A surprising number of kids need emergency medical attention after accidental exposure to pet medications.

boy and his dog
Credit: Melissa King/Shutterstock

Pets can be amazing additions to any family; ours wouldn't be complete without our beagle, Bagel. But now a new warning that too many kids are being exposed to pet medications is highlighting the hidden dangers of pet ownership.

According to new research published today in the journal Pediatrics, children are going to the emergency room in alarming numbers after being exposed to things like their family dog's heart worm pills or flea-and-tick treatment.

Researchers note that one poison control center in Ohio received 1,400 calls about exposure to pet meds, most involving kids under age 5. To be fair, these calls were recorded over the course of 15 years. But even one call is too many, and these statistics serve as an important reminder to keep all pet medications out of children's reach.

The thing is that exposure can happen in many ways; some I didn't even consider! For instance, a child can pick up a pill a pet spit out (something all dogs seemingly love to do!), or put their hands on a pet after it has been treated with flea-and-tick spray, and then put their hands in their mouths. An older child can even mistakenly take a medication for a pet, believing it's for them. And it doesn't take a large quantity of pet meds to be problematic.

"The majority of exposures occurred at home [96 percent] and were not expected to result in long-term or long-lasting health effects," says Kristi Roberts, from the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and the study's lead author. "However, some prescriptions, both human and veterinary, could be highly dangerous even at low dosages, especially for small children."

She offers these tips for avoiding accidental poisonings involving kids and pet meds:

  • Store all medication out of sight; in a locked cabinet is best.
  • Store pet meds separately from human meds.
  • Keep all medications in properly labeled, child-resistant containers
  • Dose pet meds away from kids.
  • Check to make sure your pets actually take their meds and don't spit them out! And keep pets away from people until any topical medications have dried.
  • Keep the Poison Help Line handy: (800) 222-1222. Call right away if you think your child has ingested any medication, including one meant for a pet.

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Find her on Facebook where she chronicles her life momming under the influence. Of coffee.