New study finds children and adolescents at risk from medicine intended for pets

February 06, 2017

Almost two thirds of households in the US own a pet and many of these households have children that either live in or visit the home. As pet owners know, it is common for pets to need medications either to treat health conditions or to prevent things like fleas, ticks, and heartworm. Many parents, however, may not be aware of the risks these medications can pose to their families. A new study from the Center for Injury Research and Policy and the Central Ohio Poison Center (COPC) at Nationwide Children's Hospital looked at calls to the COPC for pediatric exposures to medications intended for pets from January 1999 through December 2013.

In the study, which was published online today by Pediatrics, researchers found that the COPC received an average of 95 calls each year about youth 19 years of age or younger having been exposed to medicines intended for pets. That's about 2 calls every week.

Most of the calls were about children age 5 years and younger (88%) who ate or swallowed the pet medication (93%) after they found it through exploratory behavior such as taking medication off the counter or finding it in a bag (61%) or when there was an accidental or unintentional exposure that occurred while the parent was trying to give the medication to a pet (23%). The majority of exposures occurred at home (96%) and were not expected to result in long-term or long-lasting health effects (97%). Most (88%) of the calls were for medications intended for dogs.

While the majority of the calls were about young children, the study found that this can be a problem among teenagers as well but for different reasons. More than half (56%) of the calls for this age group were the result of a teen mistakenly taking pet medication instead of medication intended for humans. Storing pet medications in a different place than human medicines could help prevent some of this confusion.

"When you have kids and pets in the home, sometimes things get a little busy. Thinking about how your pet's medicines could be a risk for your family might not even cross your mind" said Kristi Roberts, MS, MPH, study author and research project coodinator in the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital. "The good news is that by taking a few simple steps like storing medicine for pets and humans in different places that are up and away and out of sight and only giving medicine to pets when the children aren't in the room, you can help keep everyone in the family a little safer."

"Veterinarians can also help prevent these unintended exposures by recommending that clients follow the guidelines listed below and by making sure to dispense all medications in child-resistant containers," said Henry Spiller, MS, D.ABAT, director of the Central Ohio Poison Center.

Researchers recommend the following tips to help parents and caregivers keep their children safer around pet medications.
-end-
The Central Ohio Poison Center provides state-of-the-art poison prevention, assessment and treatment to residents in 64 of Ohio's 88 counties. The center services are available to the public, medical professionals, industry, and human service agencies. The Poison Center handles more than 42,000 poison exposure calls annually, and confidential, free emergency poisoning treatment advice is available 24/7. To learn more about the Poison Center, visit http://www.bepoisonsmart.org.

The Center for Injury Research and Policy (CIRP) of The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital works globally to reduce injury-related pediatric death and disabilities. With innovative research at its core, CIRP works to continually improve the scientific understanding of the epidemiology, biomechanics, prevention, acute treatment and rehabilitation of injuries. CIRP serves as a pioneer by translating cutting edge injury research into education, policy, and advances in clinical care. For related injury prevention materials or to learn more about CIRP, visit http://www.injurycenter.org.

Nationwide Children's Hospital

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