Dr. Because human medications can be very toxic to dogs and cats, it's not a good idea to self-diagnose your pet and give him or her medicine without first consulting your veterinarian.
The Safest Human Meds for Dogs
It’s important to note that many factors can render “safe” human medications to be unsafe for dogs. These factors include your dog's overall health, other medications being taken, breed, size, and age. You should never give anything to your pet that is not intended for them without consulting a veterinarian first.
You will also notice that as per dosage warnings among the safe human meds for dogs below, we have NOT included any dosing information – this is done intentionally. It's unlikely these medications will have a dosage mentioned for animal use on their back label, and you should never rely on the internet to give you veterinary advice. Call your vet and get your dog the professional advice before using any human medications.
1. Imodium (Loperamide)
Imodium is a tricky medication. Some dogs with diarrhea can take loperamide and it's safe for them. However, it can cause side effects in other dogs as show in studies, so it should never be given without veterinary supervision.
For example, one study found that Collie breed will get poisoning from loperamide. Also, if Imodium is given to a dog that carries the MDR1 gene mutation, a dog with diarrhea due to an infection or ingestion of a toxin, or dog with certain health conditions, Imodium can cause constipation, severe sedation, bloat, and pancreatitis.
If your dog is experiencing diarrhea, there are a number of other dog diarrhea meds and treatments that your vet can prescribe it is best to utilize one of these options instead.
Pepto-Bismol falls into much the same category as Imodium mentioned above. It is one of the safer human meds for dogs, but only for certain dogs with specific conditions, and only under veterinary supervision.
If your dog has diarrhea or upset stomach, it’s best to use a dog diarrhea medication or stomach upset aids, but if you are in a pinch, make sure to call your vet before giving your dog Pepto-Bismol. Your vet will help you to determine whether it’s safe for your individual dog and if so, what the safe dosage is.
If you do get the go-ahead to give your dog Pepto-Bismol, be aware that should your dog need an X-ray for any reason before the medication has passed, it may be mistaken for a metallic body in their gastrointestinal system so make sure you notify your vet.
3. Benadryl (Diphenhydramine)
Benadryl is used in veterinary practices as a treatment for allergies, motion sickness, and travel anxiety. It's also a popular human medicine for dogs and it's often used in veterinary practice. But there were also cases of diphenhydramine poisoning in dogs.
If your pet is experiencing any of the above mentioned illnesses, call your vet to confirm Benadryl dosage specific to your dog. Additionally, ask if any of your dog’s current health conditions will be negatively impacted by administration of Benadryl.
Side effects that you should look out for when giving Benadryl include sedation, salivation, increased respiration, urinary retention, dry mouth, vomiting, diarrhea, increased appetite, and decreased appetite. If you notice that your dog develops dilated pupils, agitation, seizures, rapid heartbeat, and constipation, you may have given your dog too much Benadryl and you need to get to the emergency vet immediately.
4. Buffered Aspirin
Some veterinarians recommend buffered aspirin for dogs with pain due to arthritis, and studies found it to be better tolerated by dogs. However, it is not generally the treatment of choice and will only be used in rare occasions.
While technically it can be one of the safe human meds for dogs, there are many other (and better) dog-specific NSAID’s available for pain, or even less potent pain relievers that are safer for dogs to take that you can procure from your vet.
If your vet does recommend buffered aspirin for your pet, make sure that there are no added ingredients like acetaminophen, and follow your veterinarian’s dosing instructions to a tee. You should also keep in mind that even buffered aspirin administered under vet supervision can cause side effects like kidney damage or internal bleeding.
5. Tagamet (Cimetidine)
Cimetidine is sometimes prescribed as an extra-label drug in veterinary medicine to treat gastritis, reflux, esophagitis, and for treating mast cell tumors in dogs. It was found to be safe and effective.
Although cimetidine is safe to use in most dogs, consult your vet before use as it can interact with a variety of other medicines and cause problems for senior dogs and pets with blood disorders.
Responsible use of Tagamet generally does not lead to side effects when used under vet supervision, and it has been used to treat pets very often. However, an overdose of cimetidine can result in tachycardia and respiratory failure in the dog.
6. Prilosec (Omeprazole)
Omeprazole can be safely used in dogs with ulcers or excess stomach acid, but only if your vet has approved its use and given you proper dosing instructions. Some studies found it to be more effective than the above mentioned cimetidine.
Dosing of omeprazole for dogs is particularly important because it was developed for human use and has never been officially approved for animal use, even though studies found it to be safe and effective.
While it's safe, without a vet check-up and consultation, administering Prilosec to dogs can cause complications by masking other health conditions in pets. Omeprazole can also cause problems when combined with a number of other medications.
