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Most cat parents know that human oral pain medications like Tylenol and Advil are toxic to cats. But did you know that human topical pain medications could proof to be deadly to cats?

Understanding human pain relief creams

Pain relief creams are sold both over the counter or with a prescription. They may contain ingredients such as menthol, salicylates, lidocaine and NSAID’s (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.) All of these ingredients can be problematic for cats. These creams are designed to provide localized pain relief. They have become popular because they deliver medication directly to the source of the pain, and they may reduce the risk of side effects associated with oral pain medications.

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How cats get exposed to human pain relief creams

Cats can inadvertently come into contact with pain relief creams when they rub against you or lick areas where the cream has been applied. Additionally, if you pet your cats after applying the cream, they may ingest the residue from your hands. They may also be exposed if the cream rubbed off on furniture and the cat rubs against that spot.

If a cat has come into contact with pain relief creams, they will most likely try to groom it off and in the process, ingest the harmful substances, leading to gastrointestinal upset, kidney failure, and in severe cases, death.

It doesn’t take much of this type of exposure. The FDA reported on one cat died from exposure to the NSAID flurbiprofen when a drop of it got on the cat’s tail. The owner washed it immediately to no avail.

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Symptoms of toxicity after exposure

  • Gastrointestinal issues: Cats exposed to NSAIDs may suffer from stomach or intestinal ulcers and kidney failure, which can manifest as vomiting, lack of appetite, or diarrhea.
  • Liver and red blood cell damage: Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, can cause severe liver and red blood cell damage in cats, leading to symptoms like jaundice and difficulty breathing.
  • Neurological  symptoms: Exposure to toxic substances can lead to neurological issues such as tremors, seizures, or even coma.
  • Respiratory problems: Some toxins may cause respiratory signs including coughing, sneezing, or difficulty breathing.
  • Kidney failure: Repeated doses of certain NSAIDs can lead to kidney failure and potentially death in cats.
  • Chronic poisoning: Continuous exposure to toxins, either through repeated incidents or low-dose long-term exposure, can lead to chronic health issues that may not be immediately noticeable but are serious and potentially fatal.

How to prevent exposing your cats

Always store all medications, including topical pain relievers, safely out of the reach of cats to prevent accidental exposure. Ensure that containers are securely closed and stored in places that are inaccessible to your cats. Consider locking medications in cabinets or using child-proof containers.

After applying medications, immediately clean or discard any cloth, applicator, or tool that may retain medication to avoid leaving residues on clothing, carpeting, or furniture. Consult your healthcare provider about covering treated areas to prevent cats from coming into contact with medications on your skin.

If any furniture, carpeting, or clothing becomes contaminated with medication, clean it immediately to prevent your pet from coming into contact with these residues. Clean up any spills of medications or related products immediately and thoroughly to prevent cats from walking through or licking the contaminated areas.

What to do if your cat is exposed

If your cat becomes exposed to topical medications, immediately wash the affected area thoroughly to try and remove any residue. Consult a veterinarian for further advice on preventing health complications. Even if your cat seems to recover, a veterinary examination is necessary to rule out any internal damage that may not be immediately apparent.

If you notice your cat exhibiting signs such as lethargy, lack of appetite, or vomiting, it’s crucial to act swiftly. In cases of severe exposure, provide first aid by keeping the cat calm and warm, minimizing movement, and clearing any obstructions from the airway. After administering first aid, contact your veterinarian or an emergency pet clinic to inform them of the situation and get further instructions.

Bring the packaging of the product to which your cat was exposed. This will help your vet understand the potential toxins involved and the best course of treatment.

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4 Comments on Human Topical Pain Medications Can Be Deadly to Cats

  1. Thanks for this advice. We don’t use anything like this, but it’s good to know just in case we do need it in the future. Gotta keep our babies as safe and healthy as possible.

    • I did not know it could be so bad even if you washed your hands thoroughly and washed your cat. Thank you for the information.

  2. All very good information. I use Biofreeze or CBD ointment on my knee / back. Will make sure it is thorougly absorbed or covered before handling Tasha.

  3. Thanks, Ingrid. Very important.
    Unless I put on long-sleeves, I’ve stopped applying some products after showering because my cat tries to lick them off(!): Rose and shea butter lotion; aloe lotion; coconut oil; jojoba oil. I use natural products from tested brands, but don’t want to risk any harm to my beloved kitty.

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