Safety of most over-the-counter (OTC) human drugs has not been determined in animals and some of these drugs are known to cause serious toxicity. Each animal species has different ways of metabolizing drugs; therefore, a medication that can be useful to one animal species can be toxic to another. Sometimes a specific drug can be used both on humans and pets but at a different dose. You should discuss the potential benefits and risks of using OTC medications with your veterinarian before giving them to your pet.
OTC Allergy Medications
Most OTC allergy medications are antihistamines, which means that they block the action of a substance called histamine. During allergic reactions a specific type of cells release histamine and this substance causes most of the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction such as itchiness, hives, difficulty breathing and swelling. Antihistamines are often combined with other ingredients in many over-the-counter cold, sinus, and allergy medications. Commonly used antihistamines include chlorpheniramine, diphenhydramine, promethazine, meclizine, and loratidine.
- Diphenhydramine (Benadryl). This common OTC drug can very useful for treating allergies, bug bites, and other causes of itchy skin in dogs and cats. Benadryl is not effective in cats, and other antihistamines are commonly prescribed.
If given at an inappropriate dose, diphenhydramine and other antihistamines can cause toxicity. Depending on the dose and the amount of time since ingestion, signs of antihistamine toxicity can include depression or hyperactivity, drooling, rapid breathing, rapid heartbeat, gastrointestinal upset, lack of coordination, tremors, fever, and seizures. If your pet is bitten by an insect or has some other allergic reaction you should ask your veterinarian what is the correct amount of antihistamine that you should give him/her.
OTC Pain Analgesics
Most OTC analgesics are Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These medications block certain enzymes in the body decreasing pain and inflammation. However, these enzymes are also in charge of other functions in the body such as preventing excessive acidity in the stomach. For this reason, NSAIDs can cause serious gastric upset, which in serious cases, can progress to become a gastric ulcer. Human NSAIDs are dangerous for pets and should NOT be administered unless a veterinarian indicates it. There are NSAIDs specially designed for dogs and cats, so if your pet is in pain or has inflammation your veterinarian will prescribe a safe NSAID.
- Aspirin. Veterinarians sometimes recommend this medication to relief pain and inflammation in dogs, but it should never be used in cats. Like other anti-inflammatory drugs, aspirin can cause gastric damage.
- Acetaminophen (Paracetamol). Is the active ingredient of various pain medications such as Tylenol. This drug is very toxic for both dogs and cats and it can cause severe hepatic damage. Acetaminophen should never be used in pets.
- Ibuprofen. This OTC drug is sold under the commercial names Advil, Motrin and Midol. Ibuprofen is also toxic for dogs and cats.
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Wismer, T. (2015). Toxicity of Pain Medications. Pacific Veterinary Conference 2015. ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, Urbana, IL, USA
Wismer, T. (2005). Toxicoses of Pain Meds: The Real Story. International Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Symposium. ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. Urbana, IL, USA