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Is it Safe to Give Human Medicine to Pets?

Medically reviewed by L. Anderson, PharmD Last updated on Aug 13, 2019.

Ask Your Vet First

We call them man's best friends, and it's important we treat them that way, too. Yes, there are a few 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 and estimate dosing from humans to pets; 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.

It Hurts Us Both: Pain in Our Pets

Sometimes a little pain is okay for our pets - it helps to protect them from hurting themselves even further. But sometimes pain relief is needed after surgery or an injury. Check with 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 you can ask your vet about include:

NSAID Side Effects in Dogs

NSAIDs that are manufactured especially for dogs are often used for arthritis or for pain after surgery.

Just like in humans, NSAIDs (for example, carprofen) 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, too.

Pets will require blood tests when therapy is started and regularly thereafter (usually every 6 months) to monitor for toxicity, including in the stomach, liver and kidneys.

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 for canine pain, are available from your vet.

Is Aspirin Safe for Pets?

Aspirin, used for over a century by humans, inhibits an enzyme that is involved in inflammation and pain.

Although it should ONLY be prescribed by your vet, aspirin has been used at the appropriate dose in dogs for short periods of time. Coated aspirin is often the recommended choice to help protect the stomach, and be sure to give the pills with food. But many vets do not recommend aspirin use in dogs anymore due to stomach ulcers and the possibility of bleeding. Plus, safer NSAIDs specifically for dogs with arthritis are now available and may be preferred.

Your vet can determine if aspirin is safe and what dose to give based on your dog's weight.

DO NOT give aspirin to cats; it can be deadly to your cat. Cats lack the enzyme needed for metabolizing salicylic acid properly, and aspirin can build up and be extremely toxic. Follow any instructions for aspirin use only as directed by your veterinarian.

Tylenol Use for Pets

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be 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 over-the-counter (OTC) drugs - ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and aspirin - resulted in roughly 10,000 annual calls to animal poison control centers. Keep all forms of acetaminophen (tablets, liquid, capsules) out of reach of your pet.

And remember, acetaminophen that you might use is often combined with other human medications, like cold and flu remedies and other pain remedies, so keep them out of your pets reach, too.

If your pet is in pain, talk with your vet to get the safest medication possible.

Benadryl Use for Pet Allergies

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 first, AND the right dose.

Do not use Benadryl in pets that have glaucoma, high blood pressure, or heart disease.

Be careful not to use oral diphenhydramine liquids containing alcohol, or combination products that contain cold or flu medications like phenylephrine, pseudoephedrine or other human drugs - these should never be given to pets, so check the labels.

Over-the-counter allergy meds like Zyrtec and Claritin can be used in dogs, too; check with your vet for doses. And yes, just like humans, some antihistamines can cause drowsiness or hyperactivity in pets, so be sure to safeguard them from injuries.

Tagamet, Pepcid AC, and Zantac for Dogs

Heartburn isn't just a common human condition - our dog's stomach acid can shift into overdrive, too.

Over-the-counter (OTC) human acid controllers, like

can be useful for dogs, but check with your vet for an exact dose.

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. More affordable generics may be available OTC, too.

We can't say this enough: medication should never be administered to your pet without first consulting your veterinarian.

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.

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.

Motion Sickness in Dogs

You've probably seen this while driving: a canine 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. Trips on a boat can trigger sea sickness, too, especially in puppies.

Some vets might recommend these OTC products, but at specific doses used only in dogs:

Do not use these products in digs with glaucoma, prostate gland enlargement, and certain stomach, thyroid, seizure, or heart disorders.

Both drugs are human motion sickness medicines. As with so many human medicines, 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.

Prescription products like Cerenia (maropitant citrate) are also available for motion sickness in dogs, and your vet may prefer this product specifically for dogs.

Minor Cuts, Stings, or Lacerations

Mild cuts or scrapes on your pet can be treated with OTC triple antibiotic ointment (Neosporin), or Polysporin (without neomycin) with your vets OK, to help prevent infection. It is usually applied two or three times daily, but should not be used frequently unless directed by your vet.

Pets will try to lick it off, so use an Elizabethan collar (found at pet stores) or a sock wrapped around the lesion to prevent licking, as ingestion could be toxic. Neosporin or Polysporin should NOT be used for deep wounds that are bleeding or dirty, or the result of a bite. See a vet for these types of wounds.

  • 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.
  • If a sting from a flying insect leads to swelling around the face, eyes, neck or interferes with breathing in your pet, get emergency care immediately.

I'm Sorry - 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 for advice and dosing on this 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 (> 1 day) may need emergency treatment. Call your vet immediately.

Fireworks, Thunder, or Other Anxieties?

We humans are all too familiar with the stress and anxiety of everyday life. But dogs can get anxious, too. Dogs can become fearful or anxious due to a new environment, or from psychological or physical changes. Signs of stress of anxiety in dogs might include:

  • excessive barking
  • changes in appetite
  • licking or biting
  • aggression
  • hiding
  • trembling
  • panting
  • restlessness, among others.

First try to minimize stress in your dogs life, give them plenty of daily love, exercise, and fresh food and water. Consult with your vet to rule out medical causes of stress.

Medications are avoided if possible, but some drug treatments your vet might prescribe as a last resort include: clomipramine (Clomicalm), fluoxetine (Prozac), or amitriptyline (Elavil). Sileo (dexmedetomidine) is a drug specifically for anxiety in dogs caused by fireworks or other frightful noises.

It's Your Responsibility: Keep Pets Safe

Your pet loves you unconditionally, so do the same for them: ask your vet about any human medication before you give it to your best friend.

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

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 human drug use for your pet, and keep emergency contact numbers -- including your closest 24 hour emergency night clinics and the Animal Poison Control Center (ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435) -- posted for easy access.

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

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Sources

  • Wolff A, DVM. Your dog's medicine cabinet. September 16, 2015. PetPlace. Accessed August 13, 2019 at http://www.petplace.com/article/dogs/first-aid-for-dogs/nursing-care-for-sick-dogs/your-dogs-medicine-cabinet
  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Pain Medicine for Pets: Know the Risks. Consumer Health Information. August 13, 2019 at https://www.drugs.com/fda-consumer/pain-medicines-for-pets-know-the-risks-280.html
  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Medication Errors Happen to Pets, Too. Consumer Health Information. August 13, 2019 at https://www.drugs.com/fda-consumer/medication-errors-happen-to-pets-too-233.html
  • Khuly P, DVM. My Top 10 List of Over-the-Counter Human Meds That Can Be Used on Pets. Vetstreet.com. August 13, 2019 at http://www.vetstreet.com/our-pet-experts/my-top-10-list-of-over-the-counter-human-meds-that-can-be-used-on-pets

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.