Medication and Pets: Prevent Poisoning

According to the Pet Poison Helpline, human medications make up 50% of pet poisoning. Symptoms from ingesting medications can vary in severity, with some medications causing fatal symptoms when ingested by your pet. You should ALWAYS consult a veterinarian before giving medication to your pets regardless of information seen elsewhere. 

Here is a list of human over-the-counter and prescription medications that can cause problems for your pet:

Over-the-Counter Medication that is Toxic to Pets:

Acetaminophen (Tylenol)

This medication is widely used for pain management in people however it isn’t safe for pets, especially cats. It is unfortunately a common poisoning as pet owners will give this medication to their pets to control their pain. When ingested, one regular-strength tablet can cause damage to a cat’s red blood cells, limiting their ability to carry oxygen. This can cause cats to become depressed or weak, with rapid breathing, a high heart rate, panting, abdominal pain, vomiting, or drooling. Dogs who are affected may stop eating or experience changes in color around the eyes and gums.

NSAID’s Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs

This category includes Advil, Aleve, Motrin, Ibuprofen, and Naproxen. All these medications are often kept around the house for pain management as well. Ingestion of any of these medications by your pet can cause ulcers in the stomach and intestines. It can also cause kidney failure that can often turn fatal if left untreated. 

Benzalkonium Chloride

While you may not recognize this substance by its name, it is used widely as a preservative in eye drops. Eye drop bottles can be mistaken for toys by pets as well. Ingestion of eye drops that contain benzalkonium chloride can result in your pet experiencing increased salivation, vomiting, oral sores, and muscle weakness.

Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed)

You may find yourself reaching for this medication when sick or dealing with sinus-related symptoms. When ingested by pets, it can cause agitation and elevated heart rate, as well as tremors and seizures.

Prescription Medication that is Toxic to Pets:


Includes Effexor, Cymbalta, Prozac, and Lexapro. Some pets will get prescribed antidepressants however, dosages and medication types range drastically. Overdoses of antidepressants can lead to serious neurological problems including tremors, sedation, incoordination, and seizures. Some prescribed antidepressants also contain a stimulant effect that can lead to dangerously elevated heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. Pets, especially cats, seem to enjoy the taste of Effexor pills and often eat the entire pill.

ADD and ADHD Medications

Includes Concerta, Adderall, Vyvanse, and Ritalin. These medications contain potent stimulants such as amphetamines and methylphenidate. Even with minimal amounts of ingestion, life-threatening symptoms can be seen at 1mg/kg in dogs and cats. These symptoms include tremors, seizures, elevated body temperature, and heart problems.

Benzodiazepines and Sleep Aids

Includes Xanax, Klonopin, Ambien, and Lunesta. Ingestion of these medications can sometimes have the opposite effect on pets as they do on people. About half of the dogs who ingest sleep aids experience agitation rather than sedation. These pills can also cause lethargy, incoordination (walking “drunk”), and slowed breathing in pets. In cats particularly, some benzodiazepines can cause liver failure when ingested. 

Birth Control

Includes Estrogen, Estradiol, and Progesterone. Typically, small ingestions of birth control don’t cause problems. Larger ingestions can cause bone marrow suppression, especially in birds. Additionally, female pets that are intact (not spayed) are at an increased risk of estrogen poisoning. 

ACE Inhibitors

Includes Zestril and Altace. ACE stands for Angiotensin-Converting enzyme, these medications are used to treat high blood pressure in people and occasionally in pets. Overdoses of ACE inhibitors can cause low blood pressure, dizziness, and weakness. When small amounts are ingested, it can sometimes be monitored at home, but if you know your pet has eaten this medication still contact a vet to understand the best treatment plan for your pet.

Beta Blockers

Includes Tenormin, Toprol, and Coreg. These medications are also used to treat high blood pressure but unlike ACE inhibitors, ingestions of small amounts of beta-blocker medications may cause severe poisoning in pets. Ingestion of beta-blockers can cause life-threatening decreases in blood pressure and a dangerously slow heart rate.

Thyroid Hormones

Includes Armour desiccated thyroid, Synthroid, and levothyroxine. Interestingly, the dose of thyroid hormone needed to treat dogs is much higher than a person’s dose. So ingestion rarely causes problems, however large acute overdoses in cats and dogs can cause muscle tremors, nervousness, panting, rapid heart rate, and aggression. 

Cholesterol Lowering Agents

Includes Lipitor, Zocor, and Crestor. These medications are often referred to as “statins” and are commonly used in the US. Most statin ingestions are mild in symptoms, some including mild vomiting and diarrhea. Serious side effects come from long-term use not one-time ingestions.

Other Medications to Watch Out For:

Tramadol (Ultram)

Albuterol (Asthma medication)

Warfarin (Coumadin)

Some tips to keep your pet safe from medication poisoning:

  • Never store pills in a Ziploc bag. These bags are WAY too easy to get into if left in reach of a pet.
  • Keep weekly containers out of reach as they are often mistaken for plastic toys.
  • Store medications for your pet separately from your personal medications to avoid administering the wrong medication to your pet (and to yourself)!
  • Hang up your purse! Dogs and cats are known for their curious noses and you don’t want there to be any risk of them suffering because of it.