Abusing Your Pet’s Medications: The Dangers of Pet Prescriptions

Medically Reviewed

Substance use disorders can cause people to seek drugs from unlikely sources. In fact, curiosity and experimentation are sometimes enough to drive people to misuse substances. For instance, teens experiment with inhalants like household chemicals and solvents. But severe addiction is the strongest driving force behind misusing substances from unlikely sources.

Like humans, pets can be treated with various medications. Some of these substances can be active in humans, too. However, taking your pet’s medication can be harmful, both to you and your pet that needs treatment.

What are some medications that are given to animals that might be abused by people? Why is it so dangerous to take pet prescriptions? Learn more about animal medications and why you should steer clear of them.


When it comes to the abuse of pet prescriptions, you might think of ketamine, an anesthetic medication that is used in surgeries. It was once commonly used in humans, especially during the Vietnam War. It’s still used today all over the world, though there are several anesthetic options today.

Ketamine is still commonly used in the treatment of animals. It has several animal-related street names like Cat Valium and Kit Kat. When it’s abused, it can cause sedation, hallucination, audio and visual distortions, and depression. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), ketamine’s anesthetic properties are sometimes used in sex crimes as a date rape drug.

Ketamine can cause dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. In some cases, it causes tremors and seizures. High doses can lead to urinary and liver toxicity, which means it can damage those organs and lead to organ failure, which can be fatal. Ketamine misuse may also be dangerous to mental health. If you’re predisposed to psychosis or if you have schizophrenia, ketamine can worsen symptoms.


You may assume that pets take much different medicine than human beings. In many cases they do, but when it comes to pain management, opioids are as effective in cats and dogs as they are in people. Many vertebrates, including your cats and dogs, have opioid receptors that are used to mitigate pain. They also have endorphins designed to bind with those receptors to mitigate pain. For that reason, when your pet is in pain, they might be prescribed an opioid medication like tramadol or morphine.

While the dosage may be different, these are generally the same opioids that a human might take, and the medications will work in people. Unfortunately, this puts pets and veterinarians at odds with a human public health problem. The opioid epidemic has affected millions of people. In the year before the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 0.6 percent of people over age 12 had an opioid use disorder. In 2018, there were 46,802 opioid overdose deaths.

People with opioid use disorders may take opioids that are prescribed to their pets. Severe addictions often get out of control, and otherwise, people typically do desperate things to satisfy intense cravings, especially when they can no longer get opioids from legitimate sources. In some cases, prescription opioid abuse turns into illicit opioid abuse, when drugs like heroin become cheaper and easier to get. In some cases, veterinarians have reported that pet owners injure their animals in order to get opioid prescriptions.

Cough Medicines

taking-your-dogs-medicationWhile some people resort to harm animals to get pain medications, others find other ways to exploit their animals for the same purpose. In one instance, a man trained his dog to cough when the vet was examining him. The performance earned the dog owner hydrocodone cough medicine. Cough medicines often contain the active ingredient hydrocodone, which is a semi-synthetic opioid made from codeine. Mild opioids may relieve the irritation that causes a cough.

Hydrocodone for a pet may be a small dose for a human, but people with substance use problems often engage in doctor shopping, which is when they visit multiple doctors’ offices to get drugs without raising suspicions. However, opioid regulations have made doctor shopping for the drugs raise more red flags.

However, there are also some cough medications that do not include opioids. Some over-the-counter drugs like dextromethorphan can be used to treat cats and dogs. They are also abused by human beings in very large doses. However, high doses can cause dangerous side effects like extreme sedation and even heart attacks.


Anabolic steroids are an often-overlooked drug of misuse. Since users don’t use them to achieve a euphoric high, they may not be thought of as a dangerous drug, but they can cause dangerous health effects. Veterinarians who treat large mammals, such as horses, often use anabolic steroids to treat various musculoskeletal issues. However, humans misuse anabolic steroids to enhance physical performance or to reshape muscles. Anabolic steroid misuse is often tied to body image issues and other mental health problems.

The abuse of an anabolic steroid can cause many different side effects related to hormonal changes. It can cause body acne, reproductive issues, muscle strains, and ruptures. It can also cause potentially life-threatening issues, such as liver problems, renal failure, heart disease, and certain types of cancers.

Why Abusing Pet Prescriptions is Dangerous

Taking a prescription medication that was intended for someone else, human or animal, can be dangerous. When a doctor prescribes a medication, they’re taking several factors into account, including the patient’s other conditions, personal medical history, and general size.

In humans, they may also consider family history and many other factors you provide on forms and in examinations. When you take someone else’s prescription, you may be taking a substance and dose that’s right for someone else but not for you. You may have a bad reaction that could have been prevented, or you may take a dose that’s too high for you.

Animal prescriptions may be even more unpredictable than human medications. Though they may have the same or similar active ingredients, they might include different formulations or doses. Animal physiology is different, and your pet’s medication may be much weaker or much stronger than what would be right for you. Plus, animal medications aren’t regulated in the same way human medication is. Just like dog food is of a lower grade than food fit for humans, pet medications may not have gone through as rigorous a testing process.

It may be especially dangerous to take prescriptions that are given to large animals. Even a very large dog may take medications that are at a higher dose than what would be safe for an average-sized person. Large mammals like horses and cattle are prescribed very high doses compared to human medications. For instance, an opioid medication given to a horse may cause a deadly overdose in a human. Taking medications that aren’t prescribed to you or rated safe for over-the-counter consumption is unpredictable and dangerous.

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