Health

Pet medications could harm a child, veterinarians warn

Medications prescribed for pets can pose a risk to children

Limit kids' access to pets when medications given

Veterinary researchers in the U.S. have called for more public awareness to reduce the risk of veterinary pharmaceutical exposures to young children. (J.P. Moczulski/Reuters)

Pet owners should take note that prescription veterinary medicine may be picked up by young children after an animal spits it out, say veterinary researchers who looked at calls to poison control centres.

Researchers at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, studied more than 1,400 calls for exposures to veterinary drugs in the state by those aged 19 and under from 1999 to 2013.

In Monday's issue of the journal Pediatrics, they report that "exploratory behaviour," such as a child unintentionally gaining access to a pet's medicine by climbing on a counter or searching through a bag, was the most common reason (61 per cent) that children were exposed.

Unintentional delivery — accidental exposures to a veterinary drug while trying to medicate an animal — occurred in 23 per cent of the calls. (The rest of the calls did not include enough detail for the study's authors to determine the circumstances.)

Most of the cases, 96 per cent, were treated at home with no long-term harm to the child.

In two recorded cases, there was moderate impact: a three-year-old ingested ivermectin, often given orally for canine heartworm disease and a nine-month-old ingested a compound prescribed to dogs with stress or anxiety problems.

Most exposures were related to drugs prescribed to dogs.

Typically children aren't exposed to doses that can lead to problems, Kristen Roberts and her co-authors said. But some prescriptions, both human and veterinary, could be dangerous even in low amounts. For instance, toxic anti-cancer drugs are prescribed more often to pets.

To prevent exposures, pet owners are advised to:

  • Limit children's access to the pet as medications are given (such as waiting until a child goes to bed to give Fido his prescription).
  • Be sure all treatments to the skin are dry before allowing a child to have contact with a pet.
  • Store all human medications separately from veterinary ones to avoid confusion.
  • Keep all medication in child-resistant packaging and out of reach of children at all times.

"Although most exposures do not result in a serious medical outcome, efforts to increase public awareness, appropriate product dispensing procedures, and attention to home storage practices may reduce the risk of veterinary pharmaceutical exposures to young children," the study's authors wrote.

Child-resistant packaging isn't a given with animal drugs, said Dr. Kyran Quinlan, a researcher at Rush University Children's Hospital in Chicago who wasn't involved in the study.
 
"Families have to be particularly vigilant to protect their children from unintended ingestion when pills and medicines meant for their pet are brought into the house," Quinlan, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Injury Violence and Poison Prevention, said in an email.

With files from Reuters

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