Pain Medication Poisonous to Cats

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D.V. Charlotte Denotes According to the ASPCA National Animal Poison Control Center, a single tablet can be fatal.

If all animal lovers agree on one thing, it is that no animal should be in pain. Fortunately, recent advances in veterinary medicine have enabled us to better control pain in our patients. When a veterinarian considers pain medication, the species of animal, age, prior health, other medications the animal is taking, and the length of time the medication will be needed all play a role in determining the prescription. Over-the-counter (OTC) medications, as well as veterinarian-prescribed treatments, can be fatal to cats due to the unique way they metabolize medications.


People give pain relievers to cats for a variety of reasons, and the majority of the time they do so with good intentions. There may have been trauma, such as a broken limb, or a disease condition, such as a bladder infection, and the guardian wishes to make the cat as comfortable as possible until veterinary care is available. Pain is only perceived in some cases, even when it is not present.

Many people, for example, believe that a cat in heat is in pain because she is vocalizing excessively and exhibiting unusual behaviors. Many guardians also believe that medication prescribed for their canine companions is safe for their feline companions (it is not) or that the veterinarian’s instructions are misunderstood. The following is a discussion of some commonly used OTC and prescription medications, as well as their potential effects on cats.

Aspirin and Salicylates

One of the most commonly used pain relievers is aspirin. It is frequently used to treat arthritis, cardiomyopathies (enlarged hearts), and to relieve pain. Cats, on the other hand, have lower levels of glucuronyl transferase, an enzyme required for drug metabolism, than most other animals. A small amount of this enzyme lengthens the time a medication stays in a cat’s bloodstream and significantly reduces the amount of drug needed to produce the desired effect.

If the dosage prescribed by a veterinarian is followed, aspirin can be used safely in cats. Panting and fever, increased bleeding time for wounds, vomiting (often with blood), liver damage, seizures, coma, and death are all symptoms of an overdose. Be wary of hidden dangers: any salicylate-containing product contains a form of aspirin. For example, two tablespoons of bismuth salicylate contain the equivalent of one aspirin.


Acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol®) should never be given to cats.

M. As with aspirin, the small amount of glucuronyl transferase prevents cats from metabolizing the drug as most animals do. Depression, panting, swollen paws and face, anemia, and liver damage are all toxic symptoms.



Most households have at least one product in their medicine cabinet that contains ibuprofen, carprofen, etodolac, or other NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammonory Drugs). Both carprofen and etodolac are approved for use in dogs and are commonly prescribed for chronic pain conditions such as arthritis. Although some NSAIDs can be used safely in cats, they should only be given in one to three low-dose doses. Following surgery, these NSAIDs are usually given as a single injection, and the cat is then put on other medications. Clinical signs of an NSAID overdose include bleeding and perforating ulcers in the stomach and intestine. Acute renal failure and death can also be caused by NSAIDs.

Local Anesthetics

Local anesthetics such as lidocaine, tetracaine, benzocaine, or pramoxine are commonly found in human topical antibiotic ointments and suppositories. Products containing these local anesthetics may include the phrase “plus pain relief” in the product name. Concerned owners frequently apply these topical medications to their cat’s cuts or abscesses, oblivious to the fact that the local anesthetics can be absorbed through the skin or ingested while grooming. Cats are more susceptible to toxicity because of their distinct hemoglobin structure, which is easily damaged by anesthetics. Seizures, tremors, and cardiac arrhythmia are all possible. Before deciding which antibiotic ointment to keep in your cat’s first aid kit, consult your veterinarian for recommendations and dosage guidelines.

Controlling an animal’s pain is essential for veterinarians and caregivers alike, but it must not come at the expense of the animal’s life. Problems arise, however, when animal guardians attempt to manage their own pain. Consult your veterinarian before beginning or changing any medication if you believe your cat is in pain.

Dr. Means is really a veterinary toxicologist at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center in Urbana, Illinois.

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