If dogs can reach it, they'll most likely eat it. This is a fact all veterinarians know well, particularly those who field calls at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center.
Whenever a new product comes on the market, it's our job to learn all we can about it. Some time ago we started getting more and more calls about pets ingesting compounded creams for muscle pain relief, and we found an assortment of ingredients that have proven to be problematic in more than one species.
These creams are on our watch list at APCC, and they have a plethora of ingredients to be on the lookout for, including:
… and the list goes on. Often there are three or more of these ingredients present in any particular cream.
Clinical signs that can be seen depend on the cream's ingredients. We have seen cardiovascular, neurologic, gastrointestinal, acute renal injury, and death associated with animal exposures to these products.
Unfortunately some small exposures—such as a pet licking the owner's skin after recent application of the product—have resulted in severe clinical signs. If an owner calls about one of these creams, make sure your staff knows they can mean serious problems, and tell the owner to bring the packaging in along with the pet so a full ingredient list can be obtained.
Lesser-Known Topicals That Are Toxic To Pets
It’s just a little bit of ointment that was licked, it shouldn’t be an issue, right? Unfortunately, no, this is not true for some lesser-known topical toxins that are used to treat human conditions. Below are some topical medications that require extra caution when applied in the presence of pets.
DICLOFENAC: Diclofenac is an anti-inflammatory medication that is marketed under various formulations (oral tablets, capsules, gels, creams, and powders) by different manufacturers. Commonly used for musculoskeletal aches and pains, Diclofenac can be purchased over the counter for topical applications. Depending on the amount ingested and the pet’s health history, oral ingestion of the topical formulations can result in gastrointestinal upset, irritation, possible ulceration in the stomach and small intestine, and even acute kidney injury. Cats are much more sensitive than dogs.
MINOXIDIL: Minoxidil is a topical medication used to stimulate local hair growth (treats thinning hair, hair loss, and alopecia). When ingested, Minoxidil can cause significant and potentially life-threatening complications with the heart and lungs, including low blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythm, fluid accumulation in the lungs, and possible respiratory and cardiac arrest. Cats are more sensitive than dogs and even a single lick by a cat could be deadly.
5-FLUOROURACIL: 5-Fluorouracil (5-FU) is a topical medication that is often used to treat certain types of skin cancers and conditions caused by heavy sun damage. Oral and injectable preparations also exist for other uses. When ingested, 5-FU is rapidly absorbed and can lead to severe gastrointestinal upset and neurologic signs such as tremors and seizures, which don’t respond well to typical veterinary therapies for these conditions. If a pet does survive the initial side effects, there can be delayed effects on the bone marrow, causing decreased production of cells that are important for immune defenses within the body. Liver and kidney damage are also possible.
CALCIPOTRIENE: Calcipotriene is a topical medication that is often used to treat psoriasis (a skin disease). When ingested, Calcipotriene can cause increased calcium and phosphorus levels, which can then lead to gastrointestinal signs, lethargy, kidney damage, and mineralization of tissues throughout the body. These cases can be very difficult and costly to manage once symptoms develop and sometimes weeks to months of treatment are required.