Most people consider their pets as part of the family. But just like you wouldn’t want to take another family member’s medicines by mistake, you don’t want to accidentally take your pet’s medicine either. Who would ever make that mistake? You’d be surprised how often it happens.
Our colleagues at ISMP in Canada heard from a consumer who reported that an elderly relative had accidently taken the family dog's deworming pills. Someone had placed the dog's pills on a bookcase. Later, the elderly relative moved the dog's pills to a bedside table, where other medicines were being stored. For several days the elderly relative then took the deworming pills, instead of a regularly prescribed medicine. The mistake was discovered when it was time to give the dog a dose of deworming medicine. The family member found the empty container on the bedside table and realized that the elderly relative had taken all of the dog's pills!
When the mistake was discovered, the elderly relative mentioned having felt sick for a few days earlier in the week, without knowing why. Fortunately, no serious harm occurred, but some pet medicines can be harmful if taken by humans.
Also, a person who takes a pet's medicine instead of the medicine that was prescribed will lose the benefit of taking the correct medicine. In a case reported to us, a father told his child’s babysitter to put his son's antibiotic ear drops in his right ear before bed, and the careful babysitter did just that. She found ear drops labelled "put two drops in right ear" in the medicine cabinet, and instilled the ear drops into the child's right ear. But the family's dog also had a bottle of ear drops for ear mites, which were the drops the babysitter used. The son's ear drops were in the refrigerator. Luckily, the child was not harmed by the dog's ear drops but he did miss an important treatment for his ear infection.
Here are a few tips to help prevent mix-ups with pets' medicines in your home:
- Keep in mind that many medicines intended for pets, whether obtained from your veterinarian’s office or the local community pharmacy, are dispensed in prescription vials that may look similar to vials used for human medicines.
- Mix-ups between pet's and children's medicines occur most often when they are stored together in the same place, such as a medicine cabinet. To prevent mix-ups, which could be serious, keep all pet medicines away from human medicines and food. Store them in a separate location from medicines intended for people.
- Keep all medicines out of the reach of children and adults who may become confused. It is best to use safety locks on any cabinets where medicines and hazardous products are stored.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA) Educational Foundation launched UP and Away and Out of Sight to provide tools to remind everyone of the importance of safe medication storage and keeping medicines and vitamins “Up and Away” and out of every child’s reach and sight. It’s worthwhile taking a few minutes to review this material.
- Whenever you receive a medicine for your pet, check to be sure it is safely packaged. For example, is the pet medicine in a child-proof container? Is the container clearly labeled "For veterinary use only"? If not, ask your veterinarian or pharmacist to change the packaging to reduce the chance of a mix-up or at least mark the container in some way. Make sure the container looks different from human medicine.
Administering medicines to children is a job that requires some basic knowledge. If you must ask your babysitter or someone else to give medicine to your child, be sure to show them where the medicine is, how much to give, and how to give it. Never assume they will know what to do without your explicit instructions.
Incidentally, medicines intended for humans can also be harmful for pets. Talk to your veterinarian before giving your pet any medicine.
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