FDA Warns on Pet Exposure to Topical Pain Meds

Creams can sicken and kill animals
By Claudia Kawczynska, April 2015, Updated June 2021

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is alerting pet owners who use prescription topical pain medications containing flurbiprofen to use care when using them (on humans) in a household with pets.

Pets are at risk of illness and death when exposed to certain pain medications applied to the skin of their owners. Even very small amounts of flurbiprofen, such as a slight amount left on a cloth applicator, could be dangerous to pets.

This advice follows reports made to the FDA of cats in two households that became ill or died after their owners used prescription-strength topical medications containing flurbiprofen on themselves to treat muscle, joint, or other pain. The pet owners had applied the cream or lotion to their own neck or feet, and not directly to the pet, and it is not known exactly how the cats became exposed to the medication.

The products contained the flurbiprofen and the muscle relaxer cyclobenzaprine, as well as other varying active ingredients, including baclofen, gabapentin, lidocaine, or prilocaine. Flurbiprofen is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID).

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People are warned to keep all medicines out of reach from their companion animals. With any sort of cream, lotion, or ointment, keep any applicators or cloths with the drug away from pets and be mindful of any drug that falls to the floor. If your pet experiences lack of desire to eat, lethargy, vomiting, or tarry stools, and you suspect exposure to such pain creams, bathe the animal and seek veterinary care immediately. Inform the veterinarian of the potential for flurbiprofen exposure.

Forbes also reports that:

Not included in the FDA warning is that no topical prescription product exists with these combinations. While the drug combinations are still prescribed by physicians, they are formulated at compounding pharmacies. These tailor-made, individual products are advertised for treatment of neck and back pain, tendon inflammation, and myalgia (muscle pain). Applying them directly to the skin allows for greater concentrations of the drugs to penetrate to the desired site of action while minimizing the toxicity to the rest of the body if large doses were taken orally.

Veterinarians with patients suspected of NSAID toxicity should ask whether flurbiprofen-containing products are used in the household.

As for our dogs, the FDA warning states, “Understand that, 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.”

How To Keep Your Dog Safe

- Store all medications safely out of the reach of pets.

- Pet owners who use topical pain medications containing flurbiprofen should take care to prevent exposure of the pet to the medication.

- Consult your health care provider on whether it is appropriate to cover up the treated area to prevent your pet from being exposed.

- 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.

- If you are using topical medications containing flurbiprofen and your pet becomes exposed, bathe or clean your pet as thoroughly as possible and consult a veterinarian.

- If your pet shows signs such as lethargy, lack of appetite, vomiting, or other illness, seek veterinary care for your pet and be sure to provide the details of the exposure.

- Pet owners and veterinarians can also report any adverse events to the FDA.

Note that even very small exposure to flurbiprofen can be potentially life-threatening to pets.

Photo by Samson Katt from Pexels