Human Medicine vs. Pet Medicine

Medication - Over the Counter - otcAnimal health and human health are inextricably connected. When your pet has a medical condition, All Pets may prescribe one or more medications to manage, treat or cure the problem. While there are some veterinary-specific drugs, many of the drugs in veterinary medicine are the similar to human medicine. We will discuss human medicine vs. pet medicine, as well as what medicines are safe and not safe for pets.

Differences Between Human Medicine and Pet Medicine

Human Medicine vs. Pet Medicine: Commonly Used Medication Types


When discussing human medicine vs. pet medicine, antibiotics often come to mind. Antibiotics are drugs that kill microbes, such as bacteria and yeast, and can treat infections. While they don’t kill viruses, they are sometimes prescribed to treat secondary bacterial infections. These bacteria infections can occur when a pet is ill from a viral infection. Some examples in dogs and cats include:

  • penicillin
  • trimethoprim-sulfa
  • cephalexin
  • enrofloxacin

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatories

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories are also common when discussing human medicine vs. pet medicine. They are a common drug to reduce swelling, inflammation, pain and lameness. A few examples of this drug include:

  • carprofen
  • deracoxib
  • firocoxib
  • meloxicam

Opioid Pain Relievers

These medications are typically derived from morphine and can be potent pain relievers. The majority of these drugs are controlled substances because of their addictive potential. Some examples of this medication include:

  • oxycodone
  • hydromorphone
  • butorphanol
  • meperidine
  • fentanyl


Steroids have many different uses. They can be potent anti-inflammatories and are common for reducing allergic and anaphylactic reactions. They are also utilized at high doses to suppress the immune system. A few examples of steroids include:

  • prednisone
  • prednisolone
  • dexamethasone


Antiparasitics are products intended to prevent, repel or kill internal or external parasites. These parasites include intestinal worms, intestinal protozoans, (Giardia, etc.), heartworms, fleas and ticks.

Behavior-Modifying Drugs and Sedatives

These medications are to calm anxious pets or help in reducing anxiety associated with various behavioral issues in pets. In addition, they prepare pets for anesthesia and to reduce pet movement during delicate procedures. Some examples of this drug include:

  • diazepam
  • xylazine
  • acepromazine
  • midazolam

Hormones and Other Medications Used to Treat Specific Conditions

Insulin an an example of a hormone used to for diabetes treatment.

For abnormal thyroid hormone levels, methimazole or levothyroxine are common.

Atenol, digoxin and pimobendan are common for heart conditions.


These drugs are utilized to treat tumors and cancer. A few examples of this drug include:

  • cisplatin
  • vincristine
  • doxorubicin
  • cyclophosphamide

Human Medicine vs. Pet Medicine: Drug Interactions

When comparing human medicine vs. pet medicine, drugs act in very different ways. Sometimes these different mechanisms can result in one drug interfering with another drug in some way. Additionally, the body’s method of eliminating one drug can affect another medication. This can happen by altering its rate of elimination from the body.

  • Two drugs may have an additive effect, where the result produced is more than expected. While this can be beneficial, it could also be harmful.
  • One drug may speed up or slow down the body’s metabolism. Or it may cause elimination of another drug, which can result in toxicity, organ damage or ineffective treatment.
  • One drug may prevent another medication from being effective by interfering with ow it acts in the body.

Always discuss the medications with your veterinarian here at All Pets, including any over-the-counter medications and supplements that you are giving your pet. Write down how often, how much and how you give them and share this list with your veterinarian.

Human Medicine vs. Pet Medicine: Medications that are Poisonous to Pets

Nearly 50 percent of all calls received by Pet Poison Helpline involve human medications — both over-the-counter and prescription. Pet poisonings due to human medications are common and can be extremely serious.

Here is a list of the top 10 human medications most often ingested by pets, along with some tips on how to prevent pet poisoning from human medications.

NSAIDs (e.g Advil, Aleve and Motrin)

One of the most common household medications called non-steriodal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), is extremely poisonous to pets. NSAIDs that are poisonous to pets include common names such as ibuprofen (e.g. Advil and some types of Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve).

These medications are safe for people, but even one or two pills can cause serious harm to a pet. Dogs, cats, birds and other small mammals (ferrets, gerbils and hamsters) can develop serious stomach and intestinal ulcers as well as kidney failure if ingested.

Acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol)

When it comes to pain medications, acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol) is extremely common. While this drug is very safe, even for children, this not the case for pets—especially cats. One regular strength tablet of acetaminophen can cause damage to a cat’s red blood cells. This can limit their ability to carry oxygen if ingested.

In dogs, acetaminophen leads to liver failure and, in large doses, red blood cell damage.

