If you have a cat, this list will help you to avoid poisoning your feline friend.

Dr. Justine Lee’s article was published on September 1, 2021.

DVM, DACVECC, DABT Justine Lee

Have you ever attempted to pill a cat and succeeded? Given how difficult it is to pill cats, it’s amusing that our feline companions would choose to take human medicines on their own! So, which over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medicines are dangerous to cats? Continue reading to see why you should be careful about leaving medicines around the home.

Which OTC and Prescription Medications Poison Cats the Most?

Over 250,000 calls are received each year by the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC), the world’s only non-profit poison control center. They just published a list of the top ten toxins that harm dogs and cats. While dogs account for 90% of their calls (cats typically have discerning palates and don’t “woof” things down the way dogs do! ), poisoned calls account for 10%. 

While cat poisonings are less frequent, bear in mind that feline poisonings may be far more dangerous! Because cats’ liver metabolism is changed (e.g., glucuronidation), they are unable to break down chemicals, medicines, and prescriptions as well as dogs. Things that aren’t toxic to dogs may be poisonous — or even fatal — to cats. 

The following are the top ten OTC and prescription medicines that I often encounter poisoning cats in the veterinary ER as an emergency critical care veterinary expert and toxicologist:

  1. Antidepressants (EffexorTM, for example)
  2. Amphetamines (e.g., AdderallTM, a medicine for ADD/ADHD)
  3. Ibuprofen (e.g., AdvilTM, MotrinTM) is an anti-inflammatory drug. 
  4. Naproxen (e.g., AleveTM) is a pain reliever.
  5. Aspirin 
  6. Acetaminophen (TylenolTM, for example)
  7. Antibiotic ointment with three antibiotics (e.g., NeosporinTM)
  8. Creams for the skin (e.g., estrogen creams, diaper rash creams, etc.)
  9. Bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-BismolTM, for example)
  10. NSAIDs for animals that can be chewed (e.g., RimadylTM, DeramaxxTM)

Antidepressants

Human antidepressant medicines are one of the most often consumed prescription pharmaceuticals by cats. Antidepressants, often known as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), alter the body’s serotonin levels. Cats appear to be attracted to the scent or taste of SSRIs, especially Effexor, for some strange reason. Other popular antidepressants include ProzacTM, ZoloftTM, and CymbaltaTM, all of which are very toxic to cats. Antidepressants, however, may be very hazardous when used, causing symptoms such as lethargy, vomiting, tremors, seizures, heat, and diarrhea. The prognosis is good with therapy.

Veterinarians may prescribe fluoxetine (e.g., Prozac) to treat behavioral problems in cats and dogs. However, the amount is usually low compared to human doses of this medication—so please consult your veterinarian before giving your pet Prozac! 

Amphetamines

Amphetamines, which activate the biological processes, are often included in ADD or ADHD medicines like Adderall. SSRI antidepressants may cause comparable poisoning symptoms. When cats swallow even one amphetamine tablet by accident, they may experience agitation, dilated pupils, hyperactivity, a racing heart rate, hypertension, and even tremors or convulsions in large dosages. Decontamination, IV fluids, sedation, blood pressure and heart rate monitoring, muscle relaxants, and anti-seizure medicine are common treatments for amphetamine poisoning, which are similar to antidepressant overdose. Thankfully, if your cat inadvertently ingested this frequently prescribed human medicine, the prognosis is good with treatment, although it usually requires 12-24 hours of hospitalization for treatment.

Painkillers Available Over-the-Counter

Is it possible to offer ibuprofen to cats? No. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories include ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin, which are all commonly used pain relievers (NSAIDs). Never give your cat pain medication without first contacting a veterinarian or the ASPCA APCC. This is because, although these pain relievers are perfectly harmless for people, they may be deadly to cats. Ibuprofen, even at little doses, may cause serious acute renal failure and gastrointestinal ulcers. Decontamination, hospitalization for 48 hours for IV fluid therapy, anti-vomiting medicine, daily blood tests, antacids, and supportive care are all common treatments for cats that have ingested an NSAID. Thankfully, as long as your cat does not suffer renal damage as a result of the infection, the prognosis is excellent with early treatment. 

Acetaminophen 

Is it possible to give Tylenol to a cat? No, once again! Acetaminophen, often known as paracetamol in some countries, is a popular over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medicine for humans. However, it must never be used on cats: A cat may be killed by one tablet (usually containing 325 mg of acetaminophen). Acetaminophen induces a chemical alteration in your cat’s hemoglobin (the protein that helps your cat’s red blood cells transport oxygen). Atypical swelling of the face and paws, trouble breathing, a chocolate to blueish hue to the gums of the mouth, lethargy, vomiting, and death are all signs of acetaminophen overdose in cats. Fortunately, acetaminophen poisoning has a prescription-strength antidote in the form of n-acetylcysteine, but it only works if treated quickly. IV fluids, oxygen, anti-vomiting medicine, blood work monitoring, and supportive care are among the other treatments. Thankfully, the prognosis is favorable after just 48 hours in the hospital.

Antibiotic Ointment with Three Antibiotics

Think twice before using triple antibiotic ointment like Neosporin to your cat’s skin wound. Cats may have a severe, life-threatening anaphylactic response to the chemicals in triple antibiotic ointment, but this is uncommon. This is one of the reasons why it is seldom prescribed by veterinarians, even for ophthalmic usage! When in doubt, contact your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center before administering your own or another pet’s medicine to your cat.

Creams for the skin

When other topical treatments are swallowed, they may cause poisoning in dogs. Chronic poisoning may develop as a result of cats grooming and licking their people. This may lead to rare instances of estrogen toxicity, for example (from menopausal hormone creams). Other topical treatments, like as diaper rash creams, may cause a slew of gastrointestinal symptoms. With only a few licks, less common topical treatments (such as the topical chemotherapeutic 5-FU) may be fatal. Keep these OTC and prescription tubes out of reach when in doubt, and don’t allow your cat lick the area where you administer medicine to yourself!

Bismuth Subsalicylate is a kind of bismuth salt. 

One of the chemicals in over-the-counter Pepto-Bismol or Kaopectate may be harmful to your cat if taken long-term. This aspirin-like chemical may induce stomach ulcers and even renal failure, and cats can be poisoned with as little as half a spoonful. 

NSAIDs for animals that can be chewed

As a veterinarian, I may prescribe medicines for your dog or cat (such as Rimadyl or Deramaxx) that are safe when given at the proper dose. It may be hazardous, though, if your cat gets into your big dog’s medicine. When do I think I’ll see cats ingesting these medications? When you place your dog’s medication in a Tablet PocketTM on the counter or toss a chewable pill in his chow (only to have your cat walk by and eat it). Keep veterinary medicines out of reach when in doubt, just as you would human prescriptions. Decontamination, hospitalization for 48 hours for IV fluid therapy, anti-vomiting medicine, regular blood tests, antacids, and supportive care are all common treatments for cats using NSAIDs. As long as your cat does not suffer renal damage, the prognosis is excellent with early treatment.

There are so many frequently used human medicines in the home that may harm your cat. If you suspect your cat has been poisoned, contact your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (888-426-4435) right away for help. Keep in mind that you can’t safely induce vomiting in cats at home, therefore an emergency visit is usually required! When in doubt, make sure your home is properly pet-proofed so that we can safeguard our feline family members.

Dr. Justine Lee veterinarian holding long-haired cat - top 10 over-the-counter and prescription medications toxic to cats

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best OTC over-the-counter?

The best OTC over-the-counter is a drugstore.

What are the most common OTC?

The most common OTC is ibuprofen.

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