With the start of cold and flu season, the Animal Poisons Helpline has seen an increase in the number of calls about pets ingesting cold and flu medications. Companion animals can be very sensitive to decongestant preparations which are medications that help relieve blocked noses. These include oral decongestant preparations such as pseudoephedrine and nasal decongestant preparations such as oxymetazoline or xylometazoline. Some nasal preparations are also formulated with xylitol which can pose an additional risk for dogs.

Clinical signs vary depending on the formulation ingested. Ingestion of oral decongestants is associated with stimulant effects. Affected animals can become agitated, develop tremors, a high blood pressure or a rapid heart beat. In severe cases, seizures or alteration to the rhythm of the heart may occur. Ingestion of nasal preparations initially results in salivation and vomiting and affected animals can become drowsy and unsteady on their feet. As the poisoning progresses, a reduction in heart rate, blood pressure and breathing may occur.

Oral decongestant preparations are also frequently formulated with other medications which can result in multi-drug poisonings in pets. Risk of toxicity is highly dependent on the species involved and the amount and type of medication(s) ingested. Other common cold and flu medications that can be harmful to pets include:

❗️Paracetamol and ibuprofen which are used to reduce pain and fever.

❗️Sedating antihistamines, including chlorphenamine and dexchlorpheniramine commonly found in night time preparations.

❗️Throat preparations, including lozenges and sprays that can contain anti-inflammatories and anaesthetic agents.

❗️Cough suppressants including dihydrocodeine and dextromethorphan.

The Animal Poisons Helpline provides free advice to pet owners in Australia and New Zealand and can be reached on ☎️ 1300 869 738 (AU) or 0800 869 738 (NZ). If you are a member of a veterinary team in Australia or New Zealand, you can join the Animal Poisons Centre For Vets Facebook group which is regularly updated with toxicology tidbits and poisoning trends. We thank the Western Australian Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development for supporting this post.