By Kathryn Primm, DVM,CVPM

1. Cats are not little dogs and no animal is a little person.

All animals are different, not just as individual personalities, but as species. Cats especially have a very unique metabolism. Medications that are ok for dogs can certainly kill a cat. An example of one such product is Advantix® for dogs. It contains an ingredient that is highly toxic to cats and topical insecticides are one of the most common toxicities reported to animal poison controls.
Animals are not just tiny people either. They are similar to us in many ways (and these ways amaze me every day), but if they were exactly like humans, there would be no need for different medical schools because one type of doctor could see us all! Human medications are a very large overdose for most pets because even the smallest human is larger than many of my patients. So the widely believed notion that Children’s Benadryl will help pets just like it does people is not really fact. In fact, although Benadryl is fairly safe for pets, it is not extremely effective for all the uses that people want it to be. You can typically expect it to make pets sleepy though and sometimes that is enough to convince people that it is helping. In conclusion, just ask us before you give human medications to pets.

2. Chocolate is toxic to pets.

We have treated many cases of chocolate ingestion in dogs. Fortunately cats are thought to lack the ability to taste sweet so they seldom eat chocolate. Even small amounts of chocolate can cause vomiting and hyperactivity. Milk chocolate and white chocolate are the least dangerous, then dark chocolate and then baker’s chocolate which contains the highest theobromine levels. It seems that every Easter and Halloween as bags and baskets of candy sit on countertops everywhere, we inevitably see a large volume of colorful, chocolate scented vomit.

Chocolate contains two different components that are toxic to dogs: theobromine and caffeine. The caffeine itself can cause tremors, tachycardia (increased heart rate), arrythmias, and potentially serious cardiovascular side effects, but theobromine is even more dangerous. Serious reactions can occur with ingestion of about 100 to 150 milligrams of theobromine per kilogram of body weight. Even lower doses require medical treatment, since we do not know how severely each individual can react. Thankfully most people notice the missing candy and suspect the guilty canine and are able to call us quickly. We have never lost a patient to chocolate ingestion…yet! If your dog eats chocolate, please call us immediately and let us help you decide how much of an emergency you have. It is absolutely best to see the vet before the chocolate has time to digest and cause toxic effects. The best rule of thumb is never to assume your dog cannot reach something. We have had patients that climbed the backs of chairs to leap to countertops and then pull things off high shelves. They watch us all the time, soundlessly observing. They know that we are eating and they smell that it is something good. They watch where we set it and return to the spot when they are bored or hungry. Never underestimate a motivated canine!

3. Tylenol will kill your cat.

Another aspect unique to cats is that acetaminophen, the generic name for Tylenol, is highly toxic in this species. We think of Tylenol as a super safe drug, but humans can metabolize it easily. Cats cannot. It will kill a cat and it is not an easy way to go either. Although thinking that your cat has pain can motivate you to try and help, be sure that you ask us how to help your cat and do not assume something safe for you is safe for your cat!

4. There is no silver bullet.

This is the MOST important my four things. My mother always said, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Her words are full of wisdom! I get occasional queries regarding miracle cures or supplements my clients have found on the internet.

My best pet owners ask us because they know we research and stay current. We would LOVE to find something that is a miracle to affordably and easily treat some of the diseases we battle. But sadly, my mom is right. If your vet (or even your own MD) hasn’t told you about something that is a miracle cure, it probably is not one.

Trust me, big news comes down the medical pipeline in a BIG hurry and most doctors make it their business to know all the latest things. We WANT to cure our patients of allergies and arthritis in the worst way. We know that it is frustrating to have or see something that can’t be done away with for good. So, there is probably not an herbal supplement that will cure allergies. It is unlikely that a plant extract will fix arthritis, but since we’re here and ready to listen and help you, tell us what you have found. Odds are that it is not a magic bullet, but it might have a place in your pet’s medical protocol with reasonable expectations. We can help you know what to expect and decide how you could best spend your hard-earned money. We can get the biggest bang for the buck if we work together!