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The dangers of taking your pets' medication

17 May 2021

The old saying 'sharing is caring' might be something to live by with close friends and family. But when it comes to your pets, it's a different story.

It's widely known that giving your dog chocolate can make them ill. Other lesser-known everyday human foods, such as grapes, onions, garlic and avocados, can also make your four-legged friends sick. Similarly, humans will feel horrible if they start to chow down on dog treats, cat food or supplements for their horse or cow. This also applies to medicines: what's good for your pup, fish or cat can do you a lot of harm. Although some animal medicines may share the same or similar ingredients as human medicines, they are not safe for human use and shouldn't be taken.

The consequences of taking your pets medicines

One tragic example was from the US where a couple took chloroquine that was used to treat their pet aquarium fish thinking it would prevent them from becoming infected with the COVID-19 virus. Both became ill and sadly, one died.

Some parents have been tempted to treat their children's head lice with remedies designed for use on the family dog or cat. These products can be harmful to children and adults, including if they are swallowed or come into direct contact with your skin or eyes. Products for animal use are likely to be formulated differently to products for human use.

Animal medicines may be made with different strengths of active ingredients, different dosage forms or different excipients (non-active ingredients), including ingredients that could cause allergic reactions in some people. There can be severe unintended consequences if you use these animal medicines to treat your condition.

Despite the risks, it hasn't stopped some people from taking their pet's medicines. A 2016 survey of antibiotic use in the US found that about 4% of adults had reported using their pet's antibiotic medication (this wasn't even the focus of the study and was information volunteered by participants).

Why pet medicines can be dangerous for humans

It's important to remember that your veterinarian prescribes medicines based on your pet's needs. Your vet takes into consideration illness, treatment regime, species and size. Even if a medicine has the right ingredient to treat a human, the right dose for you may be very different to the right dose for your pet guinea pig, tabby cat or pony.

In addition, taking pet medicines instead of seeking appropriate health professional advice deprives you of the opportunity to start an appropriate treatment as early as possible, which could also have serious consequences.

For the same reasons, you shouldn't be giving medicines made for humans to your pets. Everyday household medicines, such as paracetamol, are toxic to your dog, cat and pet snake. The same goes for ibuprofen and benzodiazepines. There are a number of cardiac medications, like ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers that are also toxic to pets. There are some exceptions. For example, sometimes your vet may prescribe medicines that are made for humans which are dispensed at a pharmacy. These should only be given to your pet under your vet's advice.

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA), assesses veterinary products for safety and efficacy to protect the health and safety of animals and also ensure the safety of the people using those products to treat animals. Products which have been registered by the APVMA are safe to give to animals in line with label directions, which should always be followed to help prevent accidental poisoning.

What to do if you or your pet takes the wrong medication

If you or a member of your household consumes your pet's medicine, don't panic. Contact your GP or call the Poisons Information Centre (within Australia: 131 126) and seek advice.

If your pet has consumed human medicines, call your veterinarian and seek advice.

Even if you're familiar with your furry friend's medicine, our advice is clear: if a product is labelled 'for animal use only', do not take it. When it comes to human medicines and animal medicines, sharing isn't caring.