For your pet’s health, it’s important that you safely store pet medications, food, and treats. Proper storage helps prevent your pet from having an accidental medication overdose and health problems—such as vomiting, diarrhea, and pancreatitis—related to overeating or eating pet food that isn’t fresh or is meant for another pet.
FDA receives reports of accidental medication overdoses in pets as part of the agency’s overall system for monitoring drugs used in animals. Some of these reports involve pets getting into their own medications or medications for other pets in the household. A lot of pet medications are flavored to smell and taste good—which is a positive when Princess takes her pill easily but a negative when she sniffs the pills out on her own and eats the entire supply at once. Some pets with less discriminating taste buds will eat medications that aren’t even designed to be tasty.
Other reports of accidental overdoses involve pets getting into people medications, such as a dog eating an entire bottle of his owner’s ibuprofen. About 25 percent of all phones calls to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Centerdisclaimer icon are regarding pets that ingest medications intended for people. The center receives hundreds of calls every year involving pets that accidentally eat ibuprofen or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
“It just takes a second for a dog to chew open a bottle of medication left in an owner’s purse or on the counter,” said Sharon Chase, a veterinarian at FDA. “Even medications sealed in child-proof containers can be no match for a hungry dog with a keen sense of smell,” added Dr. Chase.
FDA receives more reports of accidental overdoses in dogs, but the curious nature of cats and ferrets can get them into trouble too.
Help protect your pet from an accidental overdose by following these safety tips for storing pet medications:
Keep pet medications in their original containers with intact labels. It’s important that the directions for use and the pet’s name are legible.
Keep pet medications in a secure location. What you may think is “out of reach” of your pet may, in fact, not be. Cats are good jumpers and ferrets are good climbers, so kitchen and bathroom counters, shelves, and other high places may not be secure enough. And a determined dog with a good nose can devise clever ways to reach that pill vial at the back of the cabinet, especially if the medication is flavored.
Also, medication containers that are child safe may not be pet safe. Pets are known to chew through a variety of medication containers, including plastic pill vials, boxes, and blister packages.
Keep pet medications away from children. Children may think a pet medication is candy, especially a chewable or liquid product. Some liquid pet medications are made to smell like banana or strawberry and may be especially attractive to children.
Store pet medications away from people medications to prevent a mix-up. FDA sometimes receives calls from panicked owners who mistakenly took their pet’s medication or gave their personal medication to their pet. (If you accidentally ingest a pet medication, call your physician or local poison control center. If you accidentally give a medication intended for people to your pet, call your veterinarian or an animal poison control center.) To prevent mix-ups, store medications for each person and each pet in your household separately.
If your dog goes to the barn with you, be sure to keep medications for horses and farm animals in a secure location. Many medications intended for horses contain flavoring that dogs may find attractive. Also, medicate horses and farm animals in an area that your dog can’t access. And don’t dispose of leftover dewormer paste or other liquid medication on the ground. Your dog may find the spot and lick it up. These precautions also apply to barn cats.
Get rid of expired, unused, or unwanted medications properly. Pets, especially dogs, are known to go dumpster-diving and get into the garbage, so follow these guidelines for throwing out medications in your household trash:
Mix medications (do NOT crush tablets or capsules) with a substance that doesn’t taste good, such as kitty litter or used coffee grounds;
Place the mixture in a sealable container, such as a zip-top plastic bag; and
Throw the sealed container in your household trash.
FDA recommends getting rid of certain potentially harmful medications by flushing them down the sink or toilet. This gets rid of the medication right away and helps keep both the people and pets in your family safe.
Community-based drug “take-back” programs offer the best solution for disposing of expired, unused, or unwanted medications. The same take-back programs available for people medications will also take back pet medications.
On September 8, 2014, the Drug Enforcement Administration issued a final rule on the disposal of controlled substances, such as narcotic pain relievers (also called opioid pain relievers) like codeine, fentanyl, morphine, and oxycodone. The final rule significantly expands the options available to the public (“ultimate users” or “end users”) to safely get rid of controlled substances.
Here are some good resources on FDA’s website on how to safely dispose of expired, unused, or unwanted medications for both people and pets:
How to Dispose of Unused Medicines
Lock it Up: Medicine Safety in Your Home
Disposal of Unused Medicines: What You Should Know
Medication Disposal: Questions and Answers
Some pets need a medication that requires you to use “sharps” at home. “Sharps” are medical devices with sharp points or edges that can puncture or cut skin, such as needles and syringes. For example, insulin—a medication used to treat diabetes in dogs and cats—is injected under the skin using a small insulin syringe that has a needle.
