Dogs O.D. on Human Antidepressants

Pooches across America are developing a dangerous drug habit — accidental consumption of their owners’ Prozac-like drugs.

The National Animal Poison Control Center of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty says more dogs these days are chomping down — unintentionally, that is — their owners’ serotonin-enhancing antidepressants, such as Paxil and Prozac, than they were five years ago.

“Dogs are very dogged,” explains Dr. Steve Hansen, director of the Poison Control Center, which is located in Champaign-Urbana, Ill. “They will crush a bottle of pills with their back molars and lap up the drugs or they will quickly eat a tablet that an owner inadvertently dropped on the floor.”

Established in 1978, the fee-for-service National Animal Poison Control Center is the only 24-hour emergency telephone hotline staffed by 20 full-time veterinarians and five board-certified veterinary toxicologists in North America.

Unintended Use

While veterinarians now prescribe antidepressants to dogs to treat canine sadness, separation anxiety and other behavioral problems, the increasing problem with unintended ingestion of these drugs by dogs is due, most likely, to the rising popularity and use of this class of drugs by humans, Hansen says.

In 1995, 50 percent of the antidepressants accident cases were of the Prozac type, according to Jill Richardson, a veterinary poison information specialist at the animal poison center. By 1999, that number jumped to 80 percent of 500 total antidepressant case calls.

The danger antidepressant drugs pose to Fido depends on the amount wolfed down, the size of the dog and whether the dog had any pre-existing medical conditions that might make it susceptible to an overdose, Hansen says.

Danger Depends on Many Factors

Lethargy, vomiting and disorientation are among the symptoms a small dog, such as a Chihuahua, could experience with a large dose of a Prozac-like drug. “The animal will walk around with its front legs not in sync with its back legs, looking drunk,” Hansen says.

If the owner calls the poison control line before these symptoms develop, the hotline veterinarians might recommend the owner induce regurgitation with hydrogen peroxide easily found in most medicine cabinets. The dose with a 3 percent peroxide solution is one milliliter per pound of the dog, which translates into 2 ounces for a 50-pound dog.

If the dog already is tipsy, however, the vets will probably ask the owner to take the animal for emergency care, since the animal might need more specialized treatment. The telephone vets also will suggest an older dog with kidney disease get to a vet as soon as possible.

Homes Need to Be Pet-Proofed

To prevent an animal from accidental consumption of drugs, owners need to dog- and cat-proof their house. “Medications should be kept in a closed cabinet beyond their reach,” Hansen says. The No. 1 problem drug accidentally consumed by pets are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or medications like acetaminophen, aspirin or ibuprofen.

While drugs can poison animals, pets also are susceptible to insecticides, rodenticides and will drink spilled antifreeze and gasoline. The antifreeze propylene glycol is less toxic to pets than ethylene glycol, Hansen says.

Cat owners also should not use dog products containing the anti-flea chemical permethrin on their felines. “Owners should not assume because it is OK for dogs, it is OK for cats,” Hansen says. “Cats may experience tremors and seizures from the insecticide.”

Why Vet Line Charges?

Pet owners must pay a $45 fee to get assistance from the vets at the Animal Poison Control Center. The amount covers subsequent calls to the hotline.

Unlike human poison control centers which are free because they receive funding from federal, state and local government sources, the animal line must charge because it only receives partial funding for its operation from manufacturers of pet care products. The phone number is 1-888-426-4435.

Because large emergency veterinary centers are usually located in large communities, a pet owner or a veterinarian in a rural community may only have the hotline to get important toxicological information in a emergency situation, according to Sharon Granskog, spokeswoman for the American Veterinary Medical Association, in Schaumberg, Ill. “They play a vital service,” she says.