The Only Locally-Owned Emergency and Specialty Hospital in Minnesota

Fur-Tunately: Stories of Animal Survival | Episode X: The Medication Mistake

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If your pet experiences a medication overdose or ingests your other pet’s medications, this is considered an “ORANGE” – or urgent case – on our Fast Track Triage system. We recommend calling ASPCA Animal Poison Control at 888-426-4435 for help determining if your pet consumed a toxic amount and for guidance on what to do next. If veterinary care is advised, call your family veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital ahead of your arrival. If your pet begins to show severe signs classified as “RED” – or true emergencies – on our Fast Track Triage system, call the team back to inform them of the status change.


It all started with an abscess in Cheddar’s cheek pouch. This sweet nine-month-old hamster was examined by her family veterinarian and was sent home with antibiotics and pain medications.

The Oops 

Since Cheddar only weighs 150 grams (a little over 5 ounces), the amount of liquid in each dose of pain medication was very small. Very small. So small, that it’s very easy to mistake the dosage. This is what happened in Cheddar’s case. She was accidentally given 0.5 ml of her medication instead of 0.05 ml for two days. That’s a 10x overdose!  

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Poison Control Call 

When Cheddar’s Mom realized the mistake, she took prompt action and called the Pet Poison Helpline for recommendations on what to do. After speaking with one of their trained veterinary experts, it was ultimately determined that Cheddar should seek immediate veterinary care. Wasting no time, Cheddar’s mom rushed to our emergency room. 

How the ER Team Works with Poison Control Lines 

In many toxicity cases, our emergency team works closely with pet poison lines like Pet Poison Helpline and ASPCA Pet Poison Control. Their board-certified veterinary toxicologists are available to quickly research and calculate toxicity dosages based on the type of pet and their weight. From there, they can work with the veterinary treatment team to determine the best course of action. Often, we recommend pet parents call a pet poison line prior to treatment or in transport to the ER so their team can confirm the toxin ingestion and then use the case number to consult with our veterinary team.  

Treatment

In Cheddar’s case, the Pet Poison Helpline’s call center veterinarian was concerned about the risk of GI ulcers and kidney damage due to the overdose. Our emergency team worked with Pet Poison Helpline to create a treatment plan that included hospitalizing Cheddar for fluids, anti-ulcer medications, and bloodwork to monitor Cheddar’s kidney function. 

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A Few Small Problems 

Our ER is full of highly-skilled technicians who are used to drawing blood on creatures large and small. However, the tiny veins of a five-ounce hamster were just too small! We were concerned about the volume of blood that was needed and didn’t want to weaken Cheddar with too much blood sampling. As a result, we were unable to aggressively pursue bloodwork. Needless to say, IV fluids were also a no-go as Cheddar was simply too small for an IV catheter. 

One of AERC’s core values, however, is to guide unique solutions! So, our team did just that! We devised a plan to give Cheddar fluids under the skin every 8-12 hours, calibrated so she was receiving the same volume of fluids as if she were getting an IV – just delivered in a different manner!

Another challenge was the medication. Pills weren’t going to work for our little patient. Cheddar’s two anti-ulcer medications had to be compounded into liquids for easier administration. Her antibiotic needs (for the cheek pouch abscess that started this whole thing) were managed with an injection of long-acting antibiotic and no further oral medications.  

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Hospitalization  

Cheddar was hospitalized with these treatments for over 48 hours. She ate well, was very tolerant of her injections and oral medications, and was bright, alert, and busy her entire stay. She’s a very well-socialized hamster so being the charming patient she is, she immediately became a favorite amongst the team. Fortunately, Cheddar never developed any diarrhea, lack of appetite, lethargy, or any other adverse effects from her overdose.   

On the morning of her third day in our hospital, Cheddar got the greenlight to head home! While we were delighted she did so well, we were sad to see her go. After all, it’s not every day we treat a hamster for a drug overdose. None of us who were involved in Cheddar’s care will forget this case!   

Mistakes happen and we completely understand that dosages can be tricky, especially when they are so dang small! We hope Cheddar’s story serves as an important reminder to always triple-check those medication dosages. We’re so glad Cheddar’s Mom acted quickly once she realized the mistake and did everything possible to ensure Cheddar’s return home. We’re happy to report that Cheddar continues to do well at home today, and we wish our little friend all the best for a long and happy hamster life! 

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Six months later, Cheddar continues to do well! Thanks to Cheddar’s Mom for these updated photos!

Seeking veterinary care for your hamster or small mammal? All of our local veterinary partners who see these pets are listed on our website: https://aercmn.com/about-us/locally-owned/ 

Need referral care for your hamster or small mammal? You can set up an appointment with Dr. Bean, who is board-certified in exotic companion mammal practice, through our Avian & Exotic Medicine Service. Learn more here: https://aercmn.com/veterinary-services/avian-exotic-medicine 

Our “Fur-tunately: Stories of Animal Survival” series feature real pets treated by our team at Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota. All images and information have been shared with the owner’s permission.  

 Case content provided by Kathy Rausch, DVM.  

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