It is always best to talk to your veterinary healthcare professional before giving any over-the-counter medications to your dog for several reasons.
First, since human doses and doses for dogs are different, you need to know the correct dose to administer. Second, drug interactions can be dangerous so your veterinarian should review your dog’s medical record to prevent any adverse events. Third, many over-the-counter (OTC) medications are