Too Many Children Are Getting Their Hands on Pet Medications


While most parents practice vigilance when it comes to keeping medications for people out of the reach of children, it seems they can be a little lax when it comes to medications for pets.

A new study shows the problem of children getting into pet medications is more common than you may think. While the study showed that most children who ingested or otherwise came into contact with pet medications did not experience serious symptoms or need to go to the hospital, it only takes one time for a child to ingest a harmful or even fatal dose.

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The researchers from the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio sifted through the records of thousands of calls to the Central Ohio Poison Control Center. They found 1,431 calls related to veterinary medicine exposures to children 18 and under. Most — 87 percent — involved children age 5 and under, with a mean age of 3.

The types of veterinary medicines ingested included those without a human equivalent (17.3 percent), antimicrobial agents (14.8 percent), and anti-parasitics (14.6 percent). Most cases were dealt with at home with help from the Poison Control Center, but 80 cases were referred to a health care facility, and two had a moderate health impact on the child.

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Most of the time, children came into contact with the pet medications in rather innocuous ways. For example, maybe the dog spit the pill out on the floor and a toddler came along and gobbled it up. Or, a parent may have placed the medicine in a slice of cheese for the animal, but the animal turned its nose up at the cheese and walked off. An unsuspecting toddler came along and ate the cheese instead.

Most of the cases involved medicines for dogs.

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The researchers noted that with 63 percent of all U.S. households having at least one pet, and with half of all U.S. households having a child age 18 or under, “The risk for exposure to pet medication is high. It is common for pets to be prescribed regular veterinary pharmaceutical products as preventives for internal and external parasites or to treat a chronic health condition, such as hypothyroidism or osteoarthritis.”

Tips for Keeping Children Safe from Exposure to Pet Meds

Unlike human medications, pet medications often do not come in tamper-resistant containers. So, it’s important to keep them locked up and out of reach of children.

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Also, try to only administer your pet’s medication when your children are not home or have already gone to bed. Make sure your pet ingests the medication and doesn’t spit it out. Don’t leave unfinished pet food laced with medication within a child’s reach.

When administering a topical medication to a pet, give it time to dry before allowing the child to interact with the animal.

“Try as you might to teach toddlers not to explore/touch/taste/swallow objects, they will do so,” Dr. Carl Baum, a researcher at Yale University School of Medicine, told Reuters.

Many parents underestimate the mobility of their toddler. That “turning point” in how far they can go on their own two feet is often unexpected and without warning.

Related: The Role Pets Play in Managing Our Mental Health

A professional journalist nearly 30 years, David Heitz started his career at the Quad-City Times in Davenport, Iowa before moving to Los Angeles. He led the Glendale News-Press to best small daily newspaper in the state (CNPA) as managing editor and also worked as executive news editor of the Press-Telegram. He worked briefly as deputy news editor of the Detroit News before returning to the Quad-Cities, where he has worked as a freelance medical writer since 2012 for several national websites. He recently purchased his childhood home and says he truly is “living the dream.”