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  1. Animal Health Literacy

Properly Store Medications to Keep Your Pet Safe


For your pet’s health, it’s important that you safely and securely store medications. Proper storage helps prevent your pet from accidentally eating her medication, or yours, either of which could lead to potentially serious health problems.

FDA receives reports of pets accidentally eating medications as part of the agency’s overall system for monitoring drugs used in animals. Some of these reports involve pets getting into their own medications or medications for other pets in the household. There are also reports of dogs and cats getting into horse medications that have been put in horse feed or left out in the barn.

A lot of pet medications are flavored to smell and taste good—which is a positive when Princess takes her pill easily but a negative when she sniffs the pills out on her own and eats the entire supply at once. Some pets with less discriminating taste buds will eat medications that aren’t even designed to be tasty. They may even eat the entire container!

FDA also receives reports of pets accidentally getting into people medications, such as a dog eating an entire bottle of his owner’s ibuprofen. Nearly 50 percent of all phone calls to the Pet Poison Helpline are regarding pets that ingest medications intended for people—both over-the-counter and prescription. Topping the Helpline’s list of the top 10 people medications most frequently eaten by pets are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen and naproxen.

“You may not think that bottle of medication on your kitchen counter is something that your dog would want to eat, but think again,” said Stacey Shults, a veterinarian at FDA. “Some animals chew or eat things that are not what we consider tasty. Be sure your pet can’t reach any medications—for pets or people—regardless of whether or not they’re flavored.” 

In the reports that FDA receives of pets accidentally eating medications, dogs are the most common culprit, but the curious nature of cats and ferrets can get them into trouble too.

Help prevent your pet from accidentally eating medications by following these safe storage tips:

  • Keep pet medications in their original containers with intact labels. It’s important that the directions for use and the pet’s name are legible.
  • Keep pet medications in a secure location. What you may think is “out of reach” of your pet may, in fact, not be. Cats are good jumpers and ferrets are good climbers, so kitchen and bathroom counters, shelves, and other high places may not be secure enough. Cats can also knock a tube of medication off a counter or bedside table onto the floor, making it easier for a child or another pet to get into it. And a determined dog with a good nose can devise clever ways to reach that pill vial at the back of the cabinet, especially if the medication is flavored.

    Also, medication containers that are child safe may not be pet safe. Pets are known to chew through a variety of medication containers, including plastic pill vials, boxes, and blister packages.
  • Keep pet medications away from children. Children may think a pet medication is candy, especially a chewable or liquid product. Some liquid pet medications are made to smell like banana or strawberry and may be especially attractive to children.
  • Store pet medications away from people medications to prevent a mix-up. FDA sometimes receives calls from panicked owners who mistakenly took their pet’s medication or gave their personal medication to their pet. (If you accidentally ingest a pet medication, call your physician or local poison control center. If you accidentally give a medication intended for people to your pet, call your veterinarian or an animal poison control center.) To prevent mix-ups, store medications for each person and each pet in your household separately.
  • If your dog goes to the barn with you, be sure to keep medications for horses and farm animals in a secure location. Many medications intended for horses contain flavoring that dogs may find attractive. Also, medicate horses and farm animals in an area that your dog can’t access. And don’t leave leftover dewormer paste or other liquid medication on the ground. Your dog may find the spot and lick it up. These precautions also apply to barn cats.
  • Get rid of expired, unused, or unwanted medications properly. Pets, especially dogs, are known to go dumpster-diving and get into the garbage, so follow these guidelines for throwing out medications in your household trash: 
    • Mix medications (do NOT crush tablets or capsules) with a substance that doesn’t taste good, such as kitty litter or used coffee grounds;
    • Place the mixture in a sealable container, such as a zip-top plastic bag; and
    • Throw the sealed container in your household trash.
  • FDA recommends getting rid of certain potentially dangerous medications by flushing them down the toilet. This gets rid of the medication right away and helps keep both the people and pets in your family safe.

    Community-based drug “take-back” programs offer the best solution for disposing of expired, unused, or unwanted medications. The same take-back programs available for people medications will also take back pet medications.

    Here are some good resources on FDA’s website on how to safely dispose of expired, unused, or unwanted medications for both people and pets: 
  • Some pets need a medication that requires you to use “sharps” at home. “Sharps” are medical devices with sharp points or edges that can puncture or cut skin, such as needles and syringes. For example, insulin—a medication used to treat diabetes in dogs and cats—is injected under the skin using a small insulin syringe that has a needle.

    Here are some good resources on FDA’s websites on how to safely dispose of used ‘sharps’: 

What to do When There’s a Problem—Reporting Problems with Pet Medications

If your pet experiences a side effect from a medication, stop giving the medication and call your veterinarian. If your pet accidentally eats his medication or a people medication, call your veterinarian or an animal poison control center. 

FDA encourages pet owners to work with their veterinarian to report all problems related to a pet medication, including:

  • Side effects. Side effects associated with a drug are called adverse events. This includes side effects caused by a pet accidentally eating a medication. A lack of effectiveness (the drug doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do) and reactions in people who handle the drug are also adverse events. (Call your healthcare provider if you have a reaction to your pet’s medication.)
  • Product defects. These are problems such as a broken seal, the drug is off-color, or a new bottle has several crushed or broken tablets.
  • Problems with a device used to give the medication. Some pet medications come with a device, such as an oral dosing syringe or other applicator, specifically designed to administer the drug. Problems with a device include dose lines that are difficult to read on the dosing syringe or a leaky applicator.
  • Medication Errors. These are problems that occur if a person, such as a veterinarian or pet owner, makes a mistake and gives an animal the wrong medication or the wrong amount of medication. 

To report problems with a drug that’s approved for use in animals, FDA recommends that you or your veterinarian call the drug company. Drug companies are required to submit all reports of problems with approved animal drugs to FDA. If the drug isn’t approved for use in animals, such as a drug intended for people or an unapproved animal drug, or you’re unsure if the drug is approved or not, you can report the problem directly to FDA.

How to Report Animal Drug and Device Side Effects and Product Problems

How to Tell if a Drug is Legally Marketed for Animals

For More Information

If you have questions or want more information, please contact FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine at 240-402-7002 or AskCVM@fda.hhs.gov.

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