Antidepressants (e.g Effexor, Cymbalta, Prozac, Lexapro)

These antidepressant drugs are occasionally used in pets. However, overdoses can result in serious neurological problems such as sedation, in-coordination, tremors and seizures.

Some antidepressants have a stimulant effect which can lead to a dangerously elevated heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature. Pets, especially cats, seem to enjoy the taste of Effexor and frequently eat the entire pill. Unfortunately, just one pill can cause serious poisoning.

ADD/ADHD Medications (e.g. Concerta, Adderall, Ritalin)

Medications used to treat Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder have potent stimulants in them such as amphetamines and methylphenidate.

Even a small ingestion of these medications by pets can cause life-threatening tremors, seizures, elevated body temperatures and heart problems.

Benzodiazepines and Sleep Aids (e.g. Xanax, Klonopin, Ambien, Lunesta)

These medications are common for reducing anxiety and help people sleep better. However, in pets, they have the opposite effect. Almost half of the dogs who ingest sleep aids become agitated instead of sedate.

Additionally, these drugs can cause severe lethargy, incoordination (including walking “drunk”), and slowed breathing in pets. In cats, some forms of benzodiazepines can cause liver failure when ingested.

Birth Control (e.g Estrogen, Estradiol, Progesterone)

Birth control pills frequently come in packages that dogs find irresistible. Thankfully, small ingestion of these drugs generally do not cause trouble.

However, large amounts of estrogen ingestion and estradiol can cause bone marrow suppression, especially in birds. In addition, female pets that are intact (not spayed), are at an increased risk of side effects from estrogen poisoning.

ACE Inhibitors (e.g. Zestril, Altace)

Angiotensin-converting enzyme (or “ACE”) inhibitors are popular to treat high blood pressure in people and, occasionally, pets. However, overdoses can cause low blood pressure, dizziness and weakness, but this category of medication is typically quite safe.

You can usually monitor pets ingesting small amounts of this medication at home. However, if they have kidney failure or heart disease this we don’t recommend this medication. Keep all heart medications out of pets reach.

Beta-Blockers (e.g. Tenormin, Toprol, Coreg)

Beta-blockers are also used to treat high blood pressure. However, unlike the ACE inhibitor, small ingestion of these drugs can cause serious poisoning in pets.

Overdoses can cause life-threatening decreases in blood pressure and a very slow heart rate.

Thyroid Hormones (e.g. Armour Desiccated Thyroid, Synthroid)

Pets, especially dogs, can get under-active thyroids too. Surprisingly, the dose of thyroid hormone needed to treat dogs is much higher than a person’s dose. As a result, if dogs accidentally get into thyroid hormones at home, it rarely causes problems.

However, large acute overdoses in cats and dogs may cause muscle tremors, nervousness, panting, a rapid heart rate and aggression.

Cholesterol Lowering Agents (e.g. Lipitor, Zocor, Crestor)

These common medications, or “statins,” are common in the United States. Pets do not generally get high cholesterol, but they may still get into the pill body. Thankfully, most “statin” ingestions only result in mild vomiting or diarrhea. Serious side effects from these medications with long-term use, not a one-time ingestion.

Tips for Preventing Pets from Getting into Medications

Always keep any medications safely out of reach. Also, never administer a medication to a pet without first discussing it with your veterinarian. Here are a few tips to help prevent pets from getting into over-the-counter or prescription medication:

  • Never leave loose pills in a plastic bag, as the bags are too easily to chew into. Be sure visiting house guests do the same, keeping their medications high up or out of reach.
  • If you place your medication in a weekly pill container, store it in a cabinet out of your pet’s reach. Unfortunately, if your pet gets a hold of it, they may consider the pill container a plastic chew toy.
  • Never store medications near your pet’s medications. Pet Poison Helpline often receives calls from concerned pet owners who inadvertently give their own medication to their pet.
  • Hang any purses or bags you have up. Inquisitive pets will explore the contents of your bag. Therefore, simply placing your bag up and out of reach can help to avoid exposure to any potentially dangerous medication(s).

Also, keep in mind that while a medication may be safe for children, it may not be safe for animals. In fact, nearly 50 percent of all pet poisonings involve human drugs. Medications differ in how they metabolized in pets versus humans. If you believe your pet has ingested a human over-the-counter or prescription medication, contact All Pets or the Pet Poison Helpline‘s 24-hour animal poison control center at 800-213-6680 immediately.


These are just a few of the differences between human medicine vs. pet medicine. Remember, never give your pet any type of medication without consulting your veterinarian first. For more information, contact us here at All Pets Veterinary Medical Center with the link below!

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