully, you have the number of a 24-hour vet clinic that is located near where you live. Call them immediately.

If you cannot get in touch with a veterinarian, call the poison control center. The ASPCA operates a specialized pet poisoin control center. The number is (888) 426-4435. They also have a mobile app with poison information. Visit the ASPCA Animal Poison Control page for more information.

Are There any NSAIDS That are Approved for Cats?

Currently, there are two NSAID's which are approved for use in cats, but both of these are prescription-only, and neither can be used long term.

Meloxicam, which is sold under the brand name Metacam, Meloxicam, and Loxicom, is approved to be used in cats as one-time-only injection to control pain and inflammation after spaying, neutering, and orthopedic surger. Before surgery, the injection will be given under the cat's skin. Repeated use of meloxicam in cat can cause sudden kidney failure and death.

Robenacoxib, which is sold under the brand name Onisor, is also approved for controlling pain and inflammation after spaying, neutering, or after orthopedic sugery. It is given only once daily as a tablet or by subcutaneous (under the skin) injection, and is to be used for no longer than three days.

Although both of these NSAID's are approved for prescription-only short-term use in cats, long-term use of NSAIDS, cats still have trouble breaking down these NSAIDS, so they must be used properly.

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