We are seeing an alarming number of dogs (and cats) who have been given paracetamol (sold in supermarkets and pharmacies under brand names such as Panadol, Panamax etc.) for pain and fever relief. You should never give Panadol to your dog or cat.
While you may be tempted to try to provide some relief for your pet by using your own medicines, or any over-the-counter painkillers you might have in your own medicine cabinet, the reality is you may be killing your pet. Paracetamol is particularly toxic to cats and dogs. If it doesn’t kill them immediately, the toxic substances can be stored and accumulated in internal organs.
The effects of paracetamol poisoning may not be immediately evident. In some cases you will think that the medicine has produced no immediate side effects. You might even feel that the paracetamol has helped in relieving your dog’s pain and fever. But the toxic effects will accumulate in your dog’s system and in time can lead to kidney and liver damage, and stomach ulcers or anaemia.
Paracetamol causes extreme breathlessness by dangerously altering the red blood cells. It changes the red pigment of the blood (haemoglobin) into a compound known as methaemoglobin. This substance does not carry oxygen and results in the animal’s gums and lips turning blue. Fluid-like swelling occurs around the face and the pet begins gasping for breath.
A mild case of paracetamol poisoning can give your dog an upset stomach, and they may appear to be tired. More serious cases can include signs of staggering, vomiting and restlessness. There can be blood in the stool and the urine will seem unusually dark-coloured.
Other common over-the-counter pain killers such as Ibuprofen are also toxic to pets. In humans, Ibuprofen works to block the chemicals in the body that cause pain, fever and inflammation. The drug is a component in many anti-inflammatory products and it can be potentially toxic to dogs, especially smaller breeds, and to cats. Giving even one tablet of Ibuprofen to pets can cause gastric ulceration.
It’s also very important to be aware that using any human medications prior to visiting your vet can create difficulties in treatment for your pet. For example, if surgery is necessary we will be unable to provide appropriate pain relief if there are potentially toxic human drugs in your pet’s system.
Animals have a different physiology to humans and products that may be safe for us can be very harmful to our furry friends. There are drugs that are more appropriate for animals and that have been tested and approved by the relevant authorities.
In an emergency it is best to contact the hospital for advice. Our emergency advice hotline is available 24 hours a day and we would prefer that you woke us up to ask for advice rather than self medicate your pet.
In those situations where you feel your pet is a bit off colour, or in mild pain from an obvious source, but could wait until the next day to see your veterinarian, you can use low doses of aspirin as a single one-off treatment to relieve pain and fever in your dog. Although aspirin can also be toxic to animals, it is prescribed, in precise dosages, by a lot of vets for minor pain and slight fever. But, more often than not, antibiotics are more appropriate to treat the source of pain or infection that causes the fever.
For added protection, you should keep all medicines in sealed containers. Never leave them lying around where pets can get at them. Like kids, they’ll eat whatever they find. You should do the same thing for your dog’s medicines too. Even with pet medicines, accidental consumption can lead to overdose and death.
Ingestion of human medicines is one of the major causes of poisonings in dogs and cats, accounting for 25 per cent of all poisoning cases. Keep medicines away from your furry friends!