Many of us regularly consume OTC drugs to treat minor aches and pains, colds, wounds or even mood problems. Our medicine cabinets are filled with instant medical solutions we can just pop in our mouth or rub on our skin. Aspirin, Tylenol, Benadryl, Pepto-Bismol, Nyquil, Neosporin, BenGay and many other brand names can be found in most households, and are commonly used by humans.
These drugs are heavily promoted in advertisements, promising fast relief from symptoms. They are considered to be generally safe for consumption, their safety being what got them on the OTC lists to begin with.
But are they safe for our cats? Can you give your cat Tylenol, Advil or Aspirin to help relieve her pain? Can you use Benadryl to treat her rash or Neosporin to treat wounds? Can you rub BenGay to ease a sore feline muscle?
The short answer is - No!
You should never decide to medicate your cat on your own with any medication, prescription or OTC.
Some of these drugs may be suggested by vets, in the correct dosage and as part of a coordinated treatment protocol, but you should never ever administer them without specific veterinary instructions. Here's why -
1. Some of these drugs can kill your cat. As simple as that.
Medications that are considered safe for use in humans can be extremely toxic to cats, even in small doses. Take Tylenol for example. It is quite safe for people, and thus a popular OTC painkiller, yet a single 500mg tablet can easily kill your cat. In humans and dogs the toxic effects of an overdose of acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol) is harmful for the liver. In cats, it changes their blood composition, literally suffocating them by reducing the ability of the blood to carry vital oxygen to the body tissues.
2. It can stop you from treating the real issue.
Cats are notorious for hiding pain and disease, so if you actually see visible symptoms, you should always call your vet. Treating the symptoms, even if you end up using a perfectly safe treatment, could mean the underlying condition continues to develop, causing potentially irreversible damage.
3. What is commonly considered "safe for pets", is not necessarily safe for cats.
Just because someone you know gave their dog a certain OTC medication does not mean you can administer the same drug to your cat without dire consequences. Cats' digestive systems are different from those of dogs, and you should never assume that a medication that's safe for dogs is also safe to use on your cat.
4. Beware of ointments and topical treatments.
Just because you apply it on your cat's coat does not make it less dangerous. Many treatments are quickly absorbed through a cat's delicate skin, and if that wasn't enough, your cat is likely to lick the affected area and ingest the medication. Many ointments might be safe for external use, but are toxic when ingested, so should not be used on cats.
5. Dosage issues.
Most OTC drugs are manufactured for humans, with appropriate dosages being addressed. Even if the drug itself can be used to treat cats, only your veterinarian can determine the correct dosage. Not only will the dosage be feline-specific, it also has to take into account the cat's weight, age and other medical conditions.
6. Interaction with other drugs.
OTC drugs that are relatively safe to use on their own can sometimes turn into lethal agents when they interact with other drugs. This is true of all medications, prescription or OTC, and for humans as well as felines. This is why your vets need to know what medication your cat is taking or was taking over the past few weeks. If you're seeing a vet that doesn't have your cat's records on file, make sure you provide all relevant information about present or past drugs administered.
7. Side effects and reactions.
Since these drugs affect cats differently than they would a dog or a human, side effects and any reactions to the drug also tend to be different. Your vet will know what to expect and what to do in case side effects show up. This is part of the follow-up, and you should always be able to report back about any reactions at any time and receive further guidance.
8. Herbal Medicines - Are they safe?
Herbal medicine, whether from a Chinese healer or just from the store's shelves, is medicine. Just because the source is herbal or "natural" does not mean it's safe. Many factory-made drugs originate from herbs and plants and contain the exact same chemical compounds. Feverfew, Wormwood, Chapparal and even something as common as garlic can all have adverse effects on your cat's health, to the point of putting her life at risk. That's why you should always consult your veterinarian before administering any herbal medicine.
9. Homeopathic Medicines - What about them?
In classic homeopathy, active ingredients are diluted to the point that virtually no molecule of that substance is left behind. The problem is most of these so-called remedies are often diluted in alcohol, making them very dangerous for cats. Also, many remedies dubbed as "homeopathic" are really just herbal medicines in disguise. Either way, if you decide to treat your cat with homeopathy, you should work with a veterinarian that knows how to prepare them for cats. This is essential, also for the reason mentioned above - proper diagnosis prior to treatment.
The Bottom Line - Talk to Your Vet
Find a vet you are comfortable with and have a working relationship with her or him, as the main health care provider for your cat. Your vet should be the only one to sanction any use of medications, OTC, prescription medications or even homeopathic ones. Closely follow instructions as to dosage and follow-up with any reactions or side effects. It's the only way to keep your cat safe!