Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: June 25, 2023 by Crystal Uys

Cat on examination table of veterinarian clinic

The FDA is alerting pet owners, veterinarians, health care providers and pharmacists that pets are at risk of illness and death when exposed to topical pain medications containing the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) flurbiprofen. People using these medications should use care when applying them in a household with pets, as even very small amounts could be dangerous to these animals.

Sadly, the FDA received reports of cats in two households that became ill or died after their owners used 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. The products contained the NSAID flurbiprofen and the muscle relaxer cyclobenzaprine, as well as other varying active ingredients, including baclofen, gabapentin, lidocaine, or prilocaine.

According to the FDA safety bulletin, two cats in one household developed kidney failure and recovered with veterinary care. Two cats in a second household developed signs that included reluctance to eat, lethargy, vomiting, melena (black, tarry, bloody stools), anemia, and dilute urine. These two cats died despite veterinary care. A third cat in the second household also died after the owner had stopped using the medication. Veterinarians performed necropsies on the three cats that died and found evidence in the kidneys and intestines that were consistent with NSAID toxicity.

Cat not eating food
Image Credit: Kitirinya, Shutterstock

The FDA bulletin states that “it is not known exactly how the cats became exposed to the medication,” but I don’t think it takes much imagination to determine how this might happen. While it’s not known whether ingestion or absorption through the skin caused the deaths in the two cats, cats and topical creams are often a bad combination. Even many conventional cosmetics contain ingredients that can be harmful to cats (and humans, for that matter.) Cats can come in contact with creams by rubbing up against their humans, or by licking the area the cream was applied to. They could also come in contact if humans pet their cats after applying the cream to themselves.

It’s always good practice to keep all human medications away from pets, but it’s especially important when it comes to topical medications.

You can read the full safety alert on the FDA website.

Featured Image Credit: Lee Charlie, Shutterstock

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11 Comments on Human Topical Pain Medication Fatal to Cats: Study Explained

  1. i went to a podiatrist in Va who prescribed topical creme for foot ailment, my two cats became sick and it was discovered that the topical creme was the cause, they are still hospitilizes but doing well, i now have a bill of over $3000.

  2. OMG – I had no idea. I do use Ben-Gay on my shoulder sometimes but usually in bed after we are all tucked in for the night. The kitties sleep at the bottom of the bed and there is no more petting BUT this is certainly something to remember: wash your hands. I wonder how long it stays on the surface of the skin. Anyone?

    • Ben-Gay doesn’t contain NSAID’s, but I can’t imagine that the ingredients in it are safe for cats to come into contact with, either. When it comes to any topical medication, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and keep cats away from it. As for how long it stay on the surface of the skin, that probably varies individually.

  3. My human always slathers sunscreen on herself… but she won’t hold me in her arms after she has! Same thing with any other stuff she puts on her arms. It made things difficult when she had shingles ’cause it affected her forearms.

  4. I am so sorry that the reminder comes because of sad deaths! I see the extreme care we use with meds & moisturizers of all kinds is just what’s required.

    Thanks for posting this!

  5. In a home with cats, of which I’ve always had and still have 3 I never use any ointment including Neosporin. All it takes is one good lick and they have it.

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