Human Medications and Your Dog: What’s safe, and what’s not?

As a mother of a nearly 3 year old toddler, I feel the constant fear that my little boy could accidentally get into an over-the-counter (OTC) medication or prescription in our home. This same exact fear is often shared by parents of our furry babies, but the internet provides so many different opinions of what is safe or unsafe for our pooches. Furthermore, who hasn’t been at home with their dog, suffering from stomach upset or sneezing or another symptom, and we want to give them something right then and there to make them feel better? Our communities’ veterinarians aren’t always available to answer that in-the-moment question of, “Is this really safe to give my dog?”

sick dog

The following are two lists of common prescription and over-the-counter medications and remedies that are either relatively safe or unsafe for our dogs when given in appropriate amounts. Always consult your veterinarian first for appropriate dosages and instructions on how to give the drugs under the safe list, never allow your pooch access to those that are unsafe (ie, keep the drugs in a high, closed cabinet). If a medication/drug or product is not on either list, assume that it is not safe and consult your veterinarian for further advice.

Relatively Safe OTC Medications and Products

1. Medications for acidic/upset stomach:

These OTC drugs include Pepcid (famotidine), Zantac (ranitidine), Tagmet (cimeditine), and Prilosec (omeprazole); dog’s suffering from an acidic stomach (who may be vomiting bile) are often given one or two of these medications to calm the stomach lining.

2. Medications for diarrhea:

Immodium and Kao-pectate have been used for years in controlling diarrhea in humans and can do the same for dogs. However, it should be noted that the causes of diarrhea in dogs are different than humans and may NOT be helped with these medications; one should ALWAYS consult their veterinarian prior to giving these drugs.

3. Cough suppressants:

Dogs will often come down with symptoms that are similar to a “cold;” a coughing dog may have an infection, inflammation, a defect in his/her windpipe, bronchitis, heart problems, or a slew of other possibilities. Cough suppressants like Robitussin-DM are often used to help decrease the frequency of the cough in dogs with an infection or bronchitis.

4. Allergy relief medications:

Anti-histamines such as Benadryl (dipheninhydramine HCl) and Chlor-Trimeton (chlorpheniramine HCl) will often provide allergic dog’s relief from itching, scratching, and licking their skin. Though typically safe, these medications can cause mild sleepiness/ sedation in some patients.

Dog itch

5. Joint supplements:

Glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM are all nutraceuticals known to help lubricate the cartilage in our joints; the same seems to happen for our dogs and can be beneficial in large breeds and arthritic, geriatric pooches. Furthermore, fish oil has shown to make dogs much more comfortable through blocking inflammation in the joints (and has the added benefit to help with skin and heart inflammation).

6. Fiber supplements:

Some dogs will have intermittent constipation that can be alleviated with fiber supplements such as Benefiber and Metamucil. These nutritional supportive products may also aid in weight loss by keeping dogs satiated for longer.

7. Topical products for the skin:

Cortisone sprays and creams (Cortizone) may provide a dog with itchy, red skin relief; anti-fungal creams and lotions (Monistat, Lotrimin) may be beneficial for a yeast or ringworm infection. Consult your veterinarian prior to use, as ingestion of these topical drugs could be toxic.

8. Vitamin E oil:

Vitamin E oil helps moisturize dry, scaly skin in people and can nourish dry skin, foot/toe pads, and noses of our dogs.

dog eyes boxer

9. Artificial tears:

Though most pooches do not require tear supplementation, some actually suffer from a condition called “dry eye” and will need these products daily to prevent their eyes from becoming arid and painful.

10. Hydrogen peroxide 3%:

This liquid will cause a dog to vomit if given orally and should only be administered AFTER consulting a veterinarian or the poison control hotline.

11. Triple antibiotic ointment:

Ointments such as Neosporin can expedite the healing of a superficial laceration or skin infection.

12. Avon Skin So Soft:

With so many bug and fly repellants on the market, a person could potentially choose something toxic for their dog’s skin. This lotion is generally safe and will help keep flies and mosquitos away.

dog medicine

Dangerous/ toxic human medications for pets

1. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

This includes Advil/ Motrin (ibuprofen) and Aleve (naproxen). As an owner you may see your dog limping or in pain and want to give them something OTC, but beware that these will cause severe stomach ulcers and kidney failure. In the past 15 years, pharmaceutical companies have created veterinary NSAIDs (ie, Deramaxx, Metacam, Rimadyl, Previcox) that are safer for dogs to take.

2. Acetaminophen:

Also known as Tylenol, acetaminophen causes red blood cell damage and liver failure. This medication is EXTREMELY TOXIC to cats as well.

3. Anti-depressants:

Medications such as Cymbalta (duloxetine), Effexor (venlafaxine), and Lexapro (escitalopram) can cause neurological problems in dogs such as sedation, incoordination, tremors and seizures, as well as stimulation (increased heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature). Occasionally veterinarians will prescribe antidepressants to treat certain behavioral disorders in dogs; these medications should NEVER be given outside of the close guidance of your pup’s doctor.

4. ADD/ADHD medications:

Concerta, Adderall and Ritalin are common medications used to treat attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; all are highly toxic in small doses and cause tremors, seizures, elevation body temperatures and heart problems.

5. Sleep aids:

Medications such as Xanax, Klonopin, Ambien and Lunesta are all prescribed for sleep disorders in people but will cause the reverse in many dogs, inducing agitation and elevated heart rates. Other pooches will become lethargic, uncoordinated, and may collapse from a lowered blood pressure.


6. Birth control:

Birth control pills come in small packages which many dogs will find irresistible to chew on; in high doses the hormones in these pills can cause bone marrow suppression and estrogen poisoning in female dogs.

7. Heart medications:

Both ACE Inhbitors (Zestril, Altace) and Beta-blockers (Tenormin, Toprol, Coreg) will lower blood pressure in dogs and cause dizziness and weakness. As states above in the anti-depressant section, some veterinarians may prescribe dogs these medications but owners should NEVER administer these by themselves.

8. Thyroid hormones:

Again, these medications (Armour, Synthroid) may be used for the primary treatment of hypothyroidism in dogs, which is a relatively common metabolic disorder that we see. Dogs do take a much higher dose of these medications which allows for a wider margin of safety; however, an ingestion of a large amount of this drug may cause panting, a rapid heart rate, and aggression.

9. Cholesterol lowering agents:

Medications such as Lipitor, Zocor, and Crestor tend to cause mild gastrointestinal signs (vomiting and diarrhea) but can be deadly with long term ingestion.

happy dog

Remember, if the OTC drug, medication or product is not on either of the above lists, assume it isn’t safe for your dog… and if you have any questions, call your veterinarian! We think of you and your pooch as a part of our family and want what’s best for you both, always.

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