Preventing Accidental Medication Exposures

By Pamela Huyck
Certified Veterinary Technician at Pet Poison Helpline®

PillsMany of the calls we receive here at Pet Poison Helpline® are regarding accidental medication exposures that are easily preventable.  While dogs and cats may spit out their own pills they will still often eat human medications.  Dogs are especially prone to grabbing pills that drop on the floor or chewing medication bottles and eating some or all of the pills in them.  Why dogs will eat one hundred tablets of human medication as they chew the bottle but refuse to take their beef-flavored chewable medication is one of those things that we just don’t understand about dogs.  Never assume that Fido or Fluffy won’t eat a pill just because they don’t like taking their own medications.  If there are pills missing, they were probably eaten by the pets.

Here are some tips to reduce your pet’s chances of ingesting a medication that is not hers or ingesting more than she should:

  1. Separate pets when one or more of them need to be medicated.  Otherwise, if one dog spits out his pill the other dog may grab it and eat it before you can pick it back up.
  2. Do not put medications in food bowls unless the pets are being fed in separate rooms, with closed doors.  If they are not separate, Fluffy might eat her dinner and medication then go snack on Bella’s medication and dinner, thus giving herself two doses of medication.
  3. When you remove your medication from the bottle and then take it, do so in a room with a closed door (with your pet on the other side of the door).  If you drop a pill, or the entire bottle, your pet will not have a chance to gobble up the pills before you can pick them up.
  4. Do not take your pill out of the bottle and set it on an end table, night stand, or in a dish somewhere.  Pets will often grab the pill and chew or swallow it.  Cats may bat at and play with the pills or even lick and chew at them.
  5. Read the medication and patient name on the bottle before you administer the medication.  Every time.  Human and animal prescriptions may come in similar looking or identical bottles and may even be from the same pharmacy.  Many pills look very similar and unfortunately, many medications have similar spellings.  In technician school, we were taught to read the medication name off the bottle three times before we administer it to a patient: as we take the bottle off the shelf, as we are taking the pill(s) out of the bottle, and as we are putting the bottle back on the shelf.  If you have trouble telling the bottles or medication names apart, try color-coding the bottle tops by putting a colored piece of tape on them and then writing the pet’s name (or your name) on the tape.
  6. Do not store your own medication next to your pet’s medication.  Fluffy may end up accidentally getting your blood pressure medication or you may end up taking Fluffy’s heart medication.
  7. If you use daily or weekly pill containers store them well out of reach of any pets in the household.  When you are filling the containers make sure your pet is another room so that he cannot eat pills that spill.
  8. Do not leave baggies and bottles of medications in suitcases, purses, gym bags, etc.  If you do have baggies or bottles of medications in a bag, store the bag up high or in a closet or cabinet that pets cannot access.  When guests arrive, ask them to please make sure their medications are kept in a location that is out of reach of any pets in the household.
  9. Periodically go through medicine cabinets and other places you keep medications.  Properly dispose of any medications that are out of date or that you no longer need.  If the medication requires no special disposal, make sure you take the garbage out as soon as you are finished sorting so Fido doesn’t get into the trash and inadvertently (or intentionally) eat the pills while he snacks on last night’s dinner scraps.
  10. Do not place new medications into an old medication bottle.  Doing so can make it very difficult to determine what medication was ingested and how much of it was ingested.  Also, if the bottle used to contain one medication and now contains a different medication it is easier to accidentally administer the wrong medication.
  11. If you have Fido with you as you are picking up your prescriptions and then have to run into the grocery store, make sure the prescriptions are locked in the trunk or Fido might think that rattling bottle makes a great chew toy to pass the time while you’re away.

Some of these actions may seem unnecessary but pets ingest medications that are not theirs every day.  Many of those medications can cause life-threatening problems, even if only one pill is ingested.  This is one of those situations where an ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure.