Poisons in your medicine cabinet

Miniature Schnauzer puppy

The dangers of human medicines

Dogs are more likely to encounter human medications when these are outside of a medicine cabinet. Not only should medications be kept out of reach of your dog when not being used, but remember to put away any boxes of tablets immediately after use. Do not leave tablets lying on tables while you get a drink to help wash them down. Dogs are not humans and so should never be given any human medication unless specified by a veterinary professional.

Ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

NSAIDs are often used to manage inflammation and pain in both humans and dogs. Human NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, diclofenac and naproxen, are different from the ones given to dogs and can make them very unwell. Human NSAIDs (and dog NSAIDs in overdose) interfere with the dog's ability to protect its gut and so can cause severe tummy upset. Ulcers may form in their gut, leading to blood in the stools and vomit. Kidney failure can also occur and may be delayed for several days. Signs of kidney failure may include inappropriate urination and increased thirst. Some NSAIDs can also cause fits.

Oral contraceptives

These small tablets are one of the medications most frequently eaten by dogs. Fortunately, oral contraceptives are of low acute toxicity and even large amounts are unlikely to cause any major concerns, apart from a possible mild stomach upset. Some oral contraceptives may temporarily disrupt oestrus in bitches.


This widely used pain medication may initially cause vomiting, brown gums, increased heart rate, changes to the rate of breathing, swelling to the face and paws, and can also cause a delayed liver failure, which may not present for several days.

Paracetamol can also be found in many other over the counter medications in combination with other drugs.

Psoriasis creams

These creams often contain vitamin D derivatives which are extremely toxic to dogs. Dogs are usually poisoned by licking off recently applied cream from their owners, but may also lick or chew the tube of cream. These drugs enhance the resorption of calcium from the bone and increase the absorption of calcium from the gut. This causes hypercalcaemia; an excess of calcium in the blood. Signs may present after six hours, but could be delayed and can include weakness, profuse vomiting and diarrhoea, and increased thirst. As calcium levels rise it can cause muscle spasms, fits, heart problems, kidney failure and can cause the gut and lungs to become calcified.

Other poisonous human medicines

Other common items found in medicine cabinets that could harm your dog:

  • antidepressants
  • aspirin
  • blood pressure medications
  • diabetes medications
  • heart medications
  • sleep aids

Tips on how to poison-proof your home

Many people carry medications around in bags that they use on a daily basis, i.e. handbags or rucksacks. When at home, don't forget to keep these out of reach of your pet, as an inquisitive dog who discovers a box of tablets, foil packaging or a bottle of medication, may be inclined to play with it.

What to do if you think your dog is poisoned

If you think that your dog may have eaten, touched or inhaled something that it shouldn't have, speak to your vet straight away.

Never try to make your dog sick. Trying to do this can cause other complications, which may harm your dog.

Things to tell your vet

In an emergency you can help your veterinary practice make an informed decision as to whether your dog needs to be treated by them and, if so, what the best treatment would be. Where possible you should provide your veterinary practice with the following information:

  • What poison you think your dog has been exposed to (i.e. chocolate, ibuprofen etc.). Include any product names, or lists of ingredients if relevant
  • How much they may have been exposed to (i.e. 500mg, 500ml, one tablet etc, even approximations may help)
  • When your dog was exposed to the poison (i.e. five minutes, five hours or five days ago)
  • If your dog has been unwell, and if so, what clinical effects have been seen

It is easier for a vet to care for a poisoned dog if it is treated sooner rather than later. If you are in any doubt, don't wait for your dog to become unwell before calling for advice.

What to take to your vet

If you do need to take your dog to your veterinary practice, make sure that you take along any relevant packaging, or a sample of the poison, e.g. parts of plant or fungi. Always make sure that you yourself are protected and cannot be poisoned in turn.

How to use this information

The information is intended to be used to prevent poisoning by raising awareness of certain poisons, rather than as a document to be used in an emergency. If you think that your dog has been poisoned, or has come into contact with potentially poisonous substances, contact your local veterinary practice immediately.

Think your dog may be affected?

If you're worried about your dog's health, always contact your vet immediately!

We're not a veterinary organisation and so we can't give veterinary advice, but if you're worried about any of the issues raised in this article, please contact your local vet practice for further information.

Find a vet near you

If you're looking for a vet practice near you, why not visit the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons' Find a vet page.

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