What Your Vet Wants You To Know About Giving Human Over-The-Counter Medications To Dogs


If your pet has an allergic reaction or gets a minor injury while playing at the dog park, it may be tempting to reach for the medicine cabinet to find a remedy. After all, pets, for many people, are like their children.

But giving your pet over-the-counter medications, even if you adjust the dosage, can spell big trouble. In fact, the medication itself may pose a bigger health problem than whatever it is you’re trying to treat, veterinarians say.

“As a rule, there are not many over-the-counter human medications that can or should be given to pets without direct veterinary supervision,” says Dr. Gary Richter, integrative veterinarian and veterinary health expert at Rover.com.

Here, vets tell us everything you need to know about OTC medications and your dogs.

Over-The-Counter Drugs Can Cause Serious Health Problems

It may be tempting to grab an OTC medication to treat your dog’s pain, discomfort, GI issues or allergies, says Johanna Reel, NHV’s Natural Pet Product’s in-house registered veterinary technician, who has spent more than a decade working at veterinary clinics and hospitals.

Simply put, though, OTC medications are formulated for humans and can be dangerous to your pet’s health.

“The wrong OTC medication can cause anything from kidney or liver failure to death,” Reel warns.


Antihistamines Are Generally Considered Safe

First things first: Always check first with your vet before you give your dog any OTC medication, Richter says. Antihistamines such as Benadryl, Zyrtec and Claritin are generally considered safe. They do come with side effects, such as drowsiness in some dogs and hyperactivity in others, he says.

But, antihistamines are not super reliable with regards to efficacy in treating allergy symptoms in dogs, he warns. “As a safety precaution, dosing information is something pets owners should get from their veterinarian,” Richter says.


Motion Sickness Medications Tend To Be Safe For Dogs

“Medications for motion sickness such as a Dramamine or Bonine are also safe to give to dogs and tend to work pretty well,” Richter says. If you’re planning a road trip with your motion sickness-prone pup, check with your veterinarian about dosage and whether he or she thinks it’s a good idea to give your dog an OTC motion sickness medication.


Never Give Your Dog Human Pain Relievers

Your vet can recommend a specially formulated pain reliever made for dogs. Don’t ever give your dog a human, OTC pain reliever like Tylenol or Ibuprofen, Richter warns. These medications can be particularly dangerous for dogs.

“There have been many times people brought in a pet for a minor injury or minor pain, and the owner has given the pet ibuprofen,” he says. “Despite the primary issue being minor, the dog often requires hospitalization for days and repeated blood work to prevent and monitor kidney damage.”


Dogs Cannot Handle Pepto-Bismol

Bismuth subsalicylate medications, such as Pepto-Bismol, contain salicylates, which can cause gastric ulcers, bleeding disorders, seizures and potentially fatal liver failure in pets, says NHV’s Natural Pet Product’s in-house veterinarian Dr. Amanda Nascimento, who is a pathologist with an emphasis on pharmacology and toxicology.


Don’t Try To Estimate Dosage Of Any Medication For Your Dog

Some people try to calculate a dosage of a medication based on the recommendations on the packaging. This can be extremely dangerous, though, Nascimento says. Dogs have very different metabolisms and process medications differently than humans, she explains.


Don’t Use Topical Ointments On Your Pets

Topical ointments should only be used under veterinary supervision. Here’s an example of why this is dangerous: If your dog licks a topical ointment that contains a steroid, and they are currently taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, those two classes of drugs can cause dangerous side effects, Nascimento says.

Worried Pet Owners React To Massive Pet Food Recall
Getty Images | Joe Raedle

Some Breeds Don’t React Well To Certain Medications

Again, we’re really putting an emphasis on this: You need to talk with your vet to get an A-OK before giving your dog any kind of medication. Some pets have conditions or are on medications that make drugs unsafe for them, explains Dr. Jennifer Coates, an advisor for Pet Life Today, a pet resource site. For example, herding dogs like collies, Shelties and Australian shepherds can carry a mutant form of a gene that reduces their ability to break down some types of drugs, including loperamide, which is used in anti-diarrhea medications, she explains.

Even if a particular medication is OK for your pet, your veterinarian should give you the tailored dosage instructions, she says.

Australian Shepherd
Flickr | Ted Van Pelt

The takeaway here: If you’re considering treating your dog at-home with an OTC, you should always give your vet a call to make sure you’ve got a safe plan.

Animals, Pets
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About the Author
Brittany Anas
Hi, I'm Brittany Anas (pronounced like the spice, anise ... see, that wasn't too embarrassing to say, now was it?) My professional writing career started when I was in elementary school and my grandma paid me $1 for each story I wrote for her. I'm a former newspaper reporter, with more than a decade of experience Hula-hooping at planning meetings and covering just about every beat from higher-education to crime to science for the Boulder Daily Camera and The Denver Post. Now, I'm a freelance writer, specializing in travel, health, food and adventure.

I've contributed to publications including Men's Journal, Forbes, Women's Health, American Way, TripSavvy, Eat This, Not That!, Apartment Therapy, Denver Life Magazine, 5280, Livability, The Denver Post, Simplemost, USA Today Travel Tips, Make it Better, AAA publications, Reader's Digest, Discover Life and more. Visit Scripps News to see more of Brittany's work.

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