Lotions, Creams and Prescription Medications: Should My Pet Be Licking Me?

Prescription Products Can Be Deadly

As worrisome as the OTC products can be, prescription lotions and creams can be much more dangerous than their grocery and drugstore counterparts.

  • Prescription-strength steroid-based creams are used by people to treat itching and eczema. If ingested by your pet, these creams can cause vomiting, diarrhea, panting and increased thirst and urination. Depending on the type of steroid, these signs can last from a few hours to a couple of weeks (the signs are similar to those caused by OTC steroid products, but the duration is typically longer). Common topical steroids, from short acting to long acting, include hydrocortisone, clobetasone, triamcinolone, betamethasone, mometasone, methylprednisolone and clobetasol.
  • Hormone creams such as testosterone or estrogen can be absorbed through your pet’s skin as well as ingested. Hormones can cause signs and changes such as mammary gland enlargement. Exposure can even cause ovariectomized (spayed) female animals to develop signs of estrus (coming into heat) and false pregnancy.
  • Flurbiprofen is an anti-inflammatory pain medication that is sometimes compounded into a cream. It is often prescribed by physicians to treat osteoarthritis in humans. It is of concern because it takes only a very small amount to cause kidney failure in cats if ingested.
  • Retinoids are vitamin A compounds used to treat acne. In the nonpregnant pet, ingestion is expected to cause only stomach upset. Exposure of pregnant animals should be avoided, however, as fetuses can develop birth defects as a result.
  • Calcipotriene (Dovonex) is a vitamin D-based ointment used to treat psoriasis. If ingested it can cause vomiting and kidney failure. It takes only small amounts of this product to kill dogs and cats.
  • Probably the most dangerous prescription lotion is 5-fluorouracil (5-FU, Efudex). This product is used topically to treat solar keratosis (precancerous sun damage) and skin cancerin humans. If ingested it can cause seizures that are very difficult to control. 5-fluorouracil also causes bloody vomiting and diarrhea and bone marrow suppression (low white blood cell count) several days after ingestion. About two-thirds of animals who ingest the substance die or are euthanized.

What to Do?

If your pet briefly licks you after you apply an everyday moisturizing lotion, he should be fine, but the behavior should be discouraged. Other over-the-counter products may cause mild or severe problems. Never apply a topical product meant for people to pets without first consulting with your veterinarian.

After using any topical hormone, steroid, anti-inflammatory or other prescription product, people should thoroughly wash their hands before handling food, children or pets; store such products safely out of reach, so that accidental ingestion cannot occur. Allow all topical products, whether prescription or over the counter, to dry completely or cover the area of application before coming into contact with pets.

Contact your veterinarian immediately if you suspect your pet may have come in contact with a topical substance.

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