Medication Spotlight: 5-Fluorouracil and its Deadly Effects

While there are plenty of medications that may be lifesaving to humans, these same medications can be life-threatening to our pets. Recently, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) has received a 32% increase in calls about the medication 5-Fluorouracil, or 5-FU.  5-FU can be deadly to our beloved pets and the APCC wants to make sure you have all the information you need keep to them safe, happy and healthy.

5-FU and its risks

5-FU is a prescription medication used to treat human skin cancers and other skin conditions including superficial basal cell carcinoma and actinic or solar keratoses and vitiligo. Brand names for 5-FU include Efudex®, Carac®, Adrucil® and Fluoroplex. This medication works by killing fast growing cells and is prescribed in strengths of 0.5-5% to be used at home. Unfortunately, while this medication is important to those who need it, even small doses can be deadly to our furry friends.

Signs, symptoms and treatment

5-FU is absorbed very quickly and clinical signs can be seen anywhere from 30 minutes to 6 hours post ingestion. Death can occur as early as 7 hours after exposure. Signs and symptoms that your pet may have ingested 5-FU include:

  • Drooling
  • Anorexia (lack of appetite)
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea (with or without blood)
  • Walking like they are drunk
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Pale gums due to anemia
  • Fever
  • Death

If your pet accidentally ingests this medication, take them to your veterinarian immediately. Treatment may include fluid therapy, symptomatic and supportive care, bloodwork and potentially several days of hospitalization.

Prevention is key

If you or someone in your home is prescribed this medication, be sure to keep it out of paw’s reach. Make sure not to leave it in your backpack, purse or on a counter where your pet can find it. Ensure you thoroughly wash your hands after applying the medication and do not allow your pet to lick the area in which it has been applied. Talk to your physician about keeping the area covered so that your pet can not access it. Make sure you also dispose of any dressings from the area or any product used to apply the medication in a place where your pet cannot access it.

If you suspect your pet may have come in contact with 5-FU, immediately call your veterinarian, emergency veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435 so that your pet can be treated quickly.

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