Topical Hormone Replacement Therapy: Be Careful Around Pets

Published: November 30, 2011
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Getting older isn’t always a lot of fun … but it sure does beat the alternative.

While I’m not (quite) at the "change of life" stage of things, I do find myself taking an increased interest in, shall we say, more "mature" topics. Here’s something that women of, ahem, a certain age should pay attention to.

Hormone replacement therapy is typically used to alleviate the sometimes severe symptoms associated with menopause, and creams or sprays that are absorbed by the skin are a popular route of administration. Hormones can play a role in the treatment of a variety of other human medical conditions as well, so anybody who is using a topical estrogen-progesterone product, beware. If you cuddle with your pets or let them lick your skin, you may be putting their health at risk.

It took veterinarians and medical doctors a while to figure this out. Spayed or extremely young female dogs and cats were coming into veterinary hospitals looking for all the world like they were in heat. They displayed typical estrous behavior, had enlarged vulvas and mammary glands, and some were even developing infections (stump pyometras), which are almost unheard of in an animal without ovarian tissue. Male dogs were also presenting with mammary gland enlargement and smaller than normal penises and testicles. Symmetrical fur loss was another common symptom for pets of either gender.

Eventually, the connection between an owner’s use of a topical estrogen-progesterone medication and the pet’s symptoms was made. Sometimes, the animals were licking the cream from their owner’s skin, but often they simply had a history of snuggling. In these cases, the hormones were either being absorbed via the pet’s skin or licked off of the fur and ingested. Whatever the route of absorption, when the owners limited their pets’ exposure their symptoms eventually disappeared, although this process sometimes took many months.

Unfortunately, some pets have undergone unnecessary surgery because their symptoms can be related to a small piece of ovarian tissue that is left behind during a spay operation. Should you ever notice symptoms associated with your pet’s reproductive system and/or symmetrical, non-itchy hair loss, be sure to tell your veterinarian whether or not he or she could have potentially come in contact with medications (topical or not) that contain hormones.

Take precautions to protect pets and other family members (I worry about children coming into contact with these hormones, too) from inadvertent exposure to topical hormone replacement products:

  • Apply creams or sprays only to skin that remains covered with clothing
  • Use latex gloves to apply the medication
  • Wash your hands thoroughly before touching pets or people

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: absolut / via Shutterstock