Protect Pets from Accidental Exposure

Pharmacy TimesJanuary 2020
Volume 86
Issue 1

Keeping animals safe around human medications requires vigilance; Here are 10 tips.

Most people are aware of the need to keep medications out of children’s reach, but they do not necessarily realize that similar rules apply when it comes to keeping pets safe.

Pets can also get into medications that are not intended for them, which could cause harm. One case in point was recently reported to the Institute for Safe Medication Practices.

After a visit to the park with his 2 dogs, a man picked up his monthly prescription refills from a pharmacy and placed the bag on the passenger’s seat of his car. Before returning home, he headed to the grocery store. While inside, 1 or both of the dogs got into the pharmacy bag containing his medications. The dog(s) took a prescription bottle containing 90 tablets of lisinopril 5 mg into the back seat and chewed open the bottom of the bottle. The man returned to the car, did not notice that a prescription bottle was missing from the bag, and drove home. When he brought the pharmacy bag into the house and put his medications away, he did not realize that the lisinopril was missing. Several hours later, he returned to the car and saw that the lisinopril tablets strewn all over the back seat and floor. He was only able to find 70 of the 90 tablets.

Both dogs were taken to an emergency veterinarian, who examined them and called the animal poison control center run by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Fortunately, the toxic dose of lisinopril for either 50-pound dog was well above the missing amount of lisinopril (100 mg), and the dogs experienced no adverse effects. However, luck certainly played a role in this happy ending. Had the dog(s) chosen a different drug from the pharmacy bag full of refilled medications, the outcome could have been tragic.

To keep 4-legged friends safe, pet owners should follow these 10 safety tips:

  • Always contact the ASPCA animal poison control center (888-426-4435) or a veterinarian if a pet has ingested medication not prescribed for them. A $65 consultation fee may apply when calling the animal poison control center.
  • Do not leave medications on nightstands or tables where pets can reach them.
  • Do not let pets come in contact with or eat medication patches (eg, fentanyl or nicotine patches) prescribed for a person. Also, if pets are prescribed a patch, be sure that they do not lie next to heat sources that could enhance absorption and lead to an overdose.
  • Do not let pets come into contact with or lick a person’s skin where a medical cream (eg, sports cream, topical nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory cream,1 fluorouracil topical cream2) has been applied.
  • If a pet sitter or someone unfamiliar with a pet’s medicines will be administering, leave clear written instructions to prevent confusion and dosing mistakes.
  • Keep human and pet medications separate. Although pets may often be treated with the same medications as people, the doses are usually vastly different, and confusing them can be fatal. Also, keep medications intended for different species of pets separate to prevent mix-ups. Medications for animals affect species differently, sometimes with undesirable effects. For example, some flea medications intended for dogs are highly toxic to cats.
  • Never give pets human medications, including OTC medications and weight loss products, without consulting a veterinarian. Medications that may seem innocuous, such as ibuprofen, can be fatal for pets.
  • Pick up any medications that fall on the floor immediately. Pets are likely to mistake dropped medications for food scraps and eat them before realizing they are not tasty treats.
  • Properly dispose of expired medications in petsafe containers.
  • Store all medications out of a pet’s reach. Most dogs can quickly chew open a bottle to get the contents.

Hopefully, errors like these will never happen, but if they do, report any veterinary-related medication mistakes to the FDA ( Errors can also be reported to the ISMP (, and we will forward them to the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine.


  • Topical creams can pose danger to pets [news release]. New York, NY: American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; April 28, 2015. Accessed November 11, 2019.
  • FDA warns of illnesses and deaths in pets exposed to prescription topical (human) cancer treatment: fluorouracil [news release]. Silver Spring, MD: FDA; January 18, 2017. Accessed November 11, 2019.
  • Veterinary medication errors. FDA website. Published October 15, 2019. Accessed November 11, 2019.
  • American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Poisonous household products. Accessed November 11, 2019.
  • 10 poison pills for pets. American Veterinary Medical Association website. Accessed November 11, 2019.
  • Your pet’s medications. American Veterinary Medical Association website. Accessed November 11, 2019.

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