Hydrocortisone creams can be used topically on your dog in small amounts for itchy skin, but they should never be used in areas where your dog can lick the cream away because it's toxic. Use an Elizabethan collar to prevent licking until the area has healed.
Using hydrocortisone cream should be limited to short periods and you should keep an eye out for side effects like behavior changes, weakness, and nausea.
More companies are beginning to use this substance for pet products. You'll find OTC itch creams and skin infection treatments to contain this chemical. It’s always best to use hydrocortisone products that have been developed for dogs rather than using human alternatives that may include toxic additives.
8. Lomotil (Atropine / Diphenoxylate)
Lomotil is used by humans to manage diarrhea and it is also used to treat diarrhea and colitis in dogs and cats. Lomotil works by slowing the digestive tract, improves the ability to absorb liquids, and reduces intestinal secretions. In other uses, Lomotil has also been shown to reduce coughing.
Lomotil dosing and length of treatment should be determined by your vet based on your dog’s age, size, breed, current health, and the reason for their needing treatment with Lomotil.
9. Dramamine (Dimenhydrinate)
Dramamine is used by some veterinarians for the treatment of travel sickness and travel related anxiety in dogs. Dogs can experience side effects as a result of Dramamine including difficulty urinating, dry mouth, vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite.
While it's one of the safe human meds for dogs, it’s exceptionally important to consult a veterinarian for the correct dosing of Dramamine for your dog before using it overdosing is quite easy and very common in pets. Signs that indicate an overdose include respiratory difficulty, seizures, lethargy, and coma.
Before you even try this drug, remember that there are other alternatives to Dramamine you can use that have fewer to no side effects including herbal treatments and behavioral conditioning, as well as specific dog anxiety meds and tools like anxiety vests.
10. Gas-X (Simethicone)
Simethicone is used in humans and in dogs to treat gas however, it should not be used over long periods and should never be used without first consulting your veterinarian.
It’s not just important to get dosing information from your vet, but it’s even more important to find out the cause of your dog’s gas. Is their diet not agreeing with them? Are they suffering from an infection? Have they eaten something they shouldn’t have? The root of your dog’s gas must be identified in order to be properly treated.
If your veterinarian approves the short-term use of simethicone for your dog make sure that you do not vary from their treatment plan. Long-term use of simethicone can alter natural pH levels in your dog’s gastrointestinal system and lead to bacterial infection.
11. Pepcid-AC (Famotidine)
Pepcid-AC or Famotidine is used by veterinarians for the treatment of gastric and intestinal ulcers in dogs. It's proven to be safe and it works by suppressing the secretion of stomach acid so that the ulceration can heal.
Famotidine is also used to treat reflux in dogs, to reduce stomach inflammation resulting from kidney failure, and to suppress histamine secretion in dogs with mast cell tumors. It's used often and is one of the safer human meds for dogs out there, but studies show that continuous use makes it less effective with time.
The dosage of Famotidine must be determined by your vet depending on what your dog is being treated for. Additionally, Famotidine is known to interact with a variety of other medications and should not be given without being cleared by your vet. Famotidine overdose is not a common occurrence, but if your dog exhibits rapid heart rate, vomiting, pale gums, restlessness, or collapses, they may have overdosed.
12. Zyrtec (Cetirizine)
Zyrtec is a very popular brand used to treat allergy symptoms in humans, but it’s also been used in dogs for the same purpose, particularly in cases of chronic dermatitis. It can also be used to treat hot spot itching. Many times, Zyrtec is used as an alternative to Benadryl in dogs that don’t tolerate Benadryl well.
Unlike many other human medications for dogs listed here, Zyrtec actually has been tested and has been shown to be quite safe for use in dogs. That said, it should never be given to dogs with compromised kidney function and should be used with care in senior dogs after you consult with a vet.
13. Claritin (Loratadine)
Claritin is another popular human allergy medication that can be used to treat dogs with allergy symptoms, relieve inflammation related to mast cell tumors, and to reduce side effects from vaccines. Both in vivo and in vitro studies found it to be safe and sometimes effective for different conditions.
Before giving Claritin to your dog, talk to your vet about dosing information. Even when giving Claritin under the supervision of a vet, watch for any side effects including vomiting, diarrhea, urinary retention, and increased thirst.
Note that you should never give Claritin to your dog if they’re pregnant or if they are suffering from liver disease. Additionally, Claritin-D specificially should never be given to dogs. The “D” or decongestant in Claritin-D (pseudoephedrine) can be lethal to your dog even in small doses.
