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Is Ozempic Safe for Dogs and Cats? Know the Facts

The popularity of the novel diabetes drug Ozempic (semaglutide) for weight management in humans is soaring. In fact, semaglutide drug prescriptions increased by over 40-fold between 2018 and 2023. But humans aren’t the only species contending with obesity — over half of dogs and cats in the United States are considered overweight. Can dogs take Ozempic? How about cats? Find up-to-date information on Ozempic-like drugs for pets, their benefits and drawbacks, and how to manage your pet’s weight.

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Ozempic for pets: current FDA status

Ozempic is FDA-approved to manage type 2 diabetes in humans and is used off-label in weight management, but it has not been approved for these uses in dogs or cats. Ozempic is not FDA-approved for any indications in pets.

For a drug to be approved for use in dogs or cats, it must be shown to be safe and effective for a specific use in a specific animal species. Impacts on the environment and the safety of the humans administering the medications are also considered. New Animal Drug Applications (NADA) are submitted to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM), where the application is reviewed by veterinarians, pharmacologists, and others before the drug sponsor can legally sell their drug.

While Ozempic itself has not been approved for use in dogs or cats, drug manufacturers are looking to develop similar medications to manage canine and feline obesity.

So, can dogs or cats take Ozempic? While the answer is no, there may be similar pet-specific drugs available soon.

Potential benefits of Ozempic-like medications for pets

Keeping in mind that Ozempic-like medications for pets are still under investigation, the benefits of these drugs in dogs and cats are theoretical at this time.

Drugs like Ozempic are glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonists, meaning they mimic the action of the hormone GLP-1, which is released by the small intestine after a person eats. This hormone stimulates the body to produce more insulin so blood sugar levels can decrease. In addition, it can reduce glucagon release (a hormone that increases glucose levels in the body). The medication may support weight loss by managing appetite. It does this by slowing the movement of food through the gastrointestinal tract and affecting the parts of the brain that regulate satiety.

The thought is that pet-specific Ozempic-like medications could help to control diabetes in cats and obesity in both dogs and cats through the same mechanisms of action that it takes in people.

Feline diabetes and type 2 diabetes in people are quite similar, with both being related to obesity, insulin resistance, and impaired secretion of insulin from the pancreas. However, scientific studies of GLP-1 receptor agonists in cats are limited. A 2015 study showed that a GLP-1 receptor agonist called liraglutide was able to improve glycemic control in healthy cats, as well as reduce appetite and decrease body weight. Another GLP-1 agonist, exenatide, has been shown to improve glycemic control in cats and potentially prevent weight gain.

When it comes to dogs, GLP-1 agonists are more likely to be effective for treating canine obesity than diabetes. Canine diabetes can mimic human type I diabetes and usually requires different medications.

Considerations and potential risks for pets

There is an overall lack of scientific research and testing regarding the safety and efficacy of Ozempic in pets. Safety and optimal dosing regimens are not established for dogs and cats. Studies have not been performed that determine how much weight loss to expect in dogs or cats taking Ozempic-like drugs, and side effects have not been directly established.

The study that looked at liraglutide for cats did identify vomiting and diarrhea as potential side effects. Another risk of GLP-1 medications could lead to low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), particularly if the medication is used in conjunction with insulin. Hypoglycemia can lead to neurological changes, muscle tremors or twitching, seizures, and collapse.

Another consideration is that almost all Ozempic-like medications come in the form of a shot. Some pets are intolerant of needles, and pet owners may not feel comfortable giving injections regularly.

Ozempic and other similar drugs have also had reports of hypersensitivity reactions, including anaphylaxis and rashes, occurring in people. Similar side effects could potentially be expected in dogs and cats.

If you have inadvertently given Ozempic or a similar medication to your pet, you should contact a pet poison helpline and your veterinarian. Although the risks of giving Ozempic to pets aren’t fully established, pet poisoning prevention experts can discuss what to watch for and recommend any necessary procedures.

Alternative weight management strategies for dogs and cats

If your pet is overweight or obese, consult a veterinarian for a personalized weight management plan. Your veterinarian will need to rule out medical conditions that can contribute to obesity.

Luckily, you can do a lot to manage your pet’s weight through lifestyle changes. Consider the following alternatives:

Create a vet-approved diet plan

Consider the following tips regarding your pet’s diet:

  • Ask a veterinarian to calculate a calorie goal for your pet rather than following guidelines on food packaging
  • Limit treats according to vet's recommendations
  • Feed multiple small meals instead of one large meal
  • Keep treats and food out of reach so your pet cannot overeat
  • Use a kitchen gram scale to measure out precise portions
  • Speak to your veterinarian about prescription weight management foods

Increase your pet’s physical activity

You can also help your pet burn more calories by incorporating exercise into their routine. The exercises may need to be tailored to your pet’s age, health, and breed. Your veterinarian is your best source for safe exercises for your individual pet. Ideas could include:

  • Taking a daily walk with your dog or cat
  • Playing fetch
  • Using laser pointers for playful activities
  • Providing interactive toys
  • Using puzzle feeders so your pet has to work for their food or treats

Use tools from APOM

You could also check out the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOM). APOM can help you learn how to monitor your pet’s body condition and provides information on dog and cat weight loss.

Lastly, make sure your pet's weight loss plan is developed with veterinary guidance. Not only can veterinarians develop effective veterinary weight loss plans, but they also play a vital role in monitoring your pet’s progress. The veterinarian will need to rule out underlying health conditions that can contribute to pet obesity, like hypothyroidism, before your pet begins their weight management plan. Regular check-ins with your veterinarian will allow them to tweak your pet’s plan as needed.

The future of weight management medications for pets

There are no FDA-proven safe pet medications for weight loss on the market. The only drug that had been approved by the FDA for pet weight loss was dirlotapide (Slentrol), which treated obesity in dogs by reducing fat absorption and encouraging weight loss. However, dirlotapide is no longer on the market.

While pet-specific drugs with mechanisms similar to Ozempic may be on the horizon, it’s important to follow your veterinarian’s recommendations for pet weight management in the meantime. You will want to wait for medications that are thoroughly tested and approved for pet safety and efficacy.

While Ozempic is not an option for pet weight management, you can still prioritize your pet’s health by consulting with your veterinarian to develop an individualized weight management strategy.

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