At one point during the pandemic, Dolo had become a household name. The paracetamol tablet was being popped by everyone. The desire to self-medicate, particularly when the condition appears to be minor, is strong. While this is not advisable, medicating a pet on your own is even worse.
Diagnosing illnesses is challenging since pets cannot describe their symptoms. For instance, clinical signs as simple as fever or cough can indicate a variety of illnesses. Googling, or social media, will not yield a diagnosis.
I recall attending to a very sick kitten, which had jaundice. On probing, I realised the kitten had been given paracetamol to bring down her fever. Paracetamol is toxic to cats, to the point of being fatal. Even though I administered the antidote, the kitten did not make it.
“While clients frequently prefer to think of their pets as their fur babies, medicating them without seeing a veterinarian might prove deadly,” explains Nicole Rego, a veterinary physician. Painkillers are possibly the most commonly used medication on pets. Anti-inflammatory pain relievers such as Diclofenac and Ibuprofen, which are, regrettably, all too readily available, can cause acute renal failure and gastrointestinal ulcers in dogs. This can be lethal if left untreated or identified too late. “We encounter such toxicity cases regularly as veterinary practitioners,” Rego says.
Remember, what works for us may not always work for our pets. Pets have a distinct physiology, and dogs and cats react differently to medication. Drug dosages for pets are based on body weight. Some dog breeds are more responsive to some medications than others. A veterinarian, then, will prescribe medication depending on species, age, breed, weight and health condition.
Another drug that has gained popularity during the last two years is Ivermectin. In veterinary medicine, it is often used to treat a skin disease called mange. In the recent past, though, it has been used indiscriminately to treat all kinds of skin infections in animals, without any formal diagnosis. Street dogs seem to be bearing the brunt of this trend. In fact, I have had patients that have gone blind owing to its side effects.
Medicating your pet yourself can have other consequences as well. Superbugs are a direct result of the chronic misuse of antibiotics. These are bacteria that have developed resistance to the majority of antibiotics currently available. “Antibiotic resistance is a very real concern to human and animal health. Use of antibiotics by pet parents without a prescription or sudden discontinuation of antibiotic treatment before the infection has been eradicated can result in resistant diseases that can damage humans and animals alike,” warns Rego.
There is also a misconception that medicating with herbal or other home remedies obtained from the internet is safer; this is certainly not the case. From fleas to cancer, apple cider vinegar is being touted as a miracle cure. While it has its advantages, it should be used with caution. Apple cider vinegar should not be applied to raw or inflamed skin or wounds. It can aggravate the problem.
Similarly, while garlic has become popular as a flea repellent, it is important to remember that large dosages can induce anaemia in dogs, while smaller amounts can cause stomach trouble. Diatomaceous earth, which is also promoted as a flea repellent on many social media platforms, can irritate the respiratory tract. It can bother an asthmatic cat, for instance. Many essential oils can be hazardous or worsen an existing health condition. Therefore, these should only be used with a veterinarian’s approval.
Many pet parents try to induce vomiting if their pet has swallowed a sharp object. This can harm the oesophagus. Salt is routinely given when a pet is suspected of ingesting a toxic substance. But it can cause dangerously high blood sodium levels, resulting in neurological symptoms.
Pet owners can prevent much of the physical, mental and financial anguish associated with taking matters into their own hands by just speaking to their vet.
Dr Nameeta Nadkarni is a practising veterinary soft tissue surgeon and pet blogger from Mumbai, who loves to play the piano in her free time and is ruled by her whimsical cat, Catbury, at home.