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  1. Animal Health Literacy

Properly Store Medications to Keep Your Pet Safe

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FDA cannot give veterinary medical advice. If your pet is sick or has a veterinary emergency, call your veterinarian. If your veterinarian is unavailable, call your local emergency animal hospital or an animal poison control center. For more information, see Who Do You Call if You Have a Pet Emergency? 

For your pet’s health, it’s important that you safely and securely store medications. Proper storage helps prevent your pet from accidentally eating her medication, or yours, either of which could lead to potentially serious health problems.

FDA receives reports of pets accidentally eating medications as part of the agency’s overall system for monitoring drugs used in animals. Some of these reports involve pets getting into their own medications or medications for other pets in the household. There are also reports of dogs and cats getting into horse medications that have been put in horse feed or left out in the barn.

A lot of pet medications are flavored to smell and taste good—which is a positive when Princess takes her pill easily but a negative when she sniffs the pills out on her own and eats the entire supply at once. Some pets with less discriminating taste buds will eat medications that aren’t even designed to be tasty. They may even eat the container!

FDA also receives reports of pets accidentally getting into people medications, such as a dog eating an entire bottle of his owner’s ibuprofen. Nearly 50 percent of all phone calls to the Pet Poison Helpline are regarding pets that ingest medications intended for people—both over-the-counter and prescription. Topping the Helpline’s list of the top 10 people medications most frequently eaten by pets are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen and naproxen.

“You may not think that bottle of medication on your kitchen counter is something that your dog would want to eat, but think again,” said Stacey Shults, a veterinarian at FDA. “Some animals chew or eat things that are not what we consider tasty. Be sure your pet can’t reach any medications—for pets or people—regardless of whether or not they’re flavored.” 

In the reports that FDA receives of pets accidentally eating medications, dogs are the most common culprit, but the curious nature of cats and ferrets can get them into trouble too.

Help prevent your pet from accidentally eating medications by following these safe storage tips:

  • Keep pet medications in their original containers with intact labels. It’s important that the directions for use and the pet’s name are legible.
  • Keep pet medications in a secure location. What you may think is “out of reach” of your pet may, in fact, not be. Some pets are good jumpers or climbers, so kitchen and bathroom counters, shelves, and other high places may not be secure enough. A pet could also knock a tube of medication off a counter or bedside table onto the floor, making it easier for another pet (or a child) to get into it. And a determined pet with a good nose can devise clever ways to reach that pill vial at the back of the cabinet, especially if the medication is flavored.

    Also, medication containers that are child safe may not be pet safe. Pets are known to chew through a variety of medication containers, including plastic pill vials, boxes, and blister packages. An example of a people medication that is potentially fatal to pets if they chew on the tube is a medicated skin cream that contains 5-fluorouracil.  
  • Don't forget to keep pet medications away from children too. Children may think a pet medication is candy, especially a chewable or liquid product. Some liquid pet medications are made to smell like banana or strawberry and may be especially attractive to children.
  • Store pet medications away from people medications to prevent a mix-up. FDA sometimes receives calls from panicked owners who mistakenly took their pet’s medication or gave their personal medication to their pet. (If you accidentally take a pet medication, call your healthcare provider or Poison Control. If you accidentally give a people medication to your pet, call your veterinarian or an animal poison control center.) To prevent mix-ups, store medications for each person and each pet in your household separately.
  • Keep medications for horses and farm animals in a secure location. Many medications intended for horses contain flavoring that dogs and cats may find attractive. Also, medicate horses and farm animals in an area that other pets can’t access. And don’t leave leftover dewormer paste or other liquid medication on the ground. Your dog or cat may find the spot and lick it up.
  • Get rid of expired, unused, or unwanted medications properly.
    • Take It Back

      Community-based drug “take-back” programs offer the best solution for disposing of expired, unused, or unwanted medications. The same take-back programs available for people medications will also take back pet medications.

    • Flush It

      If you don’t have a drug take-back location near you, check if the medication is on FDA’s flush list. FDA recommends getting rid of certain powerful and potentially dangerous medications by flushing them down the toilet. An example of a medication on the flush list is fentanyl transdermal system (also known as the fentanyl patch), which contains an opioid.  Flushing gets rid of the medication right away and helps keep the adults, children, and pets in your family safe.

      Here are some good resources on FDA’s website on how to safely dispose of expired, unused, or unwanted medications for both people and pets: 

    • Trash It

      Pets, especially dogs, are known to go dumpster-diving and get into the garbage, so follow these guidelines for throwing out medications in your household trash: 

      • Mix medications (do NOT crush tablets or capsules) with a substance that doesn’t taste good, such as kitty litter or used coffee grounds;
      • Place the mixture in a sealable container, such as a zip-top plastic bag; and
      • Throw the sealed container in your household trash.
  • Some medications for both people and pets require you to use “sharps” at home. “Sharps” are medical devices with sharp points or edges that can puncture or cut skin, such as needles and syringes. For example, insulin—a medication used to treat diabetes in dogs, cats, and people—is usually injected under the skin using a small insulin syringe that has a needle.

    Here are some good resources on FDA’s websites on how to safely dispose of used "sharps": 

What To Do if Your Pet Gets Into a Medication

If your pet accidentally gets into a medication, call your veterinarian or an animal poison control center (be aware that these centers may charge a consultation fee): 

FDA encourages you to work with your veterinarian to report all problems related to a medication, including if your pet has side effects from accidentally eating a medication or if you mistakenly give your pet the wrong medication. FDA’s webpage on veterinary medication errors has more helpful tips for how to avoid accidental medication exposures in pets.

For More Information

If you have questions or want more information, please contact FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine at 240-402-7002 or AskCVM@fda.hhs.gov.

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