"What’s safe for humans isn’t always safe for pets." That’s the mantra at the Pet Poison Helpline, where nearly half the calls are related to the ingestion of potentially toxic human medications. That’s why, when a recent report detailing the top five selling prescription drugs debuted, the Helpline people got busy sending veterinarians notices on what to expect should a blockbuster drug get down a pet’s gullet.


And we all know how it happens. Heck, just last week I was unpacking a bag from my Keys trip and left it halfway, only to come back later and realize I hadn’t remembered I’d stashed a mega-bottle of Advil (twist-off, no less), and left it exposed in the half-emptied bag on the floor. That’s how it happens.


Which is why I bring you the following list of damnably ubiquitous drugs, from the list produced by the PPH people:


1. Lipitor® (atorvastatin)

Used to reduce cholesterol levels, U.S. citizens spent $7.2 billion on Lipitor in 2010, making it the top selling drug in the country. Generally when pets get into Lipitor, only mild side effects are seen, such as vomiting and diarrhea. Therefore, Lipitor is not considered to have high toxicity levels for pets. While some human drugs are utilized in veterinary medicine, Lipitor is not.


2. Nexium® (esomeprazole)

During 2010, Americans spent $6.3 billion on Nexium. It is an anti-ulcer medication and proton-pump inhibitor that results in decreased gastric acid secretion. While it is utilized in veterinary medicine for some pets, mild side effects can include vomiting and diarrhea. Pet owners of dogs or cats that get into this drug should watch their pet closely, but not be alarmed since symptoms will generally subside on their own.


3. Plavix® (clopidogrel)

In third place is Plavix, which is a drug that affects platelets in humans, inhibiting clot formation and reducing the risk of stroke. Rarely used in veterinary medicine, $6.1 billion was spent on this drug for humans last year. When pets get into Plavix, it has a wide margin of safety and generally is not considered to be acutely toxic. Only mild vomiting or diarrhea may be seen.


4. Advair Diskus® (fluticasone propionate and salmeterol)

Often used for treating asthma and administered through an inhaler, Advair Diskus contains beta-agonist drugs that expand the lungs and steroids that decrease inflammation in the lungs. Americans spent $4.7 billion on Advair Diskus in 2010, making it fourth top selling drug. Because inhalers contain many doses, dogs that chew into them are exposed to massive amounts of the drug all at once. This often results in heart arrhythmias, an elevated heart rate, agitation, vomiting and even acute collapse. Severe electrolyte abnormalities such as very low potassium levels are likely and can be life-threatening without immediate veterinary treatment.


5. Abilify® (aripiprazole)

The fifth top-selling drug is Abilify. It contains aripiprazole, an atypical antipsychotic agent that is used to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and clinical depression. It is important to keep this drug out of the reach of pets, as ingestion can result in profound lethargy, vomiting, hyperthermia, significant changes in heart rate and blood pressure, and seizures. If a pet ingests this drug, immediate veterinary attention is needed.


So prescription drug-takers among you take note: Get into the habit of hanging your purses and bags, storing your meds in a separate, chew-resistant compartment, and (for the love of God) don’t do what I tend to do and jump willy-nilly, ADD-style from one project to the next, leaving half a bag unpacked for your pets to get into.




Dr. Patty Khuly



Image: belozu / Shutterstock