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“Doctor, my cat looked like he had fever last night so I gave him half a tablet of Crocin (Paracetamol), but there was no improvement. In fact, he looks much worse today.” Every time I hear these words, I shudder with dread. Why dread? After all isn’t Paracetamol (also known as acetaminophen, APAP) one of the safest anti-fever, anti-inflammatory, painkiller drugs around? Yes, if you’re human, but in cats, it is absolutely lethal.

Even a small dose can be fatal.

At a biochemical level, cats have several peculiarities unique to them that result in inefficient metabolism of Paracetamol and several other “safe” drugs, leading to toxicity. Ingestion of doses as low as 10mg/kg body weight can induce symptoms. Doses of 50-60mg/kg are usually fatal. The average adult domestic cat in Chennai weighs 3-5 kg and most Paracetamol tablets contain 500 mg, meaning even a quarter of a tablet can kill.

Symptoms

Toxicity signs set in within 4-24 hours and symptoms last for days, usually culminating in death if left untreated. Early signs include loss of appetite, vomiting and excessive salivation. Later, the mucous membranes of the eyes and mouth turn brown or blue as the toxic metabolites affect the blood and reduce its oxygen-carrying capacity; the urine turns red or chocolate brown and the face and paws swell up. Jaundice and liver failure can also develop. Though there is an antidote (expensive) and timely intervention can save several cats, severity is largely dose dependant and many cats will die a horrible death despite treatment. The most unfortunate aspect of Paracetamol poisoning in cats is that the drug is administered with the best of intentions by owners who are unaware of its toxicity. I must mention that Paracetamol is unsafe for dogs too.

Check the label

This is a short list (by no means exhaustive) of the most common brands of over-the-counter drugs containing Paracetamol — Calpol, Combiflam, Crocin, Dolopar, Febrex, Panadol, Proxyvon and Spasmo-Proxyvon. Also be aware while filling out prescriptions given by your vet that pharmacists sometimes dispense the “equivalent” of the brand prescribed, some of which might contain other drugs in combination. Always insist on the prescribed brand. When in doubt, check the label.

Call your vet

I chose to highlight Paracetamol toxicity this week because it’s by far the most common one we see, but there are several other drugs that are safe for humans but lethal to our pets. So, before you administer any medication to your pet, remember: your vet is just a phone call away!

(Send your queries to Dr. Afzal Mohamed, The Ark Veterinary Clinic, at >metropetpassion@gmail.com. The advice given in this column is not a substitute for consulting a veterinarian.)

HERO OF THE WEEK

This week, our heroes are V Bhuvaneshwari and family, from Anna Nagar East. They feed and care for two street dogs in their locality and have taken the initiative to collar them and take them for regular vaccinations. The two dogs are prize-winners at Indian dog shows.

Know of a hero who has performed of an act of kindness to animals? Write to >metropetpassion@gmail.com

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