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Is it Safe to Give Human Medicine to Pets?

Medically reviewed on May 29, 2014 by L. Anderson, PharmD

Sometimes it's safe but always ask your Vet first

We call them man's best friends, and it's important we treat them that way, too. Yes, there are human medicines that pets can take, but it's not that simple. While some human drugs can be given to pets on a regular basis, others can be very toxic. Always get specific pet medicine instructions from your veterinarian. Do not attempt to extrapolate dosing from humans to pets; always ask your vet for the right dose. In fact, special dosage forms or compounded formulations may be needed for pets. Keep your pet safe by taking the time to ask your vet first. The following information is solely for educational purposes; contact your vet for specific questions.

It Hurts Everyone: Pain in Our Pets

Sometimes a little pain is okay for our pets - it helps to protect them from hurting themselves even further. However, ask your vet if you think your dog or cat needs a pain medication. FDA also offers information. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pets are available and are often used for arthritis. Human nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or naproxen are felt to be too toxic for safe use in pets at any dose. Common dog-specific NSAIDs include carprofen (Rimadyl, Novocox, Vetprofen), meloxicam (Metacam), and deracoxib (Deramaxx). Meloxicam injections are approved for a one-time dose in cats.

Man and Beast: NSAID Side Effects Are Similar

NSAIDs that are made especially for dogs are often used for arthritis or for pain after surgery. Just like in humans, NSAIDs can cause side effects in our pets, too, such as vomiting, decreased appetite, and diarrhea. More serious side effects, like kidney or liver toxicity, stomach ulcers and bleeding are possible. Pets will require blood tests when therapy is started and regularly thereafter (usually every 6 months) to monitor for liver toxicity. The popular human NSAIDs naproxen (Aleve) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) are NOT recommended for pets due to toxicity. Rimadyl (carprofen), a chewable NSAID tablet for dogs, and other NSAIDS, are available from your vet.

The Wonder Drug: But Aspirin is Not for All Pets

Aspirin, used for over a century by humans, inhibits an enzyme that is involved in inflammation and pain. Although it should always be prescribed by your vet, buffered or enteric-coated aspirin can be used at the appropriate dose in dogs for short periods of time. Buffered or enteric-coated aspirin is safer for the dog's stomach and is less likely to cause ulcers; but be sure to give with meals. However, safer NSAIDs specifically for dogs with arthritis are now available and may be preferred. Aspirin should not be given to dogs with any bleeding or a history of stomach ulcers. DO NOT give aspirin to cats unless under the specific direction of your vet; it can be lethal.

How Safe is Tylenol for Pets?

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is used for fever and mild pain in dogs under a vets care, but is fatal to cats and should NEVER be given to them. Dogs can be sensitive to acetaminophen, too. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage in both dogs and cats, as well as affect the oxygen-carrying capacity of red blood cells. One report noted that three OTC drugs - ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and aspirin - resulted in roughly 10,000 calls to animal poison control centers in 2008. Keep all forms of acetaminophen (tablets, liquid, capsules) out of reach of your pet. And remember, acetaminophen is often combined with other medications, like cold and flu remedies, so keep them out of reach, too.

Scratch Here, Please: Dogs and Cats Get Allergies, Too

Benadryl, known by the generic name of diphenhydramine, can be used in dogs and cats for allergies, and for motion sickness in dogs; however, check with your vet to get the ok and the right dose. Be careful not to use oral diphenhydramine liquids containing alcohol, or combination products that contain cold or flu medications like phenylephrine, pseudoephedrine or other drugs - these should never be given to pets, so check the labels. OTC Zyrtec and Claritin can be used in dogs, too; check with your vet for doses. And yes, some antihistamines can cause drowsiness in pets, too, so be sure to safeguard them from injuries.

Don't Eat That! Tagamet, Pepcid AC, Zantac for Pets

Heartburn isn't just a common human condition - our pets stomach acid can shift into overdrive, too. Over-the-counter (OTC) human acid controllers, like Pepcid AC (famotidine), Tagamet HB (cimetidine), or Zantac (ranitidine) can be useful for pets. These acid controllers bind to histamine receptors in the stomach and help block acid production. Your vet might use these drugs for treatment of acid reflux, Helicobacter pylori infection, inflammatory bowel disease, canine parvovirus, ulcerations, vomiting, or with drugs that may irritate the stomach. The dosage of these medications should be determined by your vet. More affordable generics may be available OTC, too.

Glucosamine for Joints and Hip Dysplasia

The joint protective supplement glucosamine is commonly used for arthritis and hip dysplasia in both dogs and cats. Naturally occurring substances called nutraceuticals fall in the same class as vitamins, but no supplement can reverse structural joint damage. The quality of commercially available glucosamine or chondroitin can vary, too, so ask your vet to recommend a product. The sulfate form of glucosamine seems to be absorbed the best. It can take several weeks before the benefits are seen in your pet from taking these joint supplements. Glucosamine is available at most pet supply stores and is now even found in some pet foods.

Go For a Ride, Master?

You've probably seen this while driving: man's best friend hanging his head out the window catching the breeze. Many dogs love to go for a ride in the car; however, some dogs experience motion sickness (which we humans do not love). Longer trips may be more difficult than shorter ones on your canine friend.

Some vets might recommend meclizine (Bonine, Antivert) or dimenhydrinate (Dramamine), a human motion sickness medicine. Doses are based on your dogs weight, so ask your vet. These drugs may cause drowsiness, too, so beware about dog safety in the car, especially if your friend is fond of hanging out the window.

It's Bound to Happen: Cuts, Stings, or Mild Lacerations

Mild cuts or scrapes on your pet can be treated with OTC triple antibiotic ointment (Neosporin) to help prevent infection. Pets will try to lick it off, so cover the area, if possible, or use an Elizabethan collar (found at pet stores) to prevent licking. Owners should make sure that the antibiotic ointments they use do not include "caines", like lidocaine, or other pain relief formulas. Saline solutions or hydrogen peroxide can be used to clean wounds. For bee stings, apply a baking soda-water mixture, let it dry, and then gently scrape out the stinger. Contact your vet or find an emergency clinic for serious bleeding, deep wounds, or a red or swollen surface wound.

Oops - Did I Do That?

Some OTC stomach medicines can be used in dogs for problems such as diarrhea and poor digestion. Loperamide (Imodium), for diarrhea, slows down the movement of the bowel and reduces the fluid in the stool which leads to less diarrhea. Pets whose diarrhea is caused by a bacteria or toxin should not be given loperamide, so it is important to see your vet and ask for advice and dosing on this OTC medication. Bismuth subsalicylate (Kaopectate) has also been used for diarrhea in dogs, but also check with your vet for a proper dose. These drugs should NEVER be used in cats, as they contain salicylates (aspirin-like agents) which can be fatal. Severe or prolonged diarrhea may need emergency treatment.

It's Your Responsibility: Keep Pets Safe

Ultimately, your pet relies on you to make the right decisions about drug treatments and to prevent medication errors. Human medications are NOT always safe for pets.

Owners should keep human medicines away from pets (for example, do not leave out on a nightstand), place pill bottles high up on a counter, and pick up dropped medications immediately. Always consult with your vet about OTC use of drugs for pets, and keep emergency contact numbers including emergency night clinics and the Animal Poison Control Center (ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435) close-by. Your pet loves you unconditionally, so be sure to ask your vet about any human medication before you give it to your best friend.

Finished: Is it Safe to Give Human Medicine to Pets?

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