sealPurdue News

January 14, 2003

Purdue expert: Pet owners use caution before playing pharmacist

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. When cats or dogs get sick, it's tempting for pet owners to search for a cure in their medicine cabinets, but a Purdue University veterinarian warns that self-medicating pets can do more harm than good.

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"Human medications over-the-counter or prescription should not be given to animals without consulting a veterinarian or veterinary technician," says Steve Thompson, veterinarian and director of the Pet Wellness Clinic at Purdue's School of Veterinary Medicine. "Over-the-counter drugs are not routinely tested in dogs and cats, yet they are sometimes used in pets. Guidance from a veterinarian or veterinary technician is crucial to ensure the appropriate drug and dose."

Pets' reactions to human medicine vary according to dosage, the animal's size and the drug's toxicity.

"The cold virus doesn't seem to affect cats and dogs," Thompson says. "However, there are problematic respiratory infections that can induce fevers and coughing, which pet owners may attempt to treat themselves."

Aspirin can be given to some dogs, but only if the appropriate amount is given, and any dose of acetaminophen can be fatal to cats. Administering cough medication to a dog could make it hyperactive.

Thompson says pet owners need to realize that the body temperature for cats and dogs tends to run high. The normal range is 101 degrees to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit and 100 degrees Fahrenheit for puppies and kittens. When a pet's temperature hits 103.5 degrees to 104 degrees, then the pet owner has cause for worry, Thompson says.

If a dog or cat is running a high fever, but not quite high enough to necessitate an emergency trip to the veterinarian, Thompson suggests owners brush the pads of their pets' paws with rubbing alcohol. Panting also is pets' natural way to cool down.

During the cold season infectious diseases, such as bordatella for dogs and calicivirus for cats, are transmitted easier indoors. Instead of looking for medicinal ways to help ill pets feel better, Thompson suggests using preventive methods such as increasing the amount of humidity in the home. A short-term solution is to keep the pet in the bathroom while running a hot shower to provide warm steam therapy. Lower humidity is problematic because it dries the mucus in the nasal membranes, making pets more susceptible to viruses.

If the pet is ill with a virus, Thompson recommends humidity, rest and fluids.

"Don't encourage your pet to play," Thompson says. "And monitor their fluid intake. When cats are sick they can lose their sense of smell, and it can affect the amount of food or water they consume."

Cats, especially those that are overweight, also need to be monitored to ensure they continue to eat during an illness.

Overweight cats that stop eating for 72 to 96 hours can quickly develop liver problems that can be fatal, Thompson says. The fatty liver syndrome also can affect normal-weight cats in seven to 10 days. Cats store fat in the liver, and when they stop eating, toxic metabolites can develop. Overweight cats have an abundance of fat in their livers already.

"This is a potential problem for many cats, because 40 percent of domestic cats in the United States are overweight," Thompson says.

During the human cold season, Thompson often sees pets that are accidentally medicated when human drugs are not stored out of their reach.

"A large dog could easily pierce some medications' packaging after grabbing it from the counter," Thompson says. "Dogs will eat anything, and they don't know the difference between food on the counter and a bottle of medication, even though the drugs could be toxic to their system. A cat may find a tablet of Tylenol an interesting toy to bat around the kitchen floor, but if swallowed the cat will die. Tylenol is fatal to cats because their liver cannot digest the drug."

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A publication-quality photograph Steve Thompson examining a dog is available at

Writer: Amy Patterson-Neubert, (765) 494-9723,

Source: Steve Thompson, (765) 494-1107,

Related Web site:

Pet Wellness Clinic:


Steve Thompson, veterinarian and director of the Pet Wellness Clinic at Purdue University's School of Veterinary Medicine, examines Pippi, a spaniel mix. Pet owners should consult their veterinarian before administering any medications to their pets because over-the-counter medications can be harmful. For example, a large dose of aspirin could harm a smaller dog, such as Pippi, and one Tylenol pill can be fatal to cats. Thompson says pet owners also need to ensure their human medications are kept out of reach of pets to prevent them from digesting potentially toxic drugs. (Purdue News Service Photo by David Umberger)

A publication-quality photograph is available at

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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