PET OWNERS are making their animals ill and even killing them by giving them medicine intended for humans, according to one of the UK’s leading veterinary charities.
The People's Dispensary for Sick Animals, which runs a network of low-cost veterinary hospitals throughout Britain, says that it has discovered that animals are increasingly being made sick by well-intentioned but misguided owners seeking to save time and money by treating their pets themselves.
Among the examples of accidental poisoning are cats and dogs being given painkillers intended for humans, and antiseptic cream applied to broken skin, causing illness because the drugs it contains are too powerful.
Richard Hooker, the charity's chief veterinary surgeon, said that many people failed to realise that the tolerance of animals to drugs was different to that of humans and urged the public to refrain from treating their own pets. "Poisoning cases of this type seem to be on the increase," he said.
Mr Hooker said that paracetamol, for example, was extremely dangerous to cats, which were unable to break it down into non-toxic waste. Ibuprofen, another common painkiller, is never used in veterinary treatments and is potentially fatal if given to dogs.
Mr Hooker described a recent case in which an owner had given a liquid medication designed for easing fever in children to a litter of kittens suffering from cat flu. The kittens were brought into a veterinary centre in Bow, east London, after their mouths turned blue and they began gasping for breath. The paracetamol in the product had stopped the cats' metabolisms from taking up oxygen properly and all but one of the litter died as a result.
In another distressing case, Joanne McCarley, 33, from Swansea, almost killed her cat, Tipsy, by giving it a paracetamol tablet. "Tipsy had obviously been fighting with neighbourhood cats and was off her food. She didn't want to be touched and I thought she must be aching from the fight but it didn't seem serious enough to warrant a visit to the vet," said McCarley. "I forced a paracetamol tablet down her throat and she seemed to perk up very quickly so I thought she was all right and went to bed."
The next morning, Mrs McCarley found that the cat had vomited throughout the night. "I rushed her to the vet who told me that paracetamol was poison to cats and that there was every chance Tipsy would die." The cat was treated with an antidote to rid her liver and kidneys of toxins. She survived and suffered no permanent damage, but, the PDSA report, all many animals fail to respond to such treatment and die.
Harvey Carruthers, a vet with a practice in Wimbledon, south west London, said he often treated animals that had eaten medicines intended for humans. "Either the animals find a packet of their owners' drugs and eat them, or the owners deliberately administer them to their pets because they think they know what the problem is and how to treat it," he said.
"An overdose of aspirin, for example, will cause diarrhoea and vomiting in dogs and if not treated quickly can result in gastric and intestinal ulceration and ultimately death.
"Even using relatively harmless substances such as an antiseptic cream can prove very dangerous if used on animals. A cream such as Savlon is far too abrasive for the broken skin of a dog or a cat," he said.