The FDA has issued a warning to alert pet owners and veterinarians that pets, especially cats, can become ill or even die when exposed to topical pain medications containing flurbiprofen, an anti-inflammatory agent.
This statement issued by the FDA came after reports surfaced of two cats who had to receive emergency veterinary care for kidney failure (and thankfully survived.) In a second household, three cats experienced symptoms of lethargy, anorexia (reluctance to eat) vomiting and had black, bloody stools. Sadly, these three cats perished. All of the cats were exposed to creams their owners had applied to themselves, not from direct application to the cats.
These are all symptoms known to be associated with exposure to non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) in animals.
According to the FDA, "The pet owners involved in the cases had applied the cream or lotion to their own neck or feet, and not directly do the pet, and it is not known exactly how the cats became exposed to the medication."
My guess is that the owners pet their cats after applying the cream. It's also possible that the cats became exposed to the cream if they were rubbing up against their pet parent's legs. Once the cats got the cream on their coats, they probably groomed themselves and became exposed to the toxins orally. As these products are designed to be absorbed through the skin, eventually the product would work its way through a cat's skin.
Regardless, it is apparent that even very small amounts of the pain-killing creams cause significant damage.
Veterinarians have warned pet parents against the use of human pain medications on their animals. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) can cause physical damage in an animal's intestines and kidneys. NSAIDs include drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen. Name brand ibuprofen products include Advil and Motrin. Aleve is the name brand of naproxen.
Dogs are usually the ones to ingest NSAID pills that have candy coatings. Cats are less likely to eat the pills, but it makes sense that affectionate cats would rub against their owners who have applied an anti-inflammatory cream and would, therefore, expose themselves to danger.
The creams implicated contained the NSAID flurbiprofen and the muscle relaxer cyclobenzaprine. This family of pain relieving creams may also include ingredients such as baclofen, gabapentin, lidocaine, or prilocaine. Flurbiprofen creams are available only by prescription are are used to treat conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis, as well as soft tissue injuries, such as tendonitis and bursitis. Many of these creams are manufactured through compound pharmacies.
The FDA recommends that people who use topical medications containing flurbiprofen take care to prevent their pets from being exposed to them, even in ways that may seem unlikely to cause problems. Health care providers who prescribe topical pain medications containing flurbiprofen, and pharmacists who fill these prescriptions, should advise patients with pets to take care to prevent exposure of the pet to the medication.
Additionally, it is recommended that:
Patients store all medications safely out of the reach of pets.
Patients safely discard or clean any cloth or applicator that may retain medication and avoid leaving any residues of the medication on clothing, carpeting, or furniture.
Patients consult their healthcare provider on whether it is appropriate to cover the treated area to protect pets from exposure.
If the patient is using topical medications containing flurbiprofen and a pet becomes exposed, the patient should bathe or clean the pet as thoroughly as possible and consult a veterinarian. Even a small amount is deadly.
If the patient's pet shows signs such as lethargy, lack of appetite, vomiting, or other illness, the patient should seek veterinary care immediately and be sure to provide the details of the exposure.
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, these animals may also be vulnerable to NSAID toxicity after being exposed to these medications.
Even though the official statement from the FDA concerns is for prescription creams containing flurbiprofen, there are several over-the-counter pain creams are also toxic to cats - but perhaps not to the degree that the flurbiprofen creams are.
Common ingredients in over-the-counter pain creams that are toxic to cats are:
If you are uncertain if your pet has been exposed to topical pain creams, it's better to call your vet rather than have a "wait and see" attitude. Even a small exposure can quickly be fatal. For instance, one of the cats that died from the flurbiprofen was exposed when a drop of it got on the cat's tail. The owner washed it immediately to no avail.
If you suspect your pet has been exposed to any kind of drug, poisonous ingredient or plant, visit the Pet Poison Helpline or the ASPCA. There are quick reference guides on these sites. If you're concerned enough to get live help, both sites have an advice line that charges a fee ($49 or $65.)
To report drug or pesticide incidents with your pet, please visit the FDA.