With 300 days a year of New Mexico sunshine, we love being outdoors with our pets. People are getting smarter about using sunscreen, but skin cancer is still the most common cancer in the U.S. It’s been estimated that one in five of us will face this diagnosis. But isn’t this the Pet Care column? A topical skin treatment for this human disease can kill our pets.
A cream called 5-fluorouracil (5-FU), is a topical (applied to the skin) chemotherapy agent that is commonly prescribed for people with basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, as well as for precancerous lesions. Pets have licked it off human skin. Cats who’ve rubbed against it when snuggling have ingested 5-FU when self-grooming. If you leave a tube of it where your dog or cat can chew holes in it and swallow even small amounts, you are setting them up for poisoning. This is a very big problem. Even with early treatment, many of these poisoned pets don’t make it.
Vomiting and diarrhea are common symptoms but the primary sign is often sudden-onset seizures that can be difficult to control. General anesthesia is often necessary, followed by activated charcoal tubed into the stomach to absorb as much of this chemo agent as possible. But the damage happens fast. Administration of intravenous medication to reduce excessive pressure on the brain may not be possible soon enough. Modern medicine has improved the outlook for a whole lot of poisonings, but, sadly, there is no specific treatment for 5-FU toxicity.
Dogs and cats can’t break stuff the way a toddler would because they don’t have opposable thumbs, so they use their mouths, investing their energy hunting for chewing opportunities. Such food-dispensing toys as a Twist & Treat make it easy for our natural scavengers to lick and bite without having to molest tubes of their person’s essential, but dangerous, skin cream.
Anyone in your home using 5-FU can cover treated areas with approved bandages. Most people don’t read labels; dogs and cats never do.
• For help with behavior problems, you can sign up for a Zoom Group Conference on my website, drjeffnichol.com.
Dr. Jeff Nichol is a residency-trained veterinary behaviorist. He provides consultations in person and in groups via Zoom (505-792-5131). Each week he shares a blog and a video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Post pet questions on facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by mail to 4000 Montgomery NE, Albuquerque, NM, 87109.