Are medications poisoning your pets? A veterinarian’s perspective.

poisoning

If you have read your fair share of pet articles  you have probably come across a few that have been critical of traditional medications prescribed by veterinarians. It seems like the most common products that are targeted are flea/tick products and heartworm medications. I have often seen these products described as poison for pets. So why are these products described as poison by some? Are these products truly poisonous? This article takes a look at these questions below.

Marketing strategy

There are some natural product companies that may choose to describe traditional products as poisonous as part of the marketing strategy. There are others who truly believe these products are poisonous and feel there are providing a service in providing an alternative.

Ingredients

In some of these products the ingredients are actually pesticides. In most cases these pesticides are at a low enough concentration not to have a direct effect on a pet. Despite this,  the idea of placing a pesticide on a pet may be disturbing for some.

Allergic reaction

Just as in humans, pets can experience allergic reactions to certain medications and even natural products. These reactions can range anywhere from swelling, itching, redness, hives, vomiting, or even general lethargy.  Allergic reactions usually occur when the pet gets in contact with something they are sensitive to. This leads to a cascade of events at the cellular level that leads to specific cells releasing an agent called histamines. Histamines lead to a variety of signs such as previously mentioned. Unfortunately, one can never know which pets will have a reaction to a specific medication until after it is given unless there is a family history of reactions. But even that is not 100% reliable.

Genetic defect

What this means is that the some pets may be born with some mutation that affects how they metabolize certain drugs. Often this defect results in an enzyme that ends up missing resulting in an overdose of any medication that is administered.  A perfect example of this is collies who may have a MDR gene defect therefore they are sensitive to Ivermectin.

Underlying organ dysfunction

Majority of medications prescribed to pets are metabolized either through the kidney or the liver or both. If a pet has a dysfunction in one of these organs, this can cause an increase of the concentration in the blood contributing  to what appears as a “poisoning”.  That is why with some medications it is recommended that these values are tested prior to prescribing.

As you can see the above are all logical reasons for pets to have a reaction to a particular medication. For those who are unfamiliar with these and their pets experiences a reaction are more likely to consider the medication as poisonous. However If a pet is having reaction to these drugs for these reasons it is not necessarily considered a poisoning in a medical sense.  How poisoning may differ is if the drug that is given is causing damage to certain organs or alteration in the functions of these organs.

True definition of a poison

In a general sense it may come down to semantics based on one’s background on what is considered poison. Regardless of the initial reason an owner may consider any medication that causes an adverse reaction as a “poison”

Unfortunately in veterinary medicine almost all the medications we have to prescribe to our patients can have the potential to cause a side effect. So when deciding to prescribe a specific medication the benefits of the medication are always weighed against its cost. But if the medication is given at the appropriate dose but causes a reaction then it is rarely described as a poisoning.

Don’t get me wrong I definitely don’t have a problem with people preferring to use natural products or avoid certain products because of concerns of reaction. I only get concerned when the term poison  gets thrown around so loosely. Sometimes it seems like a scare tactic either to help with sales or to paint with a broad brush the intentions of veterinarians prescribing these drugs.

Final thoughts

To answer the question that the title has proposed, no medications are not poisoning your pets.  But medications can have side effects that range from minor to major. Because medications can have the potential to cause side effects should they all be regarded as poisonous? I definitely don’t agree with that. The reason is that to be consistent then anything can be considered poisonous. You hear about people having peanut allergies but you would rarely see this popular food being described as poisonous. There are many other examples of foods or medications  that can cause reactions.  We can start in our own medicine cabinet and look at the warnings for the common over-the-counter medications that we take. In conclusion as your pet’s own advocate you can definitely choose what medications you feel comfortable giving them. Just remember that each pet is unique for different reasons. Just because your pet has a reaction to a drug doesn’t necessarily mean it should be completely shunned as a poison. The best tip I have for pet owners is when placing your pet on a medication for the first time make sure you ask your veterinarian questions regarding potential side effects . You especially  want to know if there are any contraindications with any other medications given at the same time.  With that information,  you can then make the best decision based on the costs and benefits.

2 thoughts on “Are medications poisoning your pets? A veterinarian’s perspective.

  1. The best tip I have for pet owners is when placing your pet on a medication for the first time make sure you ask your veterinarian questions regarding potential side effects .

    Actually, I think the veterinarian should ask the pet parent the appropriate questions to rule out potential drug interactions. A lot of pet parents would not have a clue of what to ask. Maybe you could create a checklist to be printed out on each patients worksheet. This way you could cover most issues except for the ones that fall through the cracks. Thanks for the great article.

    • Thanks Kathy for the insight. I agree that veterinarians bear responsibility for sharing potential side effects of drugs that they are prescribing. I actually meant to put that in the final edit. The tip was for owners to be proactive just in case something does fall through the cracks and the veterinarian fails to share that information.

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