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Over-the-Counter Medications that are Safe for Your Dog
By hannah hollinger
Published: 05/23/2019, edited: 09/03/2021
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All pet parents will have to care for a sick fur-baby at some point. When sickness strikes, many pup parents may be tempted to treat their dog’s symptoms with meds made for humans.
It’s true that some over-the-counter medications are safe for dogs; however, administering over-the-counter drugs designed for human use should always be a temporary treatment.
Read on to find out more about which over-the-counter medications are safe for your dog and which drugs can cause serious problems.
A word of caution
Never administer over-the-counter medications to your dog without approval from your veterinarian. While the drugs listed in the following section are generally safe for dogs, Merck Veterinary Manual notes that most human drugs have not been FDA-approved for veterinary use. Additionally, many haven’t been tested on animals for safety.
Always err on the side of caution and consult a trusted veterinarian who knows your dog’s health history. Never assume that a medication that’s safe for most dogs will also be safe for yours. Nearly half of all calls received by the national Pet Poison Helpline involve human drugs, so when in doubt, call the vet!
Over-the-counter medications that are generally safe for dogs
Before giving your dog any over-the-counter medications, consult your veterinarian for dosage instructions.
- Buffered aspirin. Most vets don’t recommend aspirin for pain relief since more effective alternatives are readily available. Because aspirin can cause upset Sparky’s stomach, give a small dose with a full meal. Prolonged use of aspirin in dogs can cause increased bleeding risk and stomach ulcers. Dogs weighing less than 10 lbs. should not be given aspirin.
- Antihistamine. Popular anti-allergy medications such as Benadryl are typically safe for canine consumption. Antihistamines help relieve symptoms of hives and allergic reactions. However, only administer medications which solely contain antihistamine. Some ingredients found in anti-allergy meds aren’t safe for dogs, namely decongestants. Dogs taking seizure medications, prescription pain relievers, and mood-altering medications may experience lethargy after taking an antihistamine.
- Artificial tears eye drops. If your pup’s eyes are red and irritated, artificial tears are an excellent (though temporary) solution. Artificial tears relieve irritation in cases of mild conjunctivitis. However, if your dog’s eyes are noticeably swollen or leaking discharge, visit the vet immediately -- these symptoms often indicate a more severe condition.
- Motion sickness medication. If your buddy gets queasy during car rides, a small dose of motion sickness medication, like Dramamine, can soothe their stomach in a pinch. However, human motion sickness meds aren’t as effective for dogs as those made specifically for canines. If your dog has recurring motion sickness, obtain a prescription from your vet.
- Antacids. Small doses of stomach medications which treat indigestion are safe for dogs and don’t usually cause any side effects. It’s typically best to avoid feeding your pup while administering antacids such as Pepto-Bismol. Always provide fresh water.
- Antidiarrheal. Drugs such as Imodium and Kaopectate are usually safe to administer for up to 24 hours after symptoms appear. However, Imodium should not be given to certain breeds, including Collies, Shelties, Whippits, and Australian Shepherds.
- Topical antibiotic ointment. If your pup has a minor cut, a topical ointment such as Neosporin will clean out any harmful bacteria. Avoid using any creams or ointments which contain steroids, as these may delay healing. If your dog has a deep gash, skip the ointment and go straight to the vet.
- Hydrocortisone cream. Use a small amount of hydrocortisone up to twice daily to treat bug bites, bee stings, hives, and itchy skin. Side effects are rare, but make sure your pup doesn’t ingest it.
- Hydrogen peroxide. If your dog eats something poisonous, a small amount of hydrogen peroxide will induce vomiting. Never make your dog vomit unless explicitly instructed to do so by your veterinarian. Hydrogen peroxide can also be used as a topical treatment to disinfect wounds (although it’s not as effective as antibiotic ointment).
- Saline nasal spray. Pups suffering with a canine cold can safely use saline nasal sprays to relieve congestion and dryness. However, only saline nasal sprays should be used.
Over-the-counter medications to avoid
Never give your dog any of the following over-the-counter medications.
- Acetaminophen. Popular pain relief brand Tylenol contains acetaminophen, which can cause onset anemia in dogs when ingested. Symptoms include lethargy, pale mucous membranes, hypothermia, excessive panting, and a blue tint to the skin.
- NSAID pain relievers. Anti-inflammatory medications, including ibuprofen and naproxen (the main ingredient in Aleve), are highly toxic for pets. NSAID pain relievers can cause intestinal ulcers, hemorrhage, and kidney damage.
- Sleep aids. Sleep medications and benzodiazepines cause sensory dysfunction in dogs, including loss of coordination, severe lethargy, and agitation. If your dog seems “drunk”, visit the vet immediately. Additional symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, panting, and aggression.
- Cough syrup. While some cough medications are safe for dogs, coughing almost always indicates a serious problem, such as airway obstruction, heartworms, heart disease, or respiratory infection. If your dog is coughing, skip the meds and schedule an appointment with your vet as soon as possible.
Antidepressants and ADD/ADHD medications are also off-limits for dogs.
If you think your dog has accidentally ingested any of the above medications, contact your nearest emergency veterinary clinic or the Pet Poison Helpline.
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