“My dog ate Nurofen, what should I do?” is a question that you’ll hopefully never need to ask, but being aware of the risks of your pet accessing medicines, and what can be done to prevent it, is important for all pet owners. Ibuprofen, the active ingredient of Nurofen, and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, can be extremely dangerous for dogs, but Nurofen is just one of thousands of medicines that is dangerous to our pets.

How would a pet come into contact with medicine?

By world standards, Australians are big takers of prescription and non-prescription medication, and with many people taking them daily, the chances that one could be dropped on the floor or left in a place that’s accessible to pets, is quite high. Add to that the naturally inquisitive nature of animals, and the risk increases.

Why would an animal consume human medication?

Dogs and cats, like us, have taste buds and even though they’re not as sensitive to taste as ours are, they still influence what they find attractive. In reality, they probably choose food more by smell than by taste, but if pills have a sweet-tasting coating, then this might be reason enough for dogs to decide that they’re worth a try. Cats cannot detect sweetness, even in something that is sweet-tasting, therefore the sweet coating of pills would not by itself be a reason why cats would necessarily be attracted to them.

Dogs, on the other hand, have a sweet tooth, which is why dangerous foods like chocolate are a hazard, and another risk is that dogs can often be quite greedy and gobble down anything they consider to be edible, even when they’re not hungry. It is therefore important that pet owners include medicine in their pet-proofing practices, together with other hazards such as dangerous foods, chemicals and insecticides.

What happens when pets consume human medication

What happens when animals eat drugs not intended for them, will depend on various factors, such as the type of medication, the dose, their weight, and how long it has been since they consumed it.  Even though they may not show immediate signs of intoxication, it’s important that you act quickly to check with a vet whether an emergency hospital visit will be necessary. Unless you know for sure what has been ingested, we would recommend taking your pet to a vet immediately.

A vet will ask you things such as:

  • Your pet’s age and weight
  • The type, strength and quantity of the drug taken
  • How much time has passed since the drugs were taken
  • Specific medical conditions that may affect your pet, such as problems with kidney or liver function
  • Your pet’s current behaviour and clinical signs

Take the medicine with you to the vet if possible, to save having to remember the details.

Signs of poisoning

If you suspect that your pet has come into contact with drugs, there will sometimes be evidence, such as an empty container, or a box that has been ripped up. If vomiting has begun, then it may be possible to find an undigested pill or capsule, either partial or whole. Liquid drugs would, of course, be more difficult to detect in the vomit. Symptoms of poisoning may vary but commonly include:

  • Vomiting
  • Excessive salivation
  • Lack of coordination
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal pain


There are numerous factors that will influence the outcome of poisoning, and the speed of which veterinary treatment is sought can be an important factor. Most cases of exposure are with dogs and fortunately the outcomes are usually good and the effects are mild. Cats, even though they’re less likely to be exposed, usually don’t fare as well, and this may be because their metabolism is different to dogs’, and because of their smaller size.

Animals don’t always take human medicine by accident

Pets don’t always end up being poisoned by human medication because they’ve licked a tasty pill they’ve found under the lounge; Owners sometimes give their pets human medication, and while it’s a common error made by well-intentioned owners, it can cause serious harm. Following is a list of drugs commonly ingested by pets:

NSAIDs (e.g. Nurofen, Voltaren, Naprosyn)

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, are safe for people, but as few as one or two pills can cause serious harm to an animal. Dogs, cats, and birds, can develop serious stomach and intestinal ulcers, and suffer kidney failure.

Acetaminophen (e.g Panadol)

When it comes to pain treatment, acetaminophen (paracetamol) is very popular, and while it is quite safe for people and children, it is very dangerous for dogs and cats. It can cause damage to red blood cells and lead to liver failure.

Birth control (e.g. Yasmin, Diane 35, Levlen, Microval, “the Pill”)

Small quantities of these drugs typically do not cause trouble when ingested by pets, however large doses can cause bone marrow suppression, panting, muscle tremors, nervousness, and a rapid heart rate.

Cholesterol lowering medication (e.g. Lipitor, Zocor, Crestor)

Often referred to as “statins,” these commonly used medications typically only cause mild vomiting or diarrhoea if taken by animals. Long-term use, rather than single ingestions, is what usually causes problems with these drugs.

Always keep medications safely out of reach

Even seemingly harmless over-the-counter or herbal medications can cause serious poisoning in pets, and never administer a medication to a pet without first consulting your vet. Making medication inaccessible to your pets is essential, and following are some tips regarding their safe storage:

  • Ensure your pets can’t reach your pills, and be careful to find and retrieve pills that are dropped
  • Make sure that guests staying with you keep their medications out of reach as well
  • If your medication is kept in a daily/weekly pill holder, make sure that it’s stored out of reach, as dogs may view it as a chew toy
  • Don’t store your medications near your pet’s medications
  • Keep handbags that contain medication out of reach

In addition to being careful to ensure stored medication is inaccessible to your pets, also be careful when handling them. Do so over a table, bench or sink, so that if a pill falls, your dog or cat can’t reach them. Know the names and strengths of all medications you take and keep a summary of this information somewhere handy.

When you consider that the number of Australians taking medication is rising, and many of us take medication two to three times per day, that dogs often eat anything dropped on the floor, and that our pets are usually nearby when we’re at home, the dangers of pets being poisoned by human medication become obvious.  If you suspect that your pet has been poisoned, do not attempt to induce vomiting, as it often fails and causes significant stress to your pet. Worse still, valuable time can be lost by allowing the medications to be absorbed into your pet’s system. Instead, call your nearest veterinary emergency centre immediately for advice and directions.