Are OTC Medications Safe for my Dog?

3 min read
Jan 12, 2022

When your dog is sick, you’ll do everything you can to help him or her get to feeling better.  If you don’t have medication on hand though, what other options do you have as a pet parent? Reaching for your medicine cabinet, in many cases, might be hurting your dog more than helping. Dogs are very different from humans, which means not all over-the-counter medicines are safe for your dog. Let’s break down which over-the-counter medications may be safe, and which ones you should stay away from at all costs.  Or, be sure to check out our breakdown of which medicines you can give your dog for pain.

Dogs Can’t Have Just Any Medication

The short answer is that some over-the-counter medicines might be safe for your dog. However, there are many that are not safe for your furry friend. Every dog’s medical history is different, and even “safe” medicines might not be right for your dog specifically. Also, keep in mind that the dosage for a dog won’t be the same as the dosage for an adult human. Here’s an abbreviated list of which over-the-counter medications may be safe for your dog, and which ones you should stay away from. Remember, always ask your vet before giving your dog any medication.

Safe Medications for Your Dog (With Vet Approval)

Allergy Medications for Dogs 

In general, antihistamines — medications that relieve allergy symptoms, such as Claritin, Zyrtec, and Benadryl — might be safe for dogs1 (although they might cause hyperactivity or drowsiness). Make sure to read the label and note whether the allergy medication contains only antihistamines. If the medicine has other ingredients, such as decongestants, it may not be safe for dogs. For dosage, the Canine Journal recommends one milligram for every pound given twice daily.2  Remember, always ask your vet before giving your dog any medication! 

Gastrointestinal Medications for Dogs  

Most gastrointestinal medicines can be safe for dogs.3  Pepto-Bismal can treat vomiting, diarrhea, and an upset stomach (but check with your vet if your dog throws up the medication, and never give Pepto-Bismal to cats). Providing one dose of Imodium may help relieve diarrhea for many breeds of dog (and cats too); but call your vet if diarrhea continues after 24 hours.4 There are other gastrointestinal medications that are often safe for dogs, too. Zantac, Tagamet, and Pepcid-AC can all be administered to treat heartburn or stomach ulcers.5 And finally, although Dramamine (which prevents motion sickness) can often be safe for dogs, it’s best to choose another option that’s tailor-made for dogs.6

Remember, always ask your vet before giving your dog any medication! 

Eye Drops 

Eye drops can provide a temporary solution if your dog is blinking or squinting a lot. Over-the-counter eye drops can sometimes be ok to use, as long as the drops are lubricating only (not medicated). If the drops still don’t help, schedule an appointment with your vet. 

Nasal Sprays

Pediatric or saline nasal sprays can often be safe for your dog if he or she is congested. Steer clear of any other type of over-the-counter nasal medicine, though.  Remember, always ask your vet before giving your dog any medication! 

Unsafe Medications  

Tylenol or Ibuprofen

Human-grade NSAID medications (like aspirin) and products that contain acetaminophen are never safe for dogs.7

There could be an increased risk of bleeding — or worst case, the medicine could prove fatal. (Tylenol is bad for cats, too. Just one pill can result in death.) Buffered aspirin are also not recommended by vets. The bottom line is to never give your dog aspirin. Giving your dog Tylenol might cause liver and kidney damage, while NSAID medicines can result in gastrointestinal bleeding.

Ask your vet for a canine pain medication instead.

Cold and Cough Medicine

Since most over-the-counter cold medications have decongestants, they are not safe for dogs. Like any other medication, check with your vet before giving your dog a cough medicine.

This is especially important in dogs, as a cough is not always just a cough.  Sometimes, it may be a symptom of a larger problem such as heartworms or cardiac disease. 

Keep Your Pet Safe Year-Round with Dog Insurance

MetLife Pet Insurance1 is here for every dog and cat, from a small cold to big problems alike. As a pet parent, we know your pets are family.  That’s why we work to provide you with the best coverage possible.   

Protect your Dog

Enroll in 3 Easy Steps

Nothing in this article should be construed as financial, legal or veterinary advice. Please consult your own advisors for questions relating to your and your pet’s specific circumstances.

1 Pet Insurance offered by MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is underwritten by Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 485 Madison Avenue, NY, NY 10022, and Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886, in those states where MetGen’s policies are available. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is the policy administrator authorized by IAIC and MetGen to offer and administer pet insurance policies. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC was previously known as PetFirst Healthcare, LLC and in some states continues to operate under that name pending approval of its application for a name change. The entity may operate under an alternate, assumed, and/or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions as approved, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota), MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois), and such other alternate, assumed, or fictitious names approved by certain jurisdictions. 

1 Best Antihistamine for Dogs,Innovet, Matt Terrill, 2021 

2 15 Safe Human Medications for Dogs You Can Use,, Deborah Shores, 2020 

3 Which Over-The-Counter Medications Are Safe For Dogs?,, Sally Jones, 2021 

4 Imodium For Dogs: Uses, Dosage, & Side Effects,Dog Time, Mike Clark   

Can Dogs Take Tagamet? | Cimetidine For K9s? [Best Advice],, 2021 

6 Dramamine For Dogs: Everything You Need To Know, InnoVet Pet, Matt Terrill, 2021 

7 Ibuprofen Poisoning in Dogs | VCA Animal Hospital,VCA Hospitals