Is Bengay Safe for Cats?
Though the wonders of modern medicine are miraculous in the eyes of society as a whole, many of us have become more skeptical of medications to treat our more mild aches and pains. While some of us have no problem popping pain pills every time we have a headache or a sprained ankle, others of us see lists of side effects and begin quaking in our boots. For those of us who practically have a panic attack every time we swallow a pill, pain relief creams such as Bengay and Icy Hot are lifesavers—we get to reap all the benefits of modern science with only a fraction of the dangers, and we get to avoid the (less than rational) fear that comes with swallowing a pill.
Because the average person is far more comfortable with topical treatments than we are with pain pills, it is understandable that we would turn to them when our pets stiffen up and start to limp. We love our furry friends dearly, we hate to see them suffer, and we don’t feel right about feeding them human pain pills, so we smear a bit of Bengay onto their aching joints. But is this actually safe? Can you give your cat Bengay?
Though it may surprise you to hear, the answer is an emphatic ‘no’—you should not, under any circumstances, give your cat Bengay. The FDA has warned against exposing cats to any quantity of topical pain medications.
In general, it is a bad idea to apply any new substance to your furry friend’s fur coat, because many of the common ingredients in human skincare products and topical medications can create burns or other forms of irritation when used on our pets. Some vets have cleared the use of Bengay and similar topical pain relief creams on dogs, but they are extremely poisonous to cats. If you suspect that your cat has been exposed to Bengay (either by eating it, inhaling it, or having it smeared onto their body), have them examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible.
You may have been able to get away with using Bengay to relieve your dog’s sore muscles for a day or two, but you should not even attempt to try the same thing on your cat. Due to their size, cats are extremely susceptible to poisoning—what your dog can handle without any trouble may be enough to cause a life-threatening reaction in your cat.
In 2015, the FDA issued a warning about topical pain relief products containing flurbiprofen (which is one of the ingredients in Bengay) after several cats became ill or died. Three cats died after secondhand exposure to pain relief creams containing flurbiprofen. That means that these cats were not even wearing the creams themselves! Their parents used flurbiprofen creams on themselves, and then the cats grew ill and died as a result. The autopsies performed on the three cats who died showed that they had suffered from kidney and intestinal damage characteristic of NSAID toxicity.
This is unfortunate, but not particularly surprising—we have long known that felines are extremely vulnerable to the negative effects of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. This is why you should never use Bengay on your cat, and you should make sure that any pain relief creams in your house are kept somewhere your cat can’t get into them.
Things to Consider
If you or another family member are using Bengay regularly, keep an eye on your cat for symptoms of toxicity. Common symptoms of NSAID poisoning include diarrhea, depression, lethargy, vomiting (which may or may not contain blood), fever, lack of appetite, incontinence, pale lips and gums, rapid heartbeat, seizures, and collapse. Cats who are old or have existing kidney problems are at a much higher risk of NSAID toxicity. Left untreated, this condition can result in what appears to be a sudden (but is, in fact, a slow and painful) death caused by a perforated stomach ulcer.
In most situations, treating your cat’s symptoms with over-the-counter medications designed for humans is not a good idea. Because our cats have yet to figure out how to speak English, their symptoms are the only way that they can communicate with us. If we mask our cat’s pain without addressing the underlying cause, we cut off the only form of communication that they have—we cover up the signs without actually curing the illness. If your cat is suffering from severe or chronic pain, take them to see a veterinarian who can address the cause of their symptoms. They will be able to rule out more serious conditions and recommend treatments that are safe and effective for cats.
Though we think of topical medications as safe, they can still be extremely toxic to cats. We should do our best to minimize our cat’s exposure to NSAIDs like Bengay.