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FDA Warns on Pet Exposure to Topical Pain Meds

Pet parents beware of the dangers in your medicine cabinet.

by Claudia Kawczynska
October 5, 2021
A cat licking a persons hand.
Photo: Mariya Shmatova / Stocksy

Your pet wants you to read our newsletter. (Then give them a treat.)

While there might already be a plethora of dangers around your home that you are concerned about, here’s another to add to the list: what’s in your medicine cabinet.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is alerting pet parents who have prescription topical pain medications containing flurbiprofen in their homes. Even minimal amounts of flurbiprofen, such as a small amount left on a cloth applicator, could be life-threatening to cats and potentially dogs.

Toxic Exposure

The advice from the FDA follows reports made of five cats in three households that became ill after people used prescription-strength topical medications containing flurbiprofen on themselves to treat muscle, joint, or other pain. Three of the cats died suffering from kidney and intestinal damage. The pet parent in each case had applied the cream to their own body and not directly to the pet, and it is not known exactly how the cats became exposed to the medication.

The products contained the flurbiprofen and the muscle relaxer cyclobenzaprine, as well as other varying active ingredients, including baclofen, gabapentin, lidocaine, or prilocaine. Flurbiprofen is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID).

Ask a Vet

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As reported in Forbes, these types of topical prescription combinations are tailor-made at compounding pharmacies. The products are advertised to treat neck and back pain, tendon inflammation, and muscle pain in humans.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

If your dog or cat experiences a lack of desire to eat, lethargy, vomiting, or tarry stools, and you suspect exposure to such pain creams, bathe the animal and seek veterinary care immediately. Inform the veterinarian of the potential for flurbiprofen exposure.

Veterinarians with patients suspected of NSAID toxicity should ask whether flurbiprofen-containing products are used in the household.

While reports on cat illnesses sounded the alarm, the FDA warning gives a word of caution for dog parents too. “Understand that, although the FDA has not received reports of dogs or other pets becoming sick in relation to the use of topical pain medications containing flurbiprofen, dogs may also be vulnerable to NSAID toxicity after being exposed to these medications.”

How To Keep Your Pet Safe

  • Store all medications safely out of the reach of pets.

  • Pet parents who use topical pain medications containing flurbiprofen should take special care to prevent accidental exposure.

  • Consult your health care provider on whether it is appropriate to cover up the treated area to prevent your pet from being exposed.

  • Safely discard any applicator that may retain medication and avoid leaving any residues of the drug on clothing, carpeting, or furniture.

  • If you are using topical medications containing flurbiprofen and your dog or cat becomes exposed, bathe or clean your pet as thoroughly as possible and consult a veterinarian.

  • If your pet shows signs such as lethargy, lack of appetite, vomiting, or other illness, seek veterinary care immediately, and be sure to provide the details of what happened.

  • Report any incidents to the FDA.

Claudia Kawczynska

Claudia Kawczynska was co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Bark for 20 years. She also edited the best-selling anthology Dog Is My Co-Pilot.