Learning to Be Safe With Pet Medications

by Barbara Murray
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Pet owners ask, "Can I give my pets aspirin?" or "What about ibuprofen and Tylenol?" and "What type of antibiotic prescribed for humans can my pets take?"

A King Charles Spaniel appears in deep thought.Other common questions include, "What if my dog or cat is having an obvious allergic reaction to something? Can I administer Benadryl or other antihistamines? It must be okay. The vet prescribes it."

I remember having these same questions. I'm sure some of you reading this have also asked. I'll share with you what I've learned over the years. First of all, when it comes to medical concerns -- if you're not sure of the answer, always ask your vet. I cannot stress that enough.

Just yesterday, a woman asked me what kind of antibiotic she could give her dog for an ear infection. My response was I'm not a veterinarian and that too, from my personal experience, the dog might need ear drops instead of oral antibiotics but either way, to ask her veterinarian before doing anything. More on antibiotics later.

I think it's important for all pet owners to learn what our pets can and cannot take and how to be safe with all pet medications. Therefore, if the need arises for treatment, we'll know what to do.

About Pain Medications

In educating yourself on pain medications for your pets, keep in mind that different types of medications, such as NSAIDs, opioids, and steroids, for example, each work on pain differently in the body, whether it's a human body, a dog body or a cat body. Oftentimes too, what helps you and your dog can kill your cat. (NSAIDs stand for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. These drugs are used for pain, fever and inflammation and include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen, among others.)


Do not give your pets aspirin without a prescription. Avoid all types of NSAIDs, including aspirin when treating your dogs or cats for pain.

If your veterinarian prescribes aspirin for your dog, typically it means nothing else will help the specific condition much and the prescription is only for one or two days. Vets do not prescribe aspirin for cats.

Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen

Remember pain medications prescribed for your dog may be deadly for your cat. A cat's internal body processes consumed substances differently than humans, of course, but also differently than dogs.

Acetaminophen, the pain reliever found in Tylenol is deadly for cats. Just one small tablet of Tylenol, regular strength, can kill a cat, according to veterinarian Jennifer Coates, D.V.M.

Do not assume that medications for children are safe for your pets either. For example, an active ingredient in multiple types of PediaCare, which works effectively for our kids, is acetaminophen.

In addition, ibuprofen, the basic ingredient in pain relievers like Advil and Motrin, can cause your cat to become extremely ill.

Other Pain Medications for Pets

Different types of pain medications in tablet and capsule formsSome pain medications are safe for cats. However, which ones and at what dosage is something only a qualified medical professional can decide. When it comes to pain medications for dogs, some are specifically formulated for or canine friends. Your veterinarian knows which ones and the correct dosage. We can never assume "just a little bit" of pain medication formulated for humans would be harmless for our pets.

If your veterinarian does prescribe pain medication for your dog, it's important to follow the directions precisely.


Unfortunately, our pets often suffer from allergies. Antihistamines can help. Benadryl is a name brand for an antihistamine containing diphenhydramine. It is used to treat allergic reactions, such as seasonal allergies that humans suffer from when certain plants are in bloom, or sometimes a sudden allergic reaction to food or medication. Some people take Benadryl to help relieve the symptoms of the common cold. Others used the medication as a sleep aid.

Veterinarians will prescribe antihistamine for your dog when needed. In situations where you think your pet needs an OTC antihistamine, call your vet first.

Standard recommendations for the drug are 1 mg per pound of the animal's body weight, prescribed two to three times each day as needed. Over-the-counter medications containing diphenhydramine typically come in 25 mg dosages in tablet form. Thus, if your dog weighs 50 pounds, he or she would need two tablets per dosage.

However, rarely are we going to have a pet whose body weight can conveniently be divided evenly into 25 pound increments. Once again, as with all pet medications, it's best to administer them under the directions and supervision of your veterinarian.


When our pets need antibiotics, veterinarians will often prescribe drugs that we are familiar with. Because of this fact, some pet owners assume it's okay to give cats and dogs the "rest of" the prescription Uncle Joe didn't finish for his sore toe. Not so.

Veterinarian with a kitten in the examination roomJust as it's important that we humans take only those antibiotics prescribed specifically for our condition and just as it's important we complete all of the prescription as scheduled, so it is with our pets. All too often when symptoms begin to taper off or disappear we think antibiotics are no longer necessary. That's not how they work. One or two or a few dosages of antibiotics here and there does much more harm than good.

Trying to save money by ordering prescription medications online without a prescription may sound good in theory. However, this can lead to much greater problems in the long run. Referring back to the question about antibiotics for a dog with an ear infection, for example, several medications routinely prescribed as ear drops for pets are not safe if the eardrum is damaged. Therefore, it's best to let the vet determine exactly what the animal needs.

OTC Ointments and Creams

Some OTC ointments and creams are safe for pets. Others are not. Neosporin is considered safe for pets when used in small increments and if it does not cause the animal to lick the wound, thus ingesting the cream. The same goes for hydrocortisone gel and creams -- safe in small quantities, but they should not be ingested. For example, ingesting hydrocortisone can cause vomiting and diarrhea in your pets.

Numerous other topical ointments designed for animals and those for humans can cause adverse reactions in pets if ingested. Some made specifically for humans can be fatal to pets.

A final reminder -- as with all pet medications, it's imperative to speak with your vet prior to administering drugs to your pets, regardless of what form of administration the medication requires -- topical, oral, intravenous, it doesn't matter. We all want what's best for our pets so, ask the vet, ask the vet, ask the vet.

AVMA: Your Pet's Medications
PediaCare: Active Ingredients to Promote Child Safety
PetMD: What Can I Give My Cat for Pain?
PetMD: What Is the Best Pain Medication for Dogs?
Walker Valley Veterinary Hospital: OTC Medications
WebMD: Safe Pain Medications for Cats
WebMD: Pain Medications for Dogs