Keep medications out of pets' reach, especially antidepressants

“Oh, no!” Karen had just gotten home and found her dog had managed to reach up and knock off some items that had been on the kitchen counter. His treats were stored on the counter, so she knew what he had been looking for. It wouldn’t have been such a big deal – except that her medications had been on the counter too.

Without children in the home, Karen never used those annoying child-proof caps on her medicine. It might not have mattered if she had, as she stared at the mutilated plastic bottle. Had her dog thought his treats were in there? She had no idea why he’d gone after her anti-depressant medication, but it looked like he might have chewed the bottle enough to have gotten at least some of the pills out.

According to the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center (APCC), this scenario is happening more often due to the increase in both people and pets taking antidepressant drugs. Hundreds of cases like Karen’s were called into the center just in the last year.

There are three different kinds of medication used to treat depression and related issues: Tricyclic Antidepressants, which resulted in roughly two-thirds of the calls to the APCC; Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, which in addition to human depression are being prescribed to combat aggression and anxiety in dogs, urine spraying in cats, and feather plucking in birds; and Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs), which treat human behavior as well as cognitive dysfunction and adrenal gland disease in dogs.

While some of these drugs are used successfully to treat disorders in companion animals, an overdose can be dangerous. (Don’t try medicating your pet with human dosages, as these can almost always cause physical problems and frequently have the opposite effect in animals as in humans. Consult a veterinarian for more information about the use of antidepressant drugs for pets.)

If your pet has ingested these medications in excess, you may notice lethargy, vomiting and diarrhea, as is common with many poisons. In extreme cases, pets may appear agitated, their heart rate and blood pressure may rise, and seizures or coma are possible.

“Because these signs can develop quickly – often within 30 minutes after ingestion – it is important that veterinary treatment be sought immediately,” warns Dana Farbman of the APCC.

As these medications, most notably the tricyclic antidepressants, can cause seizures, it’s not recommended to induce vomiting in your pet under any circumstances.

To prevent this from happening to your pet, be sure to keep your medications in a secure closed cabinet, well out of your pet’s reach. As Karen found out, even if you do use child-proof caps on your pill bottles, an enterprising dog can simply chew through the plastic of the bottle. Medications specifically for your pet should also be kept out of reach, but in a separate location from where you keep human medicines, to avoid any confusion. To completely differentiate pet medicine bottles, which can look identical to human versions, color the label with a highlighter pen or paint it with nail polish or another similar household paint.

If, despite your best efforts, you suspect your pet has ingested something it should not have, don’t hesitate to call your veterinarian. I always keep the emergency clinic’s number close at hand, as well, in case of a problem at night or on weekends (let’s face it – these sorts of problems always happen at the least convenient times).

You also have a resource in the Animal Poison Control Center, which is always open. It does have a cost though, of $55, so have a credit card available when you call. The number is 1-888-426-4435, or you can access their web site at www.aspca.org/apcc.

Sadly, antidepressants are only one of numerous things that could cause harm to your pet. It’s easy to obsess about the problems that could occur if you’re not watchful enough. Instead, decide to remove the most obvious problems from your household and use common sense when dealing with your pet. That will go a long way toward preventing any problems.