Acetaminophen is the active ingredient in Tylenol and some other related medications that are used to treat pain and fever in people. Unfortunately, this drug can be extremely poisonous to cats and dogs. Acetaminophen toxicity occurs when a cat or dog swallows enough of the drug to cause damaging effects in the body. Acetaminophen is mostly broken down and eliminated from the body by the liver. Some of the substances that are created during this process can have harmful effects on cats and dogs. Cats are at much greater risk of toxicity than dogs because they lack certain proteins necessary for the liver to safely metabolize acetaminophen.
Once swallowed, acetaminophen reaches the blood stream within 30 minutes and toxic effects are rapid, damaging the liver and red blood cells. Severe liver damage can lead to liver failure. Red blood cells are damaged in that the affected ones are no longer able to carry oxygen. This means that the blood can no longer supply enough oxygen to the body’s vital organs.
Many cases of acetaminophen toxicity in dogs and cats are accidental. A pet may find and chew on a bottle of pills or eat a pill that has fallen on the floor. Sadly, some cases occur because pet owners give medication intended for people to their pets without being instructed to do so by a veterinarian..
Clinical signs of acetaminophen toxicity include vomiting, lethargy, difficult breathing, swelling, shock, collapse and even death. If you realize right away that your pet has swallowed acetaminophen, vomiting can be induced to remove the drug from your pet’s stomach before the body can absorb it. Another option may be to flush out the contents of the stomach. Activated charcoal may also be given to slow absorption of toxic material from the stomach and intestines. Additional treatments may include blood transfusions, intravenous fluid therapy, and other medications to help support and stabilize the patient.
Acetaminophen toxicity can be fatal. However, pets can survive if the condition is recognized, diagnosed, and treated quickly. If you have any questions about Tylenol, feel free to give us a call at Copper Hill Animal Clinic.