Here are some good resources on FDA’s websites on how to safely dispose of used sharps:
Needles and Other Sharps (Safe Disposal Outside of Health Care Settings)
Sharps Disposal Containers
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Pet Food & Treats
Proper storage of pet food and treats maintains the products’ nutritional value and keeps information handy in case there’s a problem. Proper storage also prevents health problems in your pet associated with overeating or eating food that isn’t fresh or is meant for another pet.
Help keep your pet healthy by following these safety tips for storing pet food and treats:
Store pet food and treats in the original container or bag. This allows you to have the UPC code, lot number, brand and manufacturer, and “best by” date easily available in case of a product defect or recall. “When you file a complaint about a pet food product, the lot number and ‘best by’ date, along with the full product name, are important for you to provide,” explained William Burkholder, a veterinarian and senior pet food regulatory expert at FDA.
Less than 25 percent of the pet food complaints that FDA receives include the lot number. The lot number helps FDA identify when and where the pet food or treat was made, making it easier and faster for the agency to address problems with a specific product.
If you want to store dry pet food in another storage container, put the entire bag into the container rather than pour the kibble directly into it.
If you need to pour the dry pet food into another storage container, make sure it’s clean, dry, and has a lid that fits snuggly. A lid helps maintain the food’s freshness and prevent your pet from getting into it. Be sure to save the UPC code, lot number, brand and manufacturer, and “best by” date. You can tape that information to the outside of the container so it’s handy (but remember to change it when you open a new bag of kibble).
Wash and dry the storage container between finishing up one bag of kibble and filling it with another to get residual fat and crumbs off the container’s surfaces.
Store dry pet food and unopened canned food in a cool and dry place. The temperature should be less than 80 F. Excess heat or moisture may cause the nutrients to breakdown. If your pet is overly persistent or clever at getting into pet food, store it in a secure location.
Promptly refrigerate or throw out unused or leftover canned and pouched pet food. Set your refrigerator to 40 F or below.
Wash and dry pet food bowls and scooping utensils after each use. Wash water bowls daily.
Keep pet treats in a secure location to prevent your pet from eating an entire supply of treats at once.
Pet food and treats, like many other types of food, can be contaminated with harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses. You can lower your risk of getting a foodborne illness from contaminated pet food by following simple and safe handling instructions.
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What to do When There’s a Problem
If your pet experiences a side effect from a medication, stop giving the medication and call your veterinarian. If your pet has an accidental medication overdose or eats something poisonous, call your veterinarian or an animal poison control center, such as the Pet Poison Helplinedisclaimer icon or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Centerdisclaimer icon. Similarly, if your pet has a health problem related to a pet food or treat, stop feeding the food or treat and call your veterinarian.
FDA encourages pet owners to report adverse reactions and other problems with a pet medication, pet food, or treat.
Reporting Problems with Pet Medications
An adverse reaction or other problem related to a medication is called an adverse drug event or an adverse drug experience (ADE for short). An ADE is an undesired side effect associated with the drug, or the drug doesn’t do what it’s expected to do (it has a lack of effect).
If your pet experiences an adverse reaction to a medication, including an accidental overdose, FDA encourages you to work with your veterinarian to report it. For a drug that’s approved for use in animals, the agency recommends that you or your veterinarian call the drug company. Drug companies are required to submit all ADE reports for approved animal drugs to FDA. If the drug isn’t approved for use in animals, such as a drug intended for people or an unapproved animal drug, or you’re unsure of the drug’s approval status, you may submit the report directly to FDA.
How to Tell if a Drug is FDA-Approved for Animals
How to Report an Adverse Drug Experience
Reporting Problems with Pet Food & Treats
FDA encourages you to report complaints about a pet food product or treat to both FDA and the manufacturer of the pet food or treat. You can report the complaint to FDA electronically through the Safety Reporting Portal or by calling your state’s FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator.
How to Report a Pet Food Complaint
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For More Information
If you have questions or want more information, please contact the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine’s Education & Outreach Staff at 240-402-7002 or AskCVM@fda.hhs.gov.