logoThe People's Perspective on Medicine

Petting the Cat Almost Killed It!

Petting the cat can cause a life-threatening reaction if you have a topical NSAID on your skin. Pillow poisoning of pets is another hazard!
Petting the Cat Almost Killed It!
Domesticated cats leisure time or rest concept. White and red cat making a hug with cute lazy ginger tabby cat on a bed with gray blanket near the pillow. High quality photo

Most people rarely think about the topical medicines they put on their skin. Many folks believe that the skin is a barrier to drug absorption. Nothing could be further from the truth. We now know that sunscreens can be absorbed into the body. Drugs on human skin can also affect our dogs and cats. A woman discovered that petting the cat created a terribly toxic reaction. Now we learn that pillow poisoning of pets poses another problem! Beware minoxidil (Rogaine) for hair loss.

Pillowcase Poisoning:

A reader read about pet poisoning from topical medicines. Here is the question:

Q. I read your article about a cat sickened by Voltaren gel. The owner was using this topical NSAID to treat her sore thumbs and wrists.

Cats groom themselves by licking their fur. I suspect that the major factor in its kidney damage was this oral ingestion. Are there other products that cat owners should be careful about?

A. Thank you for reminding us how vulnerable animals can be to some human medications. Another compound of concern is the topical hair growth product called minoxidil (Rogaine).

A report in the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association (Sept-Oct. 2021) described 87 cases of poisoning in cats and dogs. Cats licked the owners’ skin or pillowcase. Dogs more often found a container rummaging through the trash. This product can make both dogs and cats quite ill, and 13 percent of the cats died.

People who allow their pets in bed must be especially careful to avoid exposing their pets to topical medications. The residue left on a pillow from hair products can be toxic.

We recently wrote about lead in progressive hair dyes. These are products that take the gray away gradually over several days to a couple of weeks. The FDA is finally making an effort to get the lead out of such haircare creams and lotions. You can read about it here.

We have long worried that the lead acetate in such products can get on pillows. Not only would humans be exposed while they sleep, but pets that snuggle up might also absorb some lead. That is especially true if they lick the pillowcase or a human’s skin.

Voltaren gel

Voltaren Arthritis Pain Gel and the Cat:

Q. At the beginning of the pandemic, my doctor prescribed Voltaren gel for arthritis in my thumbs and wrists. I used it for three weeks and it really helped.

Then one day our cat was not right, acting listless and not eating. We took her to the vet and discovered her creatinine was over 3 and her BUN over 100. She was near death.

The year before, all her blood work was normal. The vets couldn’t understand how it could change so much in less than a year.

She spent five days in the hospital and had to get regular subcutaneous fluid infusions for six months. Her kidney function eventually came back to normal, but all this care cost about $4,000.

What happened was Voltaren gel residue got on her fur from my skin when I pet her. Then she would groom herself, which meant she was getting the drug. I found an article about this in a veterinary journal, but our vets had never heard of it. Now that Voltaren Arthritis Topical Gel is available over the counter, your readers with pets might want to know this.

Be Careful When Petting the Cat!

A. Thank you for sharing your story. We are relieved to hear your cat has recovered.

Cats are very sensitive to NSAIDs like ibuprofen, naproxen or diclofenac (Voltaren). The nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac is now available over the counter. It can be purchased as Voltaren Arthritis Pain Gel, Aspercreme Arthritis Pain Reliever, Aleve Arthritis Pain Gel or a house brand generic diclofenac gel.

You can learn more about the pros and cons of topical diclofenac gel at this link.

How Can Topical Diclofenac (Voltaren Gel) Hurt Your Stomach?
Some people love topical diclofenac for sprains, strains or inflamed joints. Others find that it causes the same nasty stomach symptoms as oral NSAIDs.

There is also this article:

Will You Risk a Heart Attack with Diclofenac Gel?
If you use diclofenac gel to ease arthritis pain, will it increase your chance of a cardiovascular complication?

Petting the Cat and Other Drug Reactions:

Our veterinary consultants warn that both dogs and cats can get into trouble if they lick certain topical medicines, like hormones, corticosteroids or minoxidil, off their owners’ skin.

The FDA recently listed “Potentially Dangerous Items for Your Pet.”  They include NSAIDs and acetaminophen. You will also discover that grapes, raisins and macadamia nuts pose serious risks. Xylitol, a sugar substitute, can kill dogs. This sweetener is found in sugar-free gum, toothpaste, sugar-free candy and mouthwash.

Try Another Pain Reliever If Petting the Cat:

To keep your cat safe, you might want to consider other ways to manage your arthritis pain besides topical NSAIDs. In our eGuide to Alternatives for Arthritis we discuss several home remedies along with herbs such as ashwagandha, boswellia, turmeric, ginger stinging nettle, MSM and SAMe. This online resource may be found under the Health eGuides tab at this website.

Do you know someone who has a cat? If so, please consider sending this article to them. We have tried to make it easy by including icons at the top of the page. You can click on the icons for email, Facebook or Twitter to send this post along. Thank you for supporting our work.

Rate this article
4.6- 144 ratings
About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
Join over 150,000 Subscribers at The People's Pharmacy

We're empowering you to make wise decisions about your own health, by providing you with essential health information about both medical and alternative treatment options.