Are Animal Medications Safe for Humans to Take?

The practice of humans using medications meant for animals is not uncommon, especially with people who work with animals, such as farmers, rodeo employees, horse trainers, and veterinary staff.

Veterinarian checking the heartbeat of a dog
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There are a number of issues with this practice. It is illegal for veterinarians (or anyone else) to sell or dispense any medications (like antibiotics) that are intended for animals for human consumption. Packages prepared by the drug manufacturer have clearly marked "not for human consumption" or some similar phrase.

FDA Requirements

Many drugs sold or dispensed by veterinarians for the treatment of illness in small domestic animals are generic equivalents of human drugs. For example, a pet can have an inflammatory condition and take prednisone for this condition—the same medication humans can get with a physician’s prescription.

However, medications produced for livestock and intended to be mixed with feed may not undergo the same level of manufacturing scrutiny by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as human drugs do. These products may have more impurities that don't represent a health concern for the animals but could be a risk for people.

Self-Medication Risks

A bigger issue, however, is self-medicating with drugs that may not be appropriate. This self-medicating may especially be a problem with the self-diagnosis of infection and then self-treating with an animal’s antibiotic.

The self-diagnosis may not be correct. The antibiotic may not be the correct one to treat the infection or the dose may not be correct. If cost is the issue, many antibiotics are generic and can be purchased for as little as $4 for a prescription.

An incorrect diagnosis or incorrect medication can put someone’s health at great risk.

Antibiotic Resistance

Antibiotic resistance is another reason why people shouldn't take antibiotics meant for animals. One of the biggest health problems in the world is the emergence of multidrug-resistant bacteria that overcome the actions of conventional antibiotics. Without drugs to keep these "superbugs" in check, terrible and deadly infections can result.

If a person were to take random veterinary antibiotics without physician oversight, they increase their risk for the selection of multidrug-resistant strains of bacteria.

From a personal perspective, this selection for multidrug-resistant organisms is dangerous because these multidrug-resistant bacteria stay in their system and could cause a later infection that is very hard to treat.

From a public health perspective, the selection of multidrug-resistant bacteria can contribute to the ever-growing problem of antibiotic resistance—a problem that plagues modern health care.

A Word From Verywell

The bottom line is that people who work around animals should never take animal medications. Instead, prescription medications should be taken only after a physician evaluates your or your loved ones' health condition and prescribes the appropriate medication.

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Article Sources
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  1. American Veterinary Medical Association. Guidelines for veterinary prescription drugs.

  2. Gollakner R. Prednisolone/prednisone. VCA.

  3. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. FDA regulation of animal drugs. Updated November 19, 2019.

  4. Bennadi D. Self-medication: A current challenge. J Basic Clin Pharm. 2013;5(1):19–23. doi:10.4103/0976-0105.128253

  5. Vivas R, Barbosa AAT, Dolabela SS, Jain S. Multidrug-resistant bacteria and alternative methods to control them: An overview. Microb Drug Resist. 2019;25(6):890-908.

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