Virginia Simpson and Chance

OTC Medications for Dogs

by Elizabeth Gigis, DVM, West Chester Veterinary Center

A common question addressed almost daily at our hospital is “What over the counter medications are safe for dogs?“ This is an important topic, because in some instances, canine metabolism and physiology are very different from humans. Some medications that people consider benign, like Ibuprofen, can be very toxic to their pets. It is always important to consult a veterinarian before starting any over the counter medication. Young, old, sick or debilitated animals may metabolize drugs more slowly, thus requiring a different dose. Many drugs have drug interactions, meaning that another medication should not be used, or the dose should be lowered, if taken concurrently. Most pain medications that are NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory), like aspirin, cannot be given with any steroid medication and may interact with other drugs given. Even Benadryl has drug interactions.

No one wants their dog to be in pain. It seems easy to any dog owner to go to the nearest Walgreens or CVS, where there is a whole section dedicated to human over the counter pain medication, and just grab one from the shelf. However, this is one area where a dog’s physiology differs vastly from a person’s. Most over the counter pain medications are NSAIDS and a dog’s liver does not metabolize this type of drug in the same way that a human’s liver would. Even if given at appropriate doses, the safety profile for these drugs is lower. The saddest cases that I have seen personally are well-intending owners, trying to alleviate their (usually old and arthritic) dog’s pain by giving Ibuprofen. Ibuprofen should not be given to dogs, as it can cause severe and sometimes fatal liver failure. Ibuprofen toxicity should be immediately treated. Tylenol is also not recommended for dogs, because it can be easy to overdose. Buffered aspirin can be given to dogs, if dosed appropriately. Always make sure to give with food and consult a veterinarian for drug dosages and potential drug interactions. If you are giving aspirin daily, for example in a dog with arthritis, it would be better to change to a prescription drug, such as carprofen or meloxicam. Many pet owners are surprised at how cost-effective these drugs have become, as many are now generic. Rimadyl (carprofen), for example, is now made in generic forms. An over the counter “neutraceutical” that can be helpful with arthritis is glucosamine. This is an over the counter joint supplement which can help with joint pain and inflammation. Glucosamine is usually dosed at 50 mg per pound. Omega fatty acids (fish oils) are inflammatory mediators, which can be useful to decrease inflammation in an arthritic joint, or for a dog with atopy (allergies) by decreasing skin inflammation. You can safely give fish oils at a dose of EPA/DHA 180mg/120mg per 5 kg body weight. If your dog does not like taking pills, many vets sell over the counter glucosamine and omega fatty acids in tasty chews.

Dogs are dogs, and all of them enjoy eating things that people find disgusting. Why do dogs eat their poop? I have no idea. However, there are a few OTC products you can use that may help. For-Bid and Stop Stool Eating plus, when fed daily to your dog, will make the poop taste nasty and thus discourage them from this behavior. I should warn you that there are a few stubborn dogs that consider this an added flavoring. If your dog eats something not just disgusting, but potentially toxic or too large to pass through his system, then you may need to give some hydrogen peroxide. Every Lab owner should probably have a bottle of this in their medicine cabinet. If your dog just ate (in the last 30 minutes) your underwear, you can give 3% hydrogen peroxide 5 mLs per 10 pounds. Some things should not be vomited up. This is because there is a risk of your dog inhaling the substance (aspiration pneumonia) or lacerating (tearing) the esophagus on the way up. If you are unsure about whether your dog ate something that is safe to make him vomit up, please contact a veterinarian. Also, some medications or drugs, particularly if not vomited up expediently, should be followed by activated charcoal to decrease absorption by the body and possibly an appropriate antidote. If hydrogen peroxide does not make your dog vomit, do not re-dose to effect, make sure to see a veterinarian so that your dog can receive appropriate care.

At the other end of the dog is the colon, and everyone wants to know what to do about diarrhea. In my experience, this can be a life-threatening emergency for the unlucky dog whose owner just purchased some new carpet. All joking aside, there are a few home remedies for diarrhea. The first that you can try is Pepto Bismol at 1 mL per 10 pounds. It is also recommended to feed a bland diet, such as cooked boneless skinless chicken with cooked white rice. Plain yogurt can be added in to provide some healthy bacteria to colonize the gut. Diarrhea that lasts for more than a few days or contains blood should always be treated by a veterinarian. This can be a sign of a serious underlying condition that Pepto Bismol is not going to treat.

Perhaps the most commonly used OTC medication is Benadryl. Benadryl is an anti-histamine that can be given chronically for atopic dermatitis (allergies) or short-term for an insect bite or allergic reaction. Make sure you get diphenhydramine hydrochloride with no other ingredients. Sometimes Benadryl is added to cough syrups and these other ingredients can be toxic. It is important to note that only 20% of dogs with allergies will get relief from an antihistamine. If Benadryl does not work for your dog’s allergies, alternative treatment options should be investigated. The dose for Benadryl is 1 mg per pound. If your dog is otherwise healthy and was bitten by an insect, it is appropriate to give this dose and monitor for resolution of swelling around the bite. If you notice trouble breathing, large amounts of facial swelling, blue or white gums, you have an emergency situation and medical attention should be sought immediately.

Elizabeth Gigis, DVM
West Chester Veterinary Center
7330 Liberty Way, West Chester, OH 45069