OTC Meds & Pets

OTC Human Meds to Use on Pets


In case you don’t know, OTC stands for "over the counter,” meaning that no prescription is needed. Armed with your vet’s say-so, all you have to do is pluck the drug off the store shelf and follow your vet’s oral or written instructions.

Now wasn’t that tons easier (and probably much cheaper) than buying things via the pharmacy?

Luckily, there are lots of drugs that don’t have to abide by the stringent rules of the written prescription — most of which you’ve probably heard of. Nonetheless, I feel the need to describe them because maybe, just maybe, there’s something I can add to your basic understanding of these medications, their indications and contraindications.

Here are my top 10 picks, which are peppered liberally with disclaimers about always asking your vet first before using any drug. Remember: O-T-C doesn’t necessarily mean S-A-F-E!

1.Pepcid AC (famotidine)

Famotidine is a non-prescription medication used in dogs and cats to reduce the amount of stomach acid being produced. Although Famotidine is not FDA-approved for use in veterinary medicine, it is a commonly accepted practice for veterinarians to prescribe this medication for dogs.

Famotidine should be used with caution in pets that are pregnant or pets with heart, kidney, or liver disease.

Famotidine is a non-prescription medication not FDA approved for veterinary use; however, it is a commonly accepted practice for veterinarians to use this medication in dogs and cats to reduce the amount of stomach acid produced. Famotidine is available as packages containing 30 x 10mg tablets. The usual dose in dogs is 0.22mg to 0.44mg per pound every 12 to 24 hours. The usual dose in cats is 0.22mg per pound every 12 to 24 hours.


2. Tagamet HB (cimetidine)

These stomach drugs, which hinder the body’s production of GI acids, are great for pets when gastric juices flow into overdrive. They’re mostly given to dogs for simple gastritis (stomach inflammation), which can result from a number of tummy insults — self-inflicted through “dietary indiscretion” or otherwise.

Dosage depends on the pet’s size, other drugs administered and your pet’s general condition. Always check with your vet first to get the go-ahead and the right dosage.

3. Aspirin

Although most vets no longer recommend aspirin for pain — why use a less potent, more stomach-harming drug when safer, more effective ones are available? — Some of us still rely on it when a canine client is far away and nothing else is available.

As a rule, I never recommend using aspirin more than two days in a row and never in combination with other NSAIDs, such as Rimadyl, Metacam and Derramax. Drug interactions with aspirin are not uncommon, so don’t automatically assume it’s safe to give it to your pet.

4. Artificial tears and other ophthalmic lubricants

Genteal and Soothe XP are my favorites for getting the red out. I love these preparations for minor eye irritations –– they’re the ultimate do-no-harm optical treatment.

Most of the time, very mild conjunctivitis (slight weepiness or redness around the eyes) will clear up within a few days of simple soothing with artificial tears. But if your pet has white, yellow or greenish discharge; extreme redness or swelling; or if the eye obviously hurts (your pet will wink or close the eye), skip this step and immediately head to the vet! Even a day is too long with a painful eye.

5. Benadryl (diphenhydramine)

Benadryl(®) is an over-the-counter medicine often used for the treatment of allergies in dogs. Diphenhydramine, the most common active ingredient, is an H1 antagonist which in technical jargon means it inhibits the uptake of histamine by synapses in the brain, and by the synapses of other nerve cells around the body. This relieves runny noses, watery eyes and many other allergy symptoms. Sleepiness is a common side effect of diphenhydramine because it also inhibits acetylcholine receptors, which is why it is the active ingredient in many popular sleeping aids such as Sominex® and Nytol®. Diphenhydramine is not yet FDA approved for use in animals, but is considered to be very safe when used correctly.

Just a quick tip, if your dog is suffering with anxiety it’s better to avoid Benadryl and its potential side effects by sticking to natural remedies. We recommend Anxiety Spray, a completely natural remedy with no side effects, simply spray and watch as your dog stays calm through storms, visits to the vet and more. When you get it, spray once on the bottom of each paw and once behind each ear for the best results.

