When my sister sent her beloved Border Collie Angus to spend his last months with us here in the country, he was 14 years old and suffering greatly with advanced arthritis. After only a couple of months I couldn’t take his crying anymore – he was in constant pain despite pain-killers he’d been prescribed – and had him put down. I think my sister knew that was coming, just couldn’t do it herself. I, on the other hand, have had some practical experience with pet euthanasia – which Is of course the last decision you want to make, but the kindest decision in the end.
My experience had been with the only purebred dogs we’d ever owned, standard poodles. Who have an unfortunate tendency to develop cancer of one sort or another, usually before they’re 10 years old. We learned with the first one who got a systemic cancer that there was chemotherapy available that could extend his life, and we learned further that the drugs had originally been developed for humans.
Most dog owners have at one time or another given their dog a piece of an aspirin (or a baby aspirin) for pain, because it works and because until quite recently veterinarians seldom (if ever) prescribed pain medication for pets. The drawbacks of aspirin or similar NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug, a.k.a. pain reliever) – definitely apply to dogs too. Worse, they apply in lower doses.
When we were caring for Angus he had a prescription NSAID and glucosamine. The veterinary tablets were expensive (big chewable meat-flavored doggie snacks), but the vet advised us that we could get a bottle of low-dose glucosamine tablets for humans instead, as well as use a baby aspirin rather than the chewable doggie-snack NSAID that cost an amazing amount for just 6 tablets – not even a week’s worth. Using the cheaper human formulations was more trouble, but not that much more trouble – we had to grind the tablets and mix them into wet dog food instead of just offer him a drug disguised as a Scooby Snack. They worked just as well since the drugs either way were identical.
Anyway, the issue of drugs – including antibiotics – developed for humans that are quite often prescribed for dogs got me wondering what human medications could safely be used in dogs and what human medications would be harmful for dogs. Naturally, I went surfing…
One interesting find was on the FDA website, a press release entitled FDA Approves the First Drug for Obese Dogs. This is dirlotapide, a “new chemical entity, called a selective microsomal tryglyceride transfer protein inhibitor” that blocks lipoprotein assembly and their release into the bloodstream. Just like for human drugs, it was tested first on rats. It has side effects – nausea, diarrhea, loss of appetite and listlessness – deemed minor compared to the life-shortening effects of obesity. It is NOT approved for humans, who not only show the same side effects as dogs, but also abdominal distention and a few other things you don’t want to struggle with.
Provet Healthcare has a page entitled Is it Safe to Give Human Medicines and Drugs to Pets? that tries to address the issue. They say there are hundreds of human prescription drugs that are toxic to pets (human livers have more efficient and different enzymes), and list some. Among them are:
â€¢ Ibuprofen (NSAID)
â€¢ Phenolphthalein (laxative)
â€¢ Iron supplements
â€¢ Vitamin D supplements
â€¢ Any asthma nebuliser medications
â€¢ Seizure control medications
I was surprised they didn’t mention aceteminophen, a.k.a. Tylenol. On one web page entitled Over-the-counter drugs can poison pets, the information is specific to NSAIDs. Again, a difference between pet and human liver enzymes. Dogs get tissue damage from acetaminophen, as just 2 regular strength tablets can kill a small dog. Of course, so can 2 regular strength aspirin tablets.
The issue of animal medications originally developed for humans is really quite interesting. While all pharmaceuticals are tested on animals before they’re tested on humans, animal testing often doesn’t generate a really good model of how the drug will act in humans. I recall reading about one drug a few decades ago that got all the way through primate testing and which showed great promise, only to turn out deadly to humans even in very low doses.
Rats and rabbits are mammals (as are dogs, cats, primates and people), but all mammals are not as alike as animal testing models presume. As the above history of NSAID toxicity in animals and people demonstrates. And then there are drugs originally developed for people that are never approved for human use due to serious side effects, but which are then routed into veterinary medicine (even though serious side effects apply to animals too). There are also drugs developed for particular animals that would harm or kill humans.
Take-home lesson is to know what you’re doing before substituting any medications, and the very best place to find good information on that is your veterinarian. In some cases even the vet may not know precisely what you want to know, but the FDA keeps accessible records in its approval databases for both human and veterinary medications that includes dosage information, animal testing results and noted side effects in animals and humans. The manufacturer’s website may also offer this information if they have a searchable database.
If your veterinarian prescribes medications for your dog that you recognize – any NSAID you’re familiar with, or antibiotic, or diphenhydramine (a.k.a. Benedryl), etc., be sure to have him or her explain to you the difference in dosage with human formulations – which are often much cheaper over a course of treatment and available when the vet’s not available. You can’t just take a midnight ride to the 24-hour doggie-Eckerd’s and pick up a ‘scrip – veterinarians are the providers of doggie pills, and I don’t know about yours, but mine is available 5 days a week 9-5, no weekends or holidays.
For many regularly prescribed veterinary drugs, the entire difference boils down to half or less human strength of an identical drug, formulated into a tasty doggie snack instead of a human-size pill or capsule. According to one site the list of human meds that CAN be substituted (probably not all, again ask your vet) are:
â€¢ Buffered aspirin
â€¢ Vitamin B
â€¢ Hydrogen Peroxide
â€¢ Epinephrine 1:1000
â€¢ Pepto Bismol
â€¢ Di Gel liquid
â€¢ Mineral Oil
They also indicate proper dosage for pets.