If your pet becomes poorly, or comes home injured, what do you do?

Well if it was us who was feeling unwell, or was lame, we’d reach for the headache relief pills or the anti-inflammatories, right? We would hope to feel better by the next day. So is it OK to do the same and give our cat or dog the same medicines? Then see if they are OK tomorrow?

The answer is a big, straight NO!

By assuming that our pet animals will benefit from the same medicines as people is jumping to a huge and potentially very harmful conclusion. It is true that vets may prescribe the same family of antibiotics that we may receive, or that pets’ diabetes may be treated with a similar insulin but, when it comes to painkillers and anti-inflammatories, there are big differences.

Feeling pretty ropey as a result of a bad cold, or a hangover, we may reach for aspirin as a relief. Surely that would help our poorly cat as well? Well, aspirin CAN be used to treat cats but it lasts much longer in the cat’s body than in ours, making it potentially toxic. High levels of aspirin lead to kidney damage that can be fatal. The only way that aspirin can be used safely in cats is as an anticoagulant in heart and circulatory diseases. In these cases it is used at a very low dose, and is given only once every three days. So, never use aspirin unless your vet prescribes it.

What about Paracetamol then? It is widely and safely used in humans, even in babies – as Calpol – for all sorts of different conditions. If it’s safe for wee kiddies it must be OK for cats and dogs, right? Well, paracetamol is even more dangerous than aspirin, especially in cats. It is a drug with NO veterinary indications, due to its potential toxicity. Cats are very sensitive to paracetamol, where it causes damage to the liver, producing jaundice, anaemia, and blood in the urine. Clinical effects usually occur within 4-12 hours of ingestion. Cats can die of paracetamol poisoning if not promptly treated and, even then, many will not recover. Paracetamol ingestion by a cat is a genuine veterinary emergency.

Among the commonest drugs in the human medicine box is ibuprofen, in its many guises – Brufen, Nurofen, Advil, even types of Anadin. Humans use it by the ton, as part of a cold and flu remedy, for sportsmen and women with sprains and strains, or for sufferers of chronic arthritis and muscular pain, and we can swallow it in liquid or tablet form, or rub it onto local areas as a gel. The dog who comes back limping after hard exercise would benefit from a few days ibuprofen treatment, right? Well actually, no, because ibuprofen kills dogs! It causes toxicity of their kidneys and they can die of kidney failure with vomiting, diarrhoea, anaemia and dehydration.

All of these drugs are members of a group called NSAID’s, or Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs. Up until about fifteen years ago there was a serious gap in our veterinary pharmacies. When it came to pain relief we had to rely on opiate drugs like codeine, or buprenorphine (Temgesic), or even morphine itself. Then we started to receive new drugs, veterinary NSAIDs, that had the same beneficial effects but without the harmful, toxic side-effects of the human NSAIDs. Even then, some patients would develop less serious side effects, such as tummy upset vomiting and diarrhoea, just as some humans do. In recent years the choice of these drugs has grown, and their effects have become more targeted, and with fewer side effects.

So what’s the best plan when your pet appears poorly or comes home lame? Call your local vet for an appointment, to get him checked out or, if it’s out of hours, ring “e-vets Emergency Service”.