Which OTC medications are safe for my cat or dog?

Safe medications

Which of my medications are safe for dogs or cats?

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications that are safe for dogs and cats are a bit of a hot topic among pet parents. Veterinary formulas are often far more expensive than their pharmacy “counterparts”, and many pet parents want to help their pets at home with minor illnesses without having to visit a vet.

But are any of these medications truly safe for dogs or cats? In some cases, dosing your pet at home can have serious consequences, only making matters worse.  There is a lot of conflicting information online on this topic, and I wanted to separate the good from the bad from a toxicological standpoint. I’ll divide them into safe, caution, and dangerous, and give an explanation in regards to WHY a medication is not safe.

Can I give these medications to my pets at home?

I know a lot of vets disagree on the subject of certain medications and why they are or are not safe for dogs or cats, so medications that I would NOT ever give my pet (but that you might find suggested to you by a local veterinarian) will be found in the “caution” section will an explanation as to why I would not personally use it. Meds should never be used at home without the consent of a vet.

What dose should I give?

 I will not be giving dose information on this page.  Since every animal is different, a vet should ALWAYS be contacted before you give any medication to your pet. There are some medical conditions where medications that are generally safe for dogs or cats might be dangerous or safe medications that might cause an adverse reaction when given in combination with a medication your pet is already on.  In many cases, a simple call to your vet clinic will result in a clinic telling you if a medication is safe for your pet’s current and what dose to give at home.

If your vet thinks the signs displayed by your pet are indicative of a larger problem that won’t be helped by giving medication at home, please follow the advice of your vet. They are trained to recognize combinations of signs that indicate dangerous illness.  Choosing to ignore that advice could cost you your pet’s life.

Safe for pets

Drugs that are safe

MedicationSafe for Dogs?Safe for Cats?
Benadryl (sometimes Claritin or Zyrtec may be recommended)*NEVER EVER BUY THE “D” or “DECONGESTANT” FORMULA WITH PSEUDOEPHEDRINE!!*
Yes – Benadryl is commonly recommended for allergies, minor vaccine reactions, insect bites/stings, as a mild sedative, or to help control motion sickness. Dogs with health problems (such as high blood pressure or glaucoma) may not be able to use Benadryl.Yes – May not be as effective in cats as it is in dogs. Similarly, it may cause hyperexcitability in a cat far easier than in a dog. Can be suggested to treat allergies, or given as a pre-medication to prevent vaccine reactions. Cats with health problems may not be able to use Benadryl.
Famotidine/Pepcid or TUMS
Yes – Often used for the treatment of mild stomach upset, or in conjunction with other medications to treat stomach ulceration.Yes – Similarly used in cats as it is in dogs.
Yes – May be used instead of famotidine.Yes – May be used instead of famotidine.
Triple antibiotic cream with no pain relief
Yes – A thin layer can sometimes help with minor cuts, injuries, or skin issues.  Because animals lick, a formula with pain relief should never be used.Yes – Also used in cats as it is for dogs.
1% Hydrocortisone cream
Yes – Can sometimes be used to help treat skin inflammation or itchy spots. Again, due to licking, a hydrocortisone-only formula should be used.Yes – Similarly used in cats as it is in dogs.
Metamucil (Pumpkin/Flaxseed/  plain wheat bread)
Yes – Can be added to a diet as a fiber supplement.  This can help with diarrhea, constipation, attempting to pass a small foreign object, or just for digestive health.Yes – Similarly used in cats as it is in dogs.
Plain fungal creams (usually ending in -azole)
Yes – May be suggested to use for minor fungal infections such as ringworm. Due to licking, a single-ingredient formula should be used.Yes – Same for kitties as it is for dogs!
Fish oil
Yes – It’s good for the skin and coat!Yes – It’s good for the skin and coat!

Wait, what about probiotics?

I know you all are chomping at the bit to ask about probiotics!  While a human probiotic may not harm your pet, it is not going to be very helpful, either.  Keep in mind that the bacteria that live naturally in a dog’s stomach are completely different from the bacteria that naturally live in ours.  While there may be some crossover, a human formulation is not anywhere near as effective as one designed for a cat or dog.

Possibly Dangerous medications in pets

Please use caution with these drugs

MedicationSafe for Dogs?Safe for Cats?
Tylenol (acetaminophen)
Debatable – Some vets may still recommend the use of Tylenol in dogs.  However, it has a possibility to cause a condition called “dry eye” that can lead to blindness.  It also does not take very much to be toxic.Never ever ever ever ever – This is highly toxic to cats, and even a little may be lethal.
Imodium/ Kaopectate
Debatable – While some vets may recommend this for diarrhea, there is a whole list of awful side effects.  Things such as constipation, bloat, severe abdominal pain, or a condition in which the bowels stop moving completely can occur.  Why risk all of that when better medications are available through your vet? Especially for one bout of loose stool.No – Never for use in cats, as they can have severe reactions.
Buffered aspirin
Debatable – Again, some vets will still suggest aspirin in a pinch, but it is not safe to give long-term. It is rough on the stomach and can eventually lead to kidney failure and stomach ulceration.  If your dog is in pain tonight, and you can only get into the vet tomorrow, you will have to wait 5-14 days before you can safely switch to a different pain med, so it’s always better to wait until the next day and start on a better dog-formulated drug right away.Really debatable – We can see the same side effects in cats that we can see in dogs in that it can cause kidney damage and stomach ulceration, but cats are so much more sensitive to pain medication.  It is rare to find a vet that will still recommend aspirin for a cat, and I would never suggest giving it.
Hydrogen peroxide

In certain situations – Good for cleaning wounds, so long as it is not put on damaged tissue (this really hurts and further damages the tissue – stick to cleaning the surrounding area, and only used plain antibacterial soap ON the wound).

