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Ask Einstein the Cat: Can I Take Human Meds to Make Me Feel Better?

Cats are different than humans, so people medication is dangerous for cats. Here's why.

 |  Aug 25th 2014  |   6 Contributions


Hi Einstein,

I’ve been feeling like something the cat dragged in. I’m hot and my legs ache. When my human feels like this, he goes to the magic cabinet and he feels better soon. Sometimes he gives those orange baby aspirin to the dog when Fideaux’s joints hurt. Is there something behind door No. 2 that can help me?

--Prozac the Persian

"I feel crappy. What's in the first aid kit?" Senior cat portrait by Shutterstock.

Keep calm, Prozac,

It’s a supremely bad idea for you to take humans' medicine without a vet’s okey-dokey. The possible causes of fever and painful joints are legion. Better to go to the vet so she can treat the real reason, not just the symptoms.

We kitties are made very different from humans, and even dogs. So many foods and medications that are safe for dogs and toddlers can have us pushing up the catnip. (For example, dogs and kids can eat lilies and get an upset stomach, but if we kitties nibble on lilies, without quick treatment, we end up in the bottom of a hole.) Human meds should only be given to a kitty when your vet says it’s okay. 

Even if you and the family dog take the same medications, they will have different doses because dogs come in different sizes, you have different medical histories, and pooches and pusses metabolize chemicals differently. Human instruction labels don’t apply to us because we kitties are so much smaller than kids and we process drugs more slowly; daily doses of medicine for a 10-pound baby still might be an overdose for us. What’s good for the grade-schooler and the Greyhound may not be good for the Javanese.

Keep your cat's medications in a safe place. Pills poured out of the bottle intended for pets by Shutterstock

Dr. Catherine Adams of the Pet Poison Helpline says we kitties don’t typically break into medicine bottles like dumb dogs do. (Not a direct quote. She didn’t call dogs simpleminded; I did.) Leaving sleep aids or anti-anxiety pills out on the nightstand can end in disaster because they look and act like cat toys. Humans need to make sure they don’t accidentally poison their kitties by letting us lick medicated creams off their skin. Dr. Adams says therapeutic creams may have “a low margin of safety.” Who’d have thought a little love taste could send you to the emergency clinic?

12 over-the-counter and prescription drugs that can quickly ruin a kitty's day

If your human suspects you may have ingested any poison, he should call either of these 24/7 animal poison control hotlines, then take you to the vet immediately: Pet Poison Helpline (800-213-6680) or ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (888-426-4435). These aren’t free calls, but you’re worth it. 

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol), a non-aspirin pain reliever that is highly toxic to cats. Even the tiniest dose can be deadly. Drug companies put acetaminophen in all kinds of bipedal cold, headache, and arthritis medications. Acetaminophen not only damages the feline liver, but it also destroys red blood cells. If your human gives you acetaminophen you may experience salivating, brownish/gray-colored gums, labored breathing, a racing heart, swelling in the face or paws, no appetite, diarrhea, low body temp, puking, jaundice (which your human can see in the yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes), coma and even dropping over dead.
  • Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), another popular human analgesic. It causes stomach ulcers and kidney failure. 
  • 5-fluorouracil (5-FU, Adrucil, Efudex [topical]), a nasty chemotherapy ointment. When we lick it off of our human’s arm, says Dr. Adams, it causes gastrointestinal concerns, neurologic symptoms and bone marrow suppression. 
  • Medicated creams of any kind (including Vitamin D creams) can cause a variety of serious to deadly effects. You shouldn’t lick your human if he’s using medicated lotions.
  • Venlafaxine (Effexor), a human antidepressant. Most human medications we avoid like a flea bath, but we kitties love to eat venlafaxine, says Dr. Adams. Yum. Humans should keep a close eye on their venlafaxine stash and not leave these capsules on the counters. It can cause agitation, vocalization, tremors and seizures.

  • Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid), which is found in many OTC products like Kaopectate and Pepto-Bismol and also in medicated creams. It causes drooling, dehydration, puking, and a staggering gait. It can affect the bone marrow and liver. Internal bleeding is common.
  • Naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), an over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory. Even small doses can cause stomach ulcers and kidney failure.
  • Alprazolam (Xanax), a prescription anti-anxiety/sleep aid. Humans often leave them on the nightstand so they remember to take them. It can cause a blood pressure drop, weakness or collapse.
  • Adderall, which is prescribed for hyperactive kids, causes elevated heart rate and body temperature, along with hyperactivity, tremors and seizures.
  • Zolpidem (Ambien), a human sleep aid and another nightstand no-no. We kitties get wobbly and sleepy or become very agitated with a rapid heartbeat.
  • Clonazepam (Klonopin) is prescribed as an anticonvulsant, anti-anxiety med and as a sleep aid. Once again, when kitties ingest clonazepam they can become sleepy and wobbly. It can lower the blood pressure, leading to weakness or collapse.
  • Duloxetine (Cymbalta), a antidepressant/anti-anxiety med. It can cause agitation, vocalization, tremors and seizures.

Let's hope your human now keeps medications like these locked away in a high cabinet, and make sure he has these important phone numbers on hand: Pet Poison Helpline (800-213-6680) and the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (888-426-4435).

Read related stories on Catster:

Got a question for he who knows everything feline? Just Ask Einstein in the comments below and you might be featured in an upcoming column. (Letters don't have to be written from the cat's point of view.) Remember, any change in your cat's behavior or activities could be a symptom of disease and should be investigated by your vet, even if it unfortunately involves glass tubes and cat posteriors.

Einstein’s assistant, Dusty Rainbolt ACCBC, is the vice president of the Cat Writers’ Association, editor-in-chief of AdoptAShelter.com and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She’s the award-winning author of eight fiction and non-fiction books including her most recent paranormal mystery, Death Under the Crescent Moon. 

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