The usual dosage for treating dogs is 1 mg/lb every 8 to 12 hours (two to three times daily) but a single dose can be doubled to 2mg/lb if needed, usually in response to a snake bite.

You shouldn’t give any amount to your dog without checking with your vet first as the dosage can differ depending on several factors including your pet’s medical history and breed. It’s also important to determine the cause of your dog’s symptoms before administering the medicine. If your dog is small it’s better to use the children’s formula which contains smaller amounts of active ingredient making it easier to measure out an accurate dose. The chart below shows the recommended dosage.

If you decide to use the liquid you should only use the children’s liquid formulation which is alcohol free (but does contain sodium). At the standard concentration every 5 mL of liquid contains 12.5 mg of diphenhydramine and can be given at a dosage of 0.4 mL/lb. For reference a US teaspoon measurement is 5 mL.

It takes about 30 minutes to start working. If you’re using it to treat anxiety in dogs or to prevent motion sickness you should administer the medicine 30 minutes before the stressful event or journey is expected.


6. Zyrtec (cetirizine)

Make sure the formulation of Zyrtec you are using contains cetirizine as the only active ingredient. The decongestant formulation “Zyrtec-D” also contains pseudoephedrine which is dangerous for dogs and should not be used. The active ingredients contained within each product are usually shown clearly on both the front and back of the packaging.

If you use a generic form of the medicine you can get a lot more for your money. We recommend Kirkland Signature Aller-Tec
, which is the exact same thing as Zyrtec except you get 365 tablets instead of 70 for the same price or even cheaper.

Please speak to your vet for professional advice before giving Zyrtec to your dog and read the packaging carefully to make sure cetirizine is the only active ingredient. The table below contains the recommended daily dosage for treating different types of dermatitis:

For treating…


Atopic Dermatitis

0.5 mg/lb every 24 hours

Allergic Dermatitis

0.5 mg/lb every 12 hours

7. Claritin (loratadine)


These are great, easy-going drugs used for common cases of the itches or the first sign of hives. I use them liberally in my practice, but they don’t lack side effects. Other OTC antihistamines may also be effective for allergic reactions in pets, but Benadryl, Zyrtec and Claritin are most commonly recommended.

Be warned: Some pets will feel the sedating effects more than others, especially those who are also taking mood-altering drugs, certain pain relievers and seizure medications. You should also note that the dosage can be significantly different for pets than for humans, so call your vet first and ask if it’s OK.

8. Neosporin and antibiotic gels

Minor cuts and abrasions love this gel. I tend to recommend them only for the slightest of scrapes, and they should be applied onto clean skin in a very light coat for only a day or two — that’s all it should take.

Some issues to be aware of with these ointments: People tend to buy fancy ones with tetracaine, hydrocortisone and other ingredients that can hinder healing for some wounds. And pets like to lick wounds, especially when their attention is drawn to them via smelly gels. In these cases, they’re contraindicated –– the risk is greater than the reward.

9. Corticosteroid sprays, gels and creams

Standard OTC corticosteroid sprays and creams, such as hydrocortisone, can be lifesavers in a pinch when itchy red patches and hot spots appear. But you should know that the sprays can be stingy (they typically contain alcohol). The gels and creams are great — unless, of course, they attract your pet to lick the itchy spot.

10. Antifungal sprays, gels and creams

An OTC product containing miconazole (or one of several other common antifungal drugs) will sometimes resolve uncomplicated fungal infections. Unfortunately, most fungal infections in pets aren’t uncomplicated. Still, I’ve often sent clients to the drugstore for an OTC antifungal to keep a pet comfortable until they can come in for an office visit.

These are my top OTC human meds for pets, but always, always, always check with your own vet before giving your pets any medications.


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