If pets grace your home, chances are that they are part of your family. Indeed, we tend to personify pets, often giving them human names and attributing human emotions to them. You may delight in buying your pets gifts, in celebrating their birthdays or in planning your vacations to include the four-legged family members.
This family expansion to include multiple species is both enjoyable and healthy. Many benefits of animal companionship are well-documented. Statistically, people who share their lives with our planet’s other creatures live longer and have better physical health and improved mental well-being.
As our pets’ providers, though, it is important to be aware of some key similarities and differences in the day-to-day care of human children versus pet children. Well-intentioned pet parents sometimes extrapolate decisions regarding care from children to pets, inadvertently harming the pet because Fido and Fluffy are, um, not people.
Medication. A common source of confusion is medication. Although pharmacy choices for humans and pets are often similar, there are some species-specific differences. In 2018, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center listed human medicines as the most common toxins ingested by pets, comprising over one-third of all calls to the center.
Over-the-counter medicine. Of particular significance are pain medicines and cold medicines. Pet exposure to these medications comprise one in five calls to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. Anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, are very dangerous for pets. Even Tylenol, which is often used safely in young babies and pregnant women, is toxic for cats. Even a tiny dose can be lethal. Tylenol may also appear on labels under its generic name, acetaminophen. Always ask your veterinarian before choosing over-the-counter medicine for Fido or Fluffy.
Herbs and supplements. Herbal therapy is another over-the-counter medicine choice. Contrary to the safe impression that these products impart, they can cause harm when used inappropriately. Herbal treatments that are safe for humans may not be safe for pets. For example, tea tree oil may be deadly if used on a small animal. Supplements can also be dangerous if taken in excess. Dog that sneak into a bottle of vitamin D are at risk of fatal calcification of the arteries.
Prescription medicine. Maybe your Fido or Fluffy was prescribed the same kind of prescription medicine that your doctor ordered for you. But that doesn’t mean they are interchangeable. Pets have different metabolisms and some different pathways to clear medicine. This affects the drug dose, so Fluffy’s medicine strength probably doesn’t resemble yours. Your prescription medicine is for you only.
Also, be sure not to accidentally take Fido’s medicine. Besides inherent and obvious risks, pills for dogs are sometimes liver-flavored. That’s a big bonus for Fido but probably not for you.
Pet food. Diet choice is another big decision that pet owners often extrapolate from humans to animals. In this regard, it is important to remember that pets are not little people. Every species has its own digestion abilities and nutrition needs. Unfortunately, human nutrition trends and fads tend to become extrapolated to include four-legged family members.
One popular pet food fad was the hype of grain-free dog food. This followed the trend in human nutrition to decrease carbohydrates in our diet. In reality, though, most dogs should have grain in their diets. During the domestication of wild canines to pet dogs, digestive tracts changed so that our present-day domestic dog has a different digestive tract than wolves and other wild canines. Domestic dogs actually need grains for balanced nutrition. (In rare medical cases, where grain must be avoided, the dog’s diet should be overseen by a veterinarian.) Unfortunately, pet food companies picked up on this popular grain-free fad, to Fido’s detriment. Last year, the FDA announced a link between grain-free dog food and heart disease in dogs.
Human food. Sharing a snack with your pet may be fun and relaxing, but choose the snack carefully. Crunchy veggies like baby carrots or broccoli florets are great options. Avoid grapes and raisins, as they are toxic for dogs, as are chocolate and many artificial sweeteners. Cats have choosier palates, but a nibble of deli meat or a lick of plain Greek yogurt should be OK.
Dental care. Dental care is important for everyone with teeth, including Fido and Fluffy. Daily tooth brushing improves oral health, decreasing periodontal disease, tooth infections and foul breath. If your pet’s mouth is big enough, a human soft-bristled toothbrush is a good choice. Cats and small dogs do better with a pet toothbrush designed for tiny mouths.
However, don’t share your toothpaste with your pet. The foaming mint with fluoride is unpleasant for animals and may make them vomit. Instead, choose toothpaste designed for cats and dogs. They come in yummy flavors like poultry, seafood and beef.
Dr. Heidi Bassler practices at Bassler Veterinary Hospital at Crossroads Plaza in Salisbury. Do you have questions for her? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.