Pet Pills and Products: An Environmental Safety Concern

Ken Tudor, DVM
Published: October 22, 2014
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How do you get rid of expired or unused medications and health care products for your pet? How about your own medications and personal care products? Do you throw them in the garbage or flush them down the toilet?

Did you know that the active ingredients in flushed medications and healthcare products find their way into our waterways and endanger fish and wildlife? Trashed medications and personal care products pollute landfills and pose the same risks to birds, rodents, and larger mammals. Chemicals can also leech from the landfills into water sources. According to an article by Mark Floyd published on the website, incorrect disposal of medications, over-the-counter and prescription as well as personal and pet health care products, is posing a large environmental problem.  


Pet and Human Medicines and Personal Care Products Are Harmful to Life and Environment

Generically these products are classified as “pharmaceutical and personal care products,” or PPCPs. Pet PPCPs include shampoos, heartworm medications, and flea and tick products. Prescription drugs and over-the-counter (OTC) medications for inflammation, pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and skin care products are all PPCPs and have the potential to contaminate surface and ground water and landfills. With 68 percent of Americans owning pets, the magnitude of this problem is easily imagined.

Owners contribute to PPCP waste by trashing or flushing their own medications and personal care products. Cited in Mr. Floyd’s article is Sam Chan, a watershed expert at Oregon State University, who says that increasingly low levels of ibuprofen, antidepressants, antibiotics, estrogens, insect repellent DEET, and ultraviolet sunblock compounds are being found in surface and ground water. Mr. Chan explains that fish exposed to low levels of antidepressants become more active and bold and become more susceptible to predation.

Antibacterial ingredients commonly used are also a problem. Here is what Mr. Chan has said on antibacterial products:

“Triclosan is another concern; it is a common anti-microbial ingredient in soaps, toothpaste, cosmetics, clothing, cookware, furniture, and toys to prevent or reduce bacterial contamination for humans and pets. It is being linked to antibiotic resistance in riparian [wetlands adjacent to rivers and streams] zones, as well as to alterations in mammal hormone regulation-endocrine disruptor and impacts on the immune systems.”

Lack of Awareness on Pet Product Safety

Most pet owners are not aware that the products they purchase from their veterinarian need special disposal. Mr. Floyd cites a thesis survey by Oregon State graduate student Jennifer Lam. Her survey found that most veterinarians were aware of the environmental impact of improper disposal of their products but only informed their clients 18 percent of the time. Lam said of the obvious disconnect:

“The awareness is there, but so are barriers. Communicating about these issues in addition to care instructions takes time. There may be a lack of educational resources or a lack of awareness of their availability. And some may not think of it during the consultation process.”

When was the last time your physician or office staff advised you about the disposal of your own medications and health care products? Do your OTC medications or products have directions for proper disposal on the labels?

What You Can Do to Help

In October the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency will be issuing new regulations for drug disposal that should open more availability to drug take-back options. This is a far superior method than disposal in the garbage or flushing down the toilet.

In the meantime, or if take-back options will not be available in your area, Chan and Lam suggest mixing medications and products with coffee grounds, kitty litter, or other unpalatable choices, and sealing them in a container before depositing them in the trash.

Mr. Chan is trying to establish the true scope of the problem and is seeking input from pet owners and veterinarians. He and his colleagues at Oregon State are launching a national survey and you are invited to participate. Simply click on the following link to participate in the survey.

Dr. Ken Tudor

Image: Fonna Seidu / Flickr