Paracetamol poisoning

Paracetamol is a common drug that we all keep at home but did you know that this house-hold medicine can be toxic to dogs and cats?

Packets within easy reach can be too much of a temptation for some pets, which can lead to accidental ingestion. Well-meaning owners attempting to medicate their animals can also lead to toxic doses being administered. Paracetamol is rapidly absorbed by the digestive system and symptoms of toxicity can develop within a few hours. Young animals, small breeds, cats, and older animals with concurrent illnesses are at a greater risk of toxicity from a single dose. Symptoms to watch for include lethargy, nausea, vomiting, rapid breathing, brownish coloured gums, swollen face/neck/limbs, jaundice (yellow tinge to skin/whites of eyes) and even coma.

As with any exposure to a toxic substance, time is of the essence. If caught early enough a vet can induce vomiting and administer activated charcoal. The activated charcoal attracts the remaining molecules of paracetamol and keeps them from being absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract. Blood and urine tests will also need to be performed to determine if intravenous fluid therapy is required to help support the liver and kidneys. In severe cases, anaemia (low red blood cell count) can develop and a blood transfusion may be required.

The best treatment is, of course, prevention. Be mindful of where packets of paracetamol are kept in the house and that they are not left lying around in easy-to-reach places. Never use human medications to treat your pet without seeking veterinary advice first. If ingestion is known or even suspected, call your clinic as soon as you can, to get advice from our hospital team.