A good friend of mine recently called me in a panic. Her dog’s leg had gotten injured on a hike and was visibly in a lot of pain. Since my friend had just moved to a new town and hadn’t found a local veterinarian yet, she wanted to know if she could give her dog any over-the-counter (OTC) “human” pain medications. She was hoping to ease her pup’s pain overnight and then find a vet the next morning.
When our furkids are in pain, experiencing tummy upset, or suffering from allergies, it’s natural for us to want to help in any way we can. And, with a robust medicine cabinet filled with OTC meds, you may find yourself asking, “Can I give this to my dog”?
In this article, I’m highlighting the common OTC medicines and if they’re considered safe for the average canine.
*A few things I would like to point out:
- Just because a medicine is considered safe for most dogs, doesn’t mean it’s safe for your dog. Always consult with your veterinarian first!
- Before administering any OTC medicine, it’s important to pinpoint the actual problem. For example, if your dog is experiencing a bout of diarrhea because he ate something toxic then it’s actually important for your dog’s body to rid itself of the toxins through diarrhea.
- The information in this article is geared toward dogs … not cats. Certain medications may be considered safe for canines yet toxic to felines.
In general, pain medications designed for humans shouldn’t be given to dogs. They can cause more harm than good and, in certain situations, they can even be fatal. If your pooch is showing signs of pain, talk to your vet about meds designed specifically for dogs.
Tylenol is a major NO-NO! Even when ingested in small doses, veterinarians say it can destroy a dog’s liver cells, damage their kidneys, cause tissue damage, and result in poor oxygen delivery throughout the body. As heartbreaking as it is to see your pooch in pain, don’t give then Tylenol to ease discomfort.
Ibuprofen (Brand names: Advil, Motrin, Midol, Nuprin)
Ibuprofen is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). While it’s used to treat pain, fever, and inflammation in humans, it should never be given to dogs. According to VCAHospitals,
“Unfortunately, in addition to blocking enzymes (chemicals in the body) that cause inflammation, ibuprofen also blocks enzymes that are used to control normal gastrointestinal and kidney function. When ibuprofen is ingested, it is absorbed quickly into the bloodstream.
In dogs, however, the drug is recycled over and over in the body via the liver instead of being removed from the body. This recycling allows for repeated exposure and is responsible for the poisoning effects.”
In dogs, NSAID medications can cause vomiting, diarrhea, intestinal problems, gastrointestinal bleeding, and ulcers.
Aspirin is another medication that falls under the NSAID class. While it’s not recommended to give your dog Aspirin or baby Aspirin (because there are safer and more effective options), there are rare occasions when a vet may recommend it in very small doses. According to VetStreet writer Dr. PattyKhuly,
“As a rule, I never recommend using aspirin more than two days in a row and never in combination with other NSAIDs, such as Rimadyl, Metacam, and Derramax. Drug interactions with aspirin are not uncommon, so don’t automatically assume it’s safe to give it to your pet.”
Never give Aspirin to your dog without consulting with your vet first.
Cold and Cough Medications
Most OTC cold and cough medicines contain decongestants, which aren’t safe for dogs. If your dog is coughing a lot, schedule a vet visit. It could be a sign of respiratory infection or another serious health issue.
Benadryl, Claritin, and Zyrtec
These are all common antihistamines that are usually considered safe for dogs suffering from allergy symptoms/reactions. The dosage is different for dogs than humans. So don’t simply follow the directions on the back of the box and call it a day. In general:
- Benadryl: 1 milligram (mg) for every pound of bodyweight.
- Claritin: According to Valley Vet Hospital, a safe dosage is 5 mg daily if less than 15 lbs; 10 mg daily (or 5 mg twice daily) if 15-39 lbs; 10 mg twice daily if over 40 lbs
- Zyrtec: Only use plain Zyrtec (cetirizine) and avoid Zyrtec-D due to potentially serious side effects! According to Pet Coach, the dose for dogs is approximately 0.5 mg per pound 1-2 times per day, not to exceed 20 mg per dose. That means:
- 5 lb. dog = 2.5 mg, or 1/2 of a 5 mg tablet
- 10 lb. dog = 5 mg, or one 5 mg tablet
- 20 lb. dog = 10 mg, one 10 mg tablet or two 5 mg tablets
- 50 lb. dog = 20 mg, two 10 mg tablets
- 100 lb. dog = 20 mg, two 10 mg tablets
Always consult with your vet about the proper dosage for your dog first. Side effects may include drowsiness or hyperactivity.
Note: Make sure your OTC allergy medicine only contains an antihistamine. Avoid anything that contains decongestants.
While prolonged/severe digestive upset and gastrointestinal problems should be treated by your vet, there are OTC “human” medicines that are considered safe for dogs with minor tummy upset. If your pooch gets into the trash or scarfs down your dinner when you’re not looking and is left with a little tummy ache, ask your vet what the best option is for your furkid!
Whenever I hear someone mention Pepto-Bismol, I immediately think of that bubblegum pink bottle. Well, turns out the stomach-settling medicine packed inside that bright pink container is considered safe for most dogs going through a bout of stomach upset, diarrhea, and vomiting. Experts recommend 1 teaspoon for every 10 pounds of body weight every 6-to-8 hours. If your dog experiences diarrhea after a few doses, stop the medication and call your vet.
Imodium is an OTC medicine that helps relieve diarrhea by slowing down movement in the intestines. This allows the intestinal walls to better absorb water and electrolytes and prevents food from moving through the intestines too quickly. It’s considered safe for most dogs with a minor bout of diarrhea. But there are some important things to know before giving your dog Imodium.
First things first, certain breeds are overly sensitive to Imodium. They include herding breeds, like Collies, Shelties, and Australian Shepherds. Additionally, if your dog suffers from liver disease, kidney disease, Addison’s disease, or any medical conditions … or is taking other medications … then don’t give your dog Imodium. Again, always consult with your vet!
According to PetMD:
“Your vet may recommend a different dose (or different treatment altogether), but something along the lines of 0.1 mg/kg of Imodium given twice a day is typical. If you do the math, this means that a ten-pound dog might receive a dose of 0.4 mg of Imodium while a dog who weighs 50 pounds could be given around 2 mg. Imodium tablets contain 2 mg of the drug and should only be given to larger dogs. Liquid Imodium is typically available in a concentration of 1 mg/5 mL (0.2 mg/mL), so it’s a better choice for smaller dogs.”
Talk to your vet about proper dosing for your dog’s unique needs.
Famotidine (Brand name: Pepcid)
This OTC medication is used to reduce stomach acid production for conditions such as acid reflux, gastrointestinal ulcers, and inflammation in the stomach. It is safe for most dogs. Vets recommend using cautiously in geriatric dogs, and dogs suffering from certain diseases.
Typically, the dosage is one original strength 10-milligram tablet for a 20-pound dog, given on an empty stomach every 12-to-24 hours.