WARNING: “Dog Friendly” Over-the-Counter Medications

This is a warning surrounding a popular image that has recently been circulating Facebook recommending medications that are “safe” for pets. Believe me, you are not doing your pet any favors by medicating them at home with over the counter drugs. Here is why this misinformation is dangerous:dog friendly over the counter medications

1) Benadryl

(Note: this is not even spelled correctly on the image, if that tells you anything about the quality of the information)- Useful for mild allergic reactions, has little efficacy in helping with itching due to seasonal allergies (atopy) or food allergies and is typically overused for other medical problems where Benadryl is not indicated at all (i.e anxiety relief, nausea, pain, motion sickness, or generally “not feeling well.”) As such, we do not recommend giving this medication without consulting with a veterinarian.

2) Dramamine

(Note: the dose reported of this medication is not correct!) Rarely do veterinarians recommend this medication for motion sickness because we have medications that work better without the side effects.

3) Hydrogen Peroxide

(Note: the dose reported of this substance is not correct!) While hydrogen peroxide can be used to induce vomiting, there are medications that are safer and work more reliably. Also, whether or not vomiting SHOULD be induced is typically a question for a veterinarian. There are many risks to using hydrogen peroxide, such as irritation of the stomach and espohagus or even ulcers, which can be fatal. This graphic also does not state that hydrogen peroxide should never be used in cats!

4) Hydrocortisone

Not recommended because what owners typically think is a simple “rash” is frequently a skin infection that requires antibiotic therapy. Hydrocortisone can also cause thinning of the skin, worsening of skin infections, change in the pigment of the skin. It can even cause signs of Cushing’s disease if overused.

5) Pepcid and Zantac

While we do use antacid medications in our companion animals as treatment for various conditions, these conditions need to first be diagnosed by a veterinarian.

6) Buffered Aspirin

I NEVER recommend this medication for so many reasons. There are much safer medications that can be used instead of aspirin, which has many side effects, including ulcers of the gastrointestinal tract and impaired blood clotting. I see these side effects VERY frequently. Sometimes they are life threatening. Aspirin can also not be used with many of the pain medications that veterinarian typically prescribe (Rimadyl, Metacam, Deramaxx, etc.) I have posted on Facebook regarding aspirin use in companion animals, so see my previous post for more information.

7) PeptoBismol

Not recommended because it has salicylates (aspirin like compound) that can be dangerous, particularly in cats. Also, giving this medication may interfere with our ability to read x-rays because bismuth (one of the ingredients in this medication) will show up white on the x-rays. Again, we have much better medications to treat diarrhea or vomiting that are indicated based on the underlying condition causing the diarrhea/vomiting, so this is yet another medication I would never advise giving.

8) Gas-X

This medication is not something that is frequently used in veterinary medicine, probably because it is not effective, and if a dog appears “gassy” or “bloated,” a better option would be to have a veterinarian diagnose and treat the underlying cause, especially in cases of potential GDV (“bloat,”) which is a life threatening emergency.

9) Imodium A-D

(Note: the dose reported of this medication is not at all correct!) Yet another medication I would never recommend administering to your pet. This medication works by altering the movement of the intestines and it therefore potentially dangerous in cases where the cause of the diarrhea is something related to infection or toxins. In that case, the last thing we want to do is prevent elimination. It can even be fatal in certain breeds of dogs who have a known genetic mutation (frequently herding breeds like Collies) and are sensitive to certain medications.

10) Robitussin DM

I saved the “best” for last. This medication is particularly dangerous because there are so many formulations of Robitussin that contain ingredients that can literally kill your pet with a single dose. We have more efficacious medications for cough and the underlying cause of the cough needs to be diagnosed before treating. Causes of cough include upper respiratory infection, pneumonia, collapsing trachea, heartworm disease, and congestive heart failure, and all of these require completely different treatments.

If you have questions or concerns regarding your pet’s health, please ask a veterinarian. Also, please share this post with your friends so we can empower pet owners with CORRECT information!

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About the Author:

Originally from Columbus, Dr. Gulker completed her undergraduate work at The University of Findlay and obtained her DVM from The Ohio State University in 2013. She then completed a small animal internship predominantly in emergency medicine at a large specialty practice in Rhode Island. Her professional interests include emergency medicine and greyhound health and wellness. While not at the Animal Medical Center of Ontario, she enjoys traveling, riding horses, staying involved with area greyhound rescue groups, and spending time with her family, which includes two cats and two greyhounds.

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  1. So why not develop over the counter meds for dogs – veterinary costs gouge the average pet owner.

  2. If there I such concern regarding the misinformation in such ads why don’t u state safe alternatives here that can be tried before going to an overcharging vet who plays on the fears of pet owners.

    • That’s a great conversation to be a part of, and I absolutely understand your frustrations.
      The reasons are two-fold: First, OTC medications for pets don’t exist because there isn’t a good regulatory system in place for protection (there AREN’T safe human medications that should be given without chatting with your vet), and there is a huge concern for potentially fatal self-diagnosis.

      With people, the FDA has a big part in saying what’s safe and what isn’t, leading to a number of options (Ibuprofen, Tylenol, Advil, etc.) that people can buy and take. Remember: There is always a warning on those medications (mostly saying that you can destroy your liver if you take too much) and that they help with certain symptoms but *to visit your doctor with concerns*. The livers and kidneys of dogs and cats don’t metabolize those drugs the same way, so they can actually be killed by medication that is commonplace for you and me. That being said, you still need a doctor’s prescription for most other medications (pain meds, antibiotics, etc.). You probably wouldn’t think twice of going to the doctor if you REALLY needed to… right? The biggest difference is that you have INSURANCE, and you are able to tell how you are feeling and whether it’s extreme or not. I highly recommend pet insurance, because that will help defray medication costs for pets!

      Secondly, since dogs and cats can’t speak/communicate to us what they’re feeling, the danger is that you treat a symptom with medication that 1) makes the problem worse, 2) interacts with current medication, or 3) doesn’t solve the problem, but allows it to fester and get worse without attention. So if your dog has an ulcer, but you think he just needs Ibuprofen because he’s “feeling under the weather”, you risk destroying his kidneys and allowing the ulcer to get worse because it isn’t being treated.

      Vets don’t get rich in this field. They really don’t. They spend years paying off school bills, not making very much from the start, and working in a profession that causes a lot of compassion fatigue. They don’t “play off of fears”; they WANT you to be an educated, informed pet owner. Situations CAN be scary if you don’t know what’s going on or why, and their ultimate goal is to teach you what, why, how to fix, and how to prevent something from happening. The rest is in your hands.

      If you are ever unhappy with a potential diagnosis, I highly recommend a second opinion. You can also take advantage of the following link for financial help for pets. Ultimately, there are a number of offerings for veterinary care (including low cost options), and it’s important to work as part of a team so that your pet gets the best care.

  3. Geez people, really? I see dogs at the animal shelter all the time that have gone untreated for things that are making their lives absolutely miserable or the well meaning finder has done exactly the wrong thing and made the condition worse! For heavens sake develop a good relationship with your vet. He/she can work with you and potentially offer different courses of treatment. Sometimes some options are just not realistically in the budget and a hard choice needs to be made, but look at all the equipment, staff & long hours that go along with being a veterinarian or pet professional. They deserve to be paid and your animal deserves to be treated. I have an automatic payment to my vet every pay period so it’s not so overwhelming when something happens. Please seek professional advise from your vet when needed. Your pet deserves to be comfortable and as healthy as possible or just get a stuffed animal.

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