Flurbiprofen: Safe for Humans-Deadly for Cats

Do you need relief from joint or muscle pain? How about a skin cream that would avoid the side effects of oral antinflammatories and pain relievers? Many physicians are now prescribing topical medications that contain the nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drug (NSAID) flurbiprofen. It’s made a real difference for many people but it can deadly for their cats.

Flurbiprofen (former brand name Ansaid) has been around for a while in oral and ophthalmic forms. It’s now available in pain creams that may also include the muscle relaxant cyclobenzaprine. The snuggling that makes life with an affectionate cat so comforting becomes a high risk activity for a kitty who touches this ointment. By absorption through their skin, or if swallowed when a cat self-grooms, flurbiprofen becomes dangerous. Feline kidneys just cannot tolerate even trace amounts of this human drug.

Our cats are so important to us that it’s easy to forget that they are actually members of a different species. Not only is their genetically programmed social model different, so is the function of their internal organs. Most humans can take flurbiprofen and eliminate it safely. But cats with even minor, accidental exposure develop severe kidney impairment and may die even with aggressive medical treatment.

A recent report from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) described 2 cats who died following their owners’ use of flurbiprofen cream on their necks and feet. Affected kitties lost their appetites, became lethargic, vomited, and passed dark, tarry, bloody stools. Post mortem examinations showed kidney and intestinal damage consistent with NSAID toxicity.

It’s easy to think of cats as self-sufficient, independent, and needing less medical care than dogs but in some ways they’re actually more vulnerable. For example, cats who live with indoor smokers have a significantly higher risk of intestinal lymphosarcoma. The cancer-causing components in cigarette smoke land on the coat and get swallowed when the kitty self-grooms.

Protecting our cats requires an awareness that they are different.  They are not little people in furry suits. Aspirin can be highly dangerous for them; ibuprofen and Tylenol (acetaminophen) are deadly.  Be careful about what your cat contacts and swallows. When in doubt, ask your veterinarian. And please don’t smoke, unless, of course, you catch fire.