Disclaimer: This is not going to be a very scientific article.
I am on a mission to tell all of you to not only keep your prescription medications away from your pets but also keep your over-the-counter drugs and natural “supplements” under lock and key.
No medication or herb, though it may be “natural,” is without consequences. These are drugs, in my opinion, that are not regulated and often don’t have the proper labels on them to protect a pet — or a human — from side-effects or even death.
If one more person tells me they bought a “safe” product at Whole-Y Foods or Nature-Is-Us, I might scream. Supplements, “sleep aids,” “stress relievers” made from plants and “natural” resources are drugs. Treat them that way. “Natural” can also mean deadly. “Natural” also may mean they have no regulation.
The Story of a Natural Sleep Aid
A young man with a sweet little white 2-year-old dog called in an emergency. The dog got into Stress-Relax Tranquil Sleep pills. The little dog probably consumed the entire bottle (an overdose), and his humans did not recognize this for 5 to 6 hours. The young man was not that concerned when he called because he said it was a “natural” product.
Natural-schmatural. This OTC (over-the-counter) sleep aid contains many harmful ingredients. The dog was already exhibiting tremors and seizures. Despite the fact that the emergency vet did everything possible, it simply was too late — the pup did not make it. And no treatment could have reversed this. Too much drug and too many hours of toxicity.
Of course, this is an extreme example, but it’s an important one. This particular sleep aid contains 5-HTP, a supplement that is not controlled by anyone, including the FDA. It also contains L-Theanine, a substance derived from tea leaves and mushrooms, and xylitol, a substance highly toxic to dogs and cats, is listed an “inactive ingredient.”
I’ve written about xylitol before. It’s in gums and candies and foods and some drugs and OTC meds and dietary supplements. It’s in a lot of things — and it’s a huge danger.
Natural Supplement or Drug?
Again, I can’t be too scientific here since the topic is broad enough for a master’s thesis. But please understand that many of our prescription “drugs” come from natural, plant-based extracts. So if you are taking a plant-based “natural” medication or an herb, you are taking a drug.
I’ll give you an example. Vincristine is a drug that I use all the time in my cancer and autoimmune patients. It is listed on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines. It is life-saving but also can have serious side effects.
This drug is a vinca alkaloid and comes from the Madagascar periwinkle, a lovely little flower. In other words, a highly useful but toxic chemotherapy drug is derived from a plant, like many other drugs.
“Natural” does not mean “safe.” It’s important to keep all of this stuff away from your pets and your kids. The xylitol, an artificial sweetener, may have attracted that poor little dog to those sleeping pills. Most dogs don’t like to munch on an entire bottle of pills unless there’s some attraction.
While you’re at it, keep these foods and drinks that are toxic to dogs locked away:
In Case of Overdose
Time is of the essence if you believe your pet has ingested a toxic substance. Veterinarians try to:
- Get the drug out of the system (induce vomit if possible and safe).
- Absorb any residual drug with treatments, such as activated charcoal.
- Support the patient with IV fluids and medications to control side effects such as tremors, seizures, vomiting, etc.
But if many hours have gone by and a pet, child or adult has taken an overdose, our chances of saving them deteriorate by the minute.
Remember these things when you have “natural” supplements, drugs, sugarless gums and candies in your bag or hanging around the house:
- Lock ‘em up!
- Put ‘em in a safe cabinet that’s difficult (or, better yet, impossible) for your pets to open!
- Put your handbag out of reach!
I’m sounding like a preacher here, but deaths of healthy pets due to toxicities are never easy to forget. I feel for anyone who suffers this loss because of the guilt and sadness they endure.
And I feel for all those vets out there who try to reverse an often irreversible toxic situation.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was last reviewed May 18, 2016.