Prednisone is used in dogs to treat inflammation from arthritis, autoimmune disease, allergies, and Addison’s disease, and was found to be partially effective.
Prednisone must be given by prescription and it’s important for your vet to oversee any Prednisone treatment due to the side effects common to corticosteroid treatment.
Always give Prednisone exactly as directed by your vet and watch for troublesome side effects. Side effects seen with Prednisone treatment include upset stomach, insomnia, nausea, vomiting, and fatigue. Prednisone can pose difficulties when given to dogs with liver disease, kidney disease, heart disease, hypothyroidism, stomach ulcers, or diabetes.
15. Zantac (Ranitidine)
Another histamine blocker like a few of the medications on this safe human meds for dogs list, ranitidine is sometimes used in dogs to reduce stomach acid to allow ulcers to heal and to reduce stomach acid in dogs with reflux. Even though it was shown to be safe, it was not as effective for these conditions.
Although it is not approved for use in dogs, ranitidine can be used under veterinary supervision in dogs, cats, and horses. Ranitidine should never be given to dogs with kidney disease or liver disease and should not be given with food because it will reduce its effectiveness. You should also be wary of combining ranitidine with any other medications as it can cause problems.
Side effects from ranitidine are rare however, if you notice diarrhea consult your veterinarian as this can be a side effect of ranitidine use. Furthermore, if diarrhea is accompanied by or if you notice the following symptoms do not give your dog any more ranitidine and seek emergency veterinary care immediately: symptoms of an irregular heartbeat, difficulty breathing, hives, and swelling of the face/lips/tongue.
The most common human medications to cause poisoning in dogs include:
The nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are widely used and readily available — many of these can be purchased over the counter. These drugs are used to treat pain, inflammation, and fever in people. Examples of NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, and indomethacin. In dogs, orally ingested NSAIDs are rapidly absorbed. Most achieve peak concentrations in the blood within three hours. The most commonly seen side effects of these medications are gastrointestinal irritation and damage to the GI tract.
At recommended dosages, NSAIDs have little effect on the kidneys, but in cases of overdose (and also with chronic usage) renal damage has occurred. The simultaneous use of two NSAIDs can lead to kidney dysfunction. Additionally, NSAID overdose has caused clotting problems and liver disease. These drugs can also react with other drugs.
Another readily available human medication often used to treat pain and inflammation in dogs is acetaminophen. This drug, sold as Tylenol and other brand names, can be obtained both over the counter and in some prescription preparations. Exposure to dogs usually occurs through administration of acetaminophen by uninformed but well-meaning owners intending to treat fever, pain, or inflammation in their animal. Poisoning can occur from a single exposure to a large dose or from chronic exposure to a low dose.
Acetaminophen poisoning in dogs causes injury to the liver and, in high enough dosages, even liver failure. Clinical signs can include lethargy, loss of appetite, belly pain, and jaundice. Swelling of the face and paws is also commonly seen. Cats are even more sensitive than dogs to acetaminophen — clinical signs can result from ingesting a single tablet.
Medications used for attention-deficit disorder and hyperactivity contain amphetamine, a potent stimulant. Ingestion of these medications by dogs can lead to life-threatening tremors, seizures, elevated body temperature, and even cardiac and respiratory arrest.
Blood pressure medications, like ACE inhibitors and beta blockers, can cause weakness, stumbling, and dangerously low blood pressure.
Medications designed to aid with sleep, like Xanax, Ambien, and Valium, can cause dogs to become lethargic, seem intoxicated and, in some cases, have dangerously slowed breathing rates. Some dogs become severely agitated after ingesting these drugs.
Human Meds and Pets - pets
Pet owners who are serious about pet-proofing their home should start with their own medicine cabinet. Nearly 50% of all calls received by Pet Poison Helpline involve human medications – both over-the-counter and prescription. Whether Fido accidentally chewed into a pill bottle or a well-intentioned pet owner accidentally switched medication (giving their pet a human medication), pet poisonings due to human medications are common and can be very serious.
Below is a list of the top 10 human medications most frequently ingested by pets, along with some tips from the veterinarians at Pet Poison Helpline on how to prevent pet poisoning from human medications.
NSAIDs (e.g. Advil, Aleve and Motrin)
Topping our Top 10 list are common household medications called non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), which include common names such as ibuprofen (e.g., Advil and some types of Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve). While these medications are safe for people, even one or two pills can cause serious harm to a pet. Dogs, cats, birds and other small mammals (ferrets, gerbils and hamsters) may develop serious stomach and intestinal ulcers as well as kidney failure.
Acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol)
When it comes to pain medications, acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol) is certainly popular. Even though this drug is very safe, even for children, this is not true for pets—especially cats. One regular strength tablet of acetaminophen may cause damage to a cat’s red blood cells, limiting their ability to carry oxygen. In dogs, acetaminophen leads to liver failure and, in large doses, red blood cell damage.
Antidepressants (e.g. Effexor, Cymbalta, Prozac, Lexapro)
While these antidepressant drugs are occasionally used in pets, overdoses can lead to serious neurological problems such as sedation, incoordination, tremors and seizures. Some antidepressants also have a stimulant effect leading to a dangerously elevated heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature. Pets, especially cats, seem to enjoy the taste of Effexor and often eat the entire pill. Unfortunately, just one pill can cause serious poisoning.
ADD/ADHD medications (e.g. Concerta, Adderall, Ritalin)
Medications used to treat Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder contain potent stimulants such as amphetamines and methylphenidate. Even minimal ingestions of these medications by pets can cause life-threatening tremors, seizures, elevated body temperatures and heart problems.
Benzodiazepines and sleep aids (e.g. Xanax, Klonopin, Ambien, Lunesta)
These medications are designed to reduce anxiety and help people sleep better. However, in pets, they may have the opposite effect. About half of the dogs who ingest sleep aids become agitated instead of sedate. In addition, these drugs may cause severe lethargy, incoordination (including walking “drunk”), and slowed breathing in pets. In cats, some forms of benzodiazepines can cause liver failure when ingested.
Birth control (e.g. estrogen, estradiol, progesterone)
Birth control pills often come in packages that dogs find irresistible. Thankfully, small ingestions of these medications typically do not cause trouble. However, large ingestions of estrogen and estradiol can cause bone marrow suppression, particularly in birds. Additionally, female pets that are intact (not spayed), are at an increased risk of side effects from estrogen poisoning.
ACE Inhibitors (e.g. Zestril, Altace)
Angiotensin-converting enzyme (or “ACE”) inhibitors are commonly used to treat high blood pressure in people and, occasionally, pets. Though overdoses can cause low blood pressure, dizziness and weakness, this category of medication is typically quite safe. Pets ingesting small amounts of this medication can potentially be monitored at home, unless they have kidney failure or heart disease. All heart medications should be kept out of reach of pets.
Beta-blockers (e.g. Tenormin, Toprol, Coreg)
Beta-blockers are also used to treat high blood pressure but, unlike the ACE inhibitor, small ingestions of these drugs may cause serious poisoning in pets. Overdoses can cause life-threatening decreases in blood pressure and a very slow heart rate.
Thyroid hormones (e.g. Armour desiccated thyroid, Synthroid)
Pets — especially dogs — get underactive thyroids too. Interestingly, the dose of thyroid hormone needed to treat dogs is much higher than a person’s dose. Therefore, if dogs accidentally get into thyroid hormones at home, it rarely results in problems. However, large acute overdoses in cats and dogs can cause muscle tremors, nervousness, panting, a rapid heart rate and aggression.
Cholesterol lowering agents (e.g. Lipitor, Zocor, Crestor)
These popular medications, often called “statins,” are commonly used in the United States. While pets do not typically get high cholesterol, they may still get into the pill bottle. Thankfully, most “statin” ingestions only cause mild vomiting or diarrhea. Serious side effects from these drugs come with long-term use, not one-time ingestions.
Always keep medications safely out of reach and never administer a medication to a pet without first consulting your veterinarian. The following are some tips from Dr. Ahna Brutlag at Pet Poison Helpline to help prevent pets from getting into over-the-counter or prescription medication:
- Never leave loose pills in a plastic Ziploc® bag – the bags are too easy to chew into. Make sure visiting house guests do the same, keeping their medications high up or out of reach.
- If you place your medication in a weekly pill container, make sure to store the container in a cabinet out of reach of your pets. Unfortunately, if they get a hold of it, some pets might consider the pill container a plastic chew toy.
- Never store your medications near your pet’s medications – Pet Poison Helpline frequently receives calls from concerned pet owners who inadvertently give their own medication to their pet.
- Hang your purse up. Inquisitive pets will explore the contents of your bag and simply placing your purse up and out of reach can help to avoid exposure to any potentially dangerous medication(s).
It is also important to note that while a medication may be safe for children, it may not be safe for animals. In fact, nearly 50% of all pet poisonings involve human drugs. Pets metabolize medications very differently from people. Even seemingly benign over-the-counter or herbal medications may cause serious poisoning in pets. If your pet has ingested a human over-the-counter or prescription medication, please call your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline’s 24-hour animal poison control center at 855-764-7661 immediately.