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Is it Safe to Give Human Medicine to Pets?

Medically reviewed by Leigh Ann Anderson, PharmD. Last updated on Sep 14, 2020.

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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. Many medicine doses for pets are based on their weight, too. 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:

Dosing is based on your pets weight, so be sure to talk to your vet before adjusting any doses.

NSAID Side Effects in Dogs

NSAIDs that are manufactured especially for dogs are often used for arthritis or for pain after surgery. The popular human NSAIDs naproxen (Aleve) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) are NOT recommended for pets due to toxicity.

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.

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.

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.

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.

However, if your vet does recommend aspirin, they can determine the safe dose of aspirin based on your dog's weight. Special formulations have been developed for animals.

If your vet does recommend aspirin, DO NOT use with other NSAIDs, such as Rimadyl, Metacam and Derramax.

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 cough, cold and flu remedies, so keep them out of your pets reach.

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. Dosesare based on your pets weight.

  • 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 Claritin can be used in dogs, too, but ask 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) "people" acid controllers, like

  • Pepcid AC (famotidine.html)
  • Tagamet HB (cimetidine)

can be useful for dogs. As always, your vet will determine if these are safe for your pet and prescribe the correct dose. Do not use human doses as they maybe too high for your pet. If your animal is pregnant or nursing, it may not be recommended.

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 (heartburn), Helicobacter pylori infection, inflammatory bowel disease, canine parvovirus, ulcerations, vomiting, or for drug treatments that may irritate the stomach.

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

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.

Cars, planes, and boats can all lead to symptoms. Trips on a boat can trigger sea sickness especially in puppies. Cats can suffer from motion sickness, too. Pets with motion sickness may begin drooling, act nauseated or develop vomiting or diarrhea. You may need to reconsider bringing your pet on trips if they are prone to motion sickness.

Some vets might recommend these human over-the-counter (OTC) products, but at specific doses used only in dogs. Pet versions of these products are not available.

  • diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
  • meclizine (Bonine)
  • dimenhydrinate (Dramamine)

Do not use these products in dogs 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 if these products are appropriate for your 4-legged friend. 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

Pets are prone to scrapes, cuts or even insect bites. But can you use on your pet to prevent an infection? Before you do, read this. The answer is not always so clear-cut.

Minor cuts: Neosporin is the common triple antibiotic (neomycin, bacitracin, polymyxin B) that is made for humans, not pets. In some instances, Neosporin or other topical antibiotics, may not be needed or may not be safe for pets.

Some forms of neomycin have been linked with hearing loss. Allergic reactions can occur, too. There are topical antibiotic products developed specifically for pets that may be safer. Check with your vet before you apply any human antibiotic to your pet's skin wound.

If your vet does recommend a topical antibiotic, your pet may try to lick the topical medicines off, which can also be toxic or lead to stomach upset or diarrhea. Ask your vet about the use of an Elizabethan collar (found at pet stores) or a sock wrapped around the lesion to prevent licking

For minor abrasions, clean the wound with soap and water first, and pat dry. For puncture woulds or dog bites, see your vet immediately. Neosporin 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.

Bee stings or other flying insects: Carefully remove the stinger with tweezers. Apply a paste of baking soda and water, an ice pack for pain and swelling, and call your vet about using an oral antihistamine like diphenhydramine (Benadryl). Provide plenty of fresh water and watch your pet carefully, especially if the sting is on the nose or face. Allergic reactions usually occur within 20 minutes, but can be delayed for hours.

If a sting from an leads to swelling around the face, eyes, neck, wound or interferes with breathing in your pet, get emergency care from a vet's office immediately.

If your pet gets into a hive, call him away and put distance between your dog and the hive. Go to the closest veterinarian immediately. Emergency treatment for massive amounts of stings must occur quickly to prevent shock and prevent organ damage.

I'm Sorry - Did I Do That?

Some over-the-counter (OTC) stomach medicines can be used in dogs for problems such as diarrhea, with your vets advice.

Loperamide (Imodium), a "people" drug used 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 your animal see your vet for advice and dosing on this medication. Cats may have a bad reaction to this medicine, too.

Bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto Bismol) has also been used for diarrhea in dogs, but check with your vet for a proper dose.

  • Salicylates can cause stomach bleeding and cause black stools in your dog, and this can further mask any bleeding.
  • Products with salicyclates should NEVER be used in cats, as salicylates are aspirin-like medicines which can be fatal in cats.

Your vet may also be able to prescribe probiotics to treat diarrhea, such as ProViable or Fortiflora.

In ALL cases, severe or prolonged diarrhea 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 and have behavioral problems, too. Dogs can become fearful, anxious, or aggressive due to a new environment, from psychological stress, loud noises or physical changes. Separation anxiety can occur in up to 14% of dogs. It can worsen as your pet ages, too.

Signs of stress or anxiety in dogs might include:

  • excessive barking
  • changes in appetite
  • licking or biting
  • urinating or defecating in the house
  • aggression or destructive behavior
  • hiding
  • repetitive or compulsive behaviors
  • trembling
  • depression
  • panting, drooling
  • pacing or 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 and to get advice on how to lower stress for your pet. Training and preventive measures may be tried before medications.

However, if aggression is causing a safety concern, see your vet immediately.

Medications are avoided if possible, but some drug treatments your vet might prescribe 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.
  • Just becuase a medicine is a "people" medicine available over-the-counter without a prescription does NOT mean it is safe in your pet. It may not have ever been studied in animals.
  • 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

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  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Medication Errors Happen to Pets, Too. Consumer Health Information. Sept. 14, 2020 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. Sept. 14, 2020 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.