Paracetamol (known as acetaminophen in America) is deadly to dogs, cats, ferrets, guinea pigs and other pets. The ASPCA lists human medications as the number one reason pets die of poisoning. Topping the medications pets get into is over the counter painkillers, including acetaminophen or paracetamol.
Generally, the smaller the pet, the less paracetamol it needs to swallow in order to die from it. Dogs need to swallow whole pills – which unfortunately they do if hungry and they come across a bottle. But a 50 pound dog needs to swallow 3500 milligrams in order to die. Cats are especially vulnerable and can die from 250 milligrams. Ferrets can die from eating a mere one-fifth of a 325 milligram tablet. Guinea pigs need even less, but fortunately they are usually turned off by the taste to ingest a fatal dose.
Signs of paracetamol poisoning are dramatic. They may differ from species to species, but it will very apparent that the pet is in serious pain and needs to be taken to the vet immediately. Ideally, the pet needs to vomit. However, if the pet is unconscious, having seizures or has already vomited (or is continuing to vomit) then do not induce vomiting. Rinse the pet’s mouth out with water as best as you can because the gums can absorb the medication.
Other symptoms include coordination problems; sudden diarrhea; screaming, whining or somehow vocalizing in a peculiar manner; sudden grogginess; drooling; panting; swelling up the face or mouth; gums changing color; constantly teary eyes; shock. Shock is when the pet collapses, has gums that go white; uncontrollable shivering; thready, rapid pulse and heartbeat.
Paracetamol poisoning in pets the size of a ferret or smaller is usually fatal because the liver is failing. Unless a vet can stabilize the liver failure, death is immanent. If the pet is also vomiting and has diarrhea, then it is losing a large amount of fluids. Intravenous fluids will be needed in order to stabilize the pet. Oxygen may also be needed to keep the pet breathing.
Sodium bicarbonate or activated charcoal helps both dogs and ferrets. A vitamin C injection may also help guinea pigs and dogs. Activated charcoal can help cats. Cats may also be given bovine hemoglobin to help lessen damage to the blood from the liver beginning to fail. Dogs can be given Tagament (cimetidine) in order to help repair damage to the digestive system.
There may also be other medications, depending on the individual pet’s particular symptoms.
“The Veterinarians’ Guide to Your Dog’s Symptoms.” Michael S. Garvey, DVM, et al.; Villiard; 1999.
ASPCA. “Just How Dangerous is Acetaminophen to Pets?” http://www.aspca.org/pressroom/press-releases/071006.html
eHow. “Can Tylenol Be Used for Ferrets?” http://www.ehow.com/facts_5656013_can-tylenol-used-ferrets_.html
Pet Place. “Acetominophen (Tylenol) Toxicity in Dogs.” http://www.petplace.com/dogs/acetaminophen-toxicity-in-dogs/page1.aspx
Guinea Lynx. “Poisoning.” http://www.guinealynx.info/emergencymedicalguide.html#poisoning