Symptoms to Watch for When a Dog Eats an Antidepressant

Seventeen year old English Springer Spaniel
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Maybe you accidentally dropped your antidepressant pill while you were taking out your daily dose; and your dog, always on the lookout for a tasty treat, ate it? Or you came home to find that she had chewed through the bottle and it's a slobbery mess?

The first thing you need to know is that this is actually a pretty common happening. In fact, according to PETA, about 66 percent of all calls to ​Pet Poison Helpline are in relation to dogs and cats who have accidentally consumed human prescription medications. The most common among these are antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, sleep medications, and cholesterol-lowering drugs.

While antidepressants are sometimes prescribed for dogs, the doses that humans take can be very toxic to pets, especially if they are smaller animals or they have ingested multiple pills.

Symptoms

Signs of antidepressant poisoning can begin 30 minutes to four hours after the medication was eaten, but effects can also be delayed for several hours if it was an extended-release formula.

Restlessness and agitation are the most common signs of antidepressant poisoning in dogs, but they also might experience such effects as vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, fever, tremors, sensitivity to noise, decreased heart rate, dilated pupils, vocalization, blindness, drooling, problems with breathing, problems with walking, disorientation, loss of consciousness and coma.

Antidepressants can also be fatal to pets.

What About Other Medications?

Other mental health medications can also have adverse effects when accidentally ingested by pets.

  • Benzodiazepines, including Clonazepam and Alprazolam (Xanax) which are often used to treat anxiety disorders, usually have a sedative effect on humans. These medications can have different effects on pets, sometimes leading to severe agitation or lethargy. Slowed respiration is another potential complication. 
  • ADD and ADHD medications, including Ritalin and Adderall, can be potentially life-threatening when consumed by animals. Heart problems, fever, and seizures are possible side effects.
  • Other medications including over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, present dangers to pets. Ibuprofen may result in stomach issues or kidney problems. 

What to Do

If you believe that your dog has eaten your antidepressant or another drug, you should collect as much information as you can about the medication —such as its name, the dosage, the number of pills eaten and how long ago the medication was consumed—and consult with an emergency veterinarian for advice.

You should not attempt to induce vomiting yourself as this could worsen your pet's situation rather than making it better.

Depending upon your individual circumstances, it is possible that your vet may choose to:

  • Keep the animal under observation
  • Induce vomiting, followed by the administration of activated charcoal to absorb any of the drugs that remain in the stomach
  • Administer IV fluids to keep the animal hydrated and protect against organ damage
  • Administer the antihistamine Cyproheptadine to reverse the effects of serotonin syndrome (caused by a dangerous buildup of serotonin in the dog's nervous system)
  • Administer sedatives to allow the dog to rest as well as to counteract certain symptoms of the poisoning
  • Administer appropriate care to counteract other harmful effects of the poisoning, such as cardiac or seizure medications

While most dogs will respond well to medical care, recovering within 12 to 24 hours, the best thing to do is to take steps to prevent accidents from occurring in the first place. Some steps that pet owners can take include:

  • Keeping antidepressants and other medications where pets can't reach them
  • Keeping pill bottles closed when not in use
  • When handling pills, doing so over a counter, table or sink so that when pills fall they will not reach the floor
  • Keeping a list of all medications' names, dosages, and amounts in a location other than on the pill bottle itself
  • Keeping the contact information for a local emergency vet handy in case of emergency
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Article Sources

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  1. Pet Poison Helpline. Top 10 Human Medications Poisonous to Pets. Safety Call International. 

  2. Wismer, T. Antidepressant drug overdoses in dogs. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Updated July 2000.

  3. Pet Poison Helpline. Benzodiazepines.

  4. Pet Poison Helpline. Amphetamines.

  5. Pet Poison Helpline. Ibuprofen.

  6. Plumb DC. Plumb's Veterinary Drug Handbook, 6th Ed. Plumb & Pharm. Blackwell Publishing. 2008.

  7. Kipperman B. Help! My Dog Ate My Medication! People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Updated November 2, 2011.