Often used to induce vomiting at home, but high doses can cause stomach ulceration and is completely unsafe for certain toxic ingestions or in dogs with heart or seizure conditions.  ALWAYS consult a vet before making a pet vomit at home.

Debatable – The same rules apply to treating wounds in cats as they do in dogs – not on damaged tissue.

Peroxide is really not very effective in making a cat vomit, and can cause ulceration and burns in the mouth. For some reason, they are more resistant to the effects than dogs. Cats are also very susceptible to inhaling peroxide and developing pneumonia (called aspiration), so there is a far greater risk involved. Never use peroxide to induce vomiting in your cat.

Mineral oil
Debatable – Some vets will recommend using mineral oil to help ease constipation, but oil is easily inhaled, leading to aspiration.No – Cats will inhale this if the oil looks at them funny, and they will develop pneumonia.  Just don’t do it, as the risks are too high. I don’t care if you’ve done it before and nothing happened; you got really lucky. This is especially important in tiny kittens where it is used most frequently by breeders.
Pepto Bismol
Debatable – Modern Pepto formulas contain an aspirin derivative.  While some vets are okay with this, it is counter-productive to give your pet a medication that irritates its stomach in order to help soothe its stomach.No – Again, because it contains that aspirin derivative.
Cough suppressants
Debatable – Your vet may recommend an OTC cough formula or a medication with similar ingredients after examining your pet, but if your pet is coughing for ANY reason, you need to see a vet first. Because these contain so many different ingredients (such as ibuprofen, alcohol, or pseudoephedrine), it is always better to obtain a veterinary-formulated pill.No – Similarly, a coughing cat should be seen by a vet.  Coughing in a kitty is usually a sign of a more severe illness, and a cough suppressant usually doesn’t help anything. The multi-ingredient human formulas just aren’t safe for kitties, so a veterinary formula is necessary in rare cases where a cat may use one of these.
Gas relief (Simethicone)
Debatable – Again, while your vet may suggest it after an examination or to be given before you head straight into the clinic if your dog is in enough “gas pain” that your notice it and want to help alleviate the pain, then it is not likely to be JUST gas that is causing the issue.  When owners notice their pet needs this, we start to worry about things like bloat, obstruction, or other severe intestinal problems first.Debatable – For the same reasons as dogs.  Cats are masters at hiding pain.  If you’re noticing it, the pain is bad enough that it may indicate a pretty severe or life-threatening condition.  Always choose your vet over a gas-relief medication.
Nasal Sprays
Iffy – Simple saline solution can be used to help treat clogged noses in pets.  However, there are so many nasal formulas out there with other ingredients that can cause a severe toxic reaction, verify at LEAST 3 times that the formula you choose is only sterile saline, and nothing else.Iffy – Same for cats as it is for dogs.

Dangerous medications for pets

These should never be given at home

MedicationsSafe for Dogs?Safe for Cats?
Ibuprofen/Advil/Motrin IB
No – ibuprofen of any kind is not safe for pets.  It causes stomach ulceration, kidney failure, and central nervous system signs (at higher doses)No – A good rule of thumb is that if something is bad for a dog, it is worse for a cat.  Cats are really sensitive to all pain medications, and even a small amount of one of these NSAIDs could be fatal.
No  – Naproxen is ibuprofen on steroids. One pill could kill even some larger breeds of dogs.  1/4th of a pill could still kill some larger dogs and definitely kill smaller breeds like chihuahuas.No  – Same as the above, only naproxen is worse.
Ativan, Klonopin, or other sedatives
No – While Klonopin, etc. may be safe for pets for very specific conditions, never give this outside of a prescription dose provided by your vet.No – Same as for dogs.  The dose is important, so never use it outside of the restricted guidelines as provided by your vet.
Green tea pills
No – These contain caffeine, which is never safe for pets.  Like chocolate, this can cause severe toxic reactions and should be avoided.No – Same for cats as it is for dogs.
Human vitamins
No – While one given accidentally may not harm your pet, they contain zinc, ironvitamin D, selenium, or other medications that are either inappropriate doses or lethal doses for dogs.No – Same for cats is it is for dogs.
No – They will give your pet diarrhea and cramps.  Also, when you see your pet straining to poop, it may not be constipation.  Obstruction is a real concern when we see these signs.No – Same for cats is it is for dogs.
Pseudoephedrin/Sudafed/any antihistamine D forumla
No – These will all stimulate your pet to a dangerous point that becomes toxic to the heart (and may cause seizures).  Decongestant exposures can easily result in death.No – For the same reason as dogs.
Sugar-free anything containing xylitol
No – Many “flavored” medications for children (or adults) do claim to be sugar-free and may contain xylitol.  This is especially common in things like liquid formulas.  Xylitol causes severe drops in blood sugar and liver damage in dogs.  All medications should be checked (three times) to ensure that it contains no xylitol.????? – So far, there have been no recorded cases where cats have reacted to xylitol the same way that dogs do (one of the exceptions to our rule of thumb).  However, it’s possible that this may be due to the fact that cats cannot taste “sweet”, and are less attracted to artificially sweetened products.  Because the potential risk is the same, it’s better to avoid this in cats, too.

See anything I missed or something you are curious about yourself?  Post it in the comments and I will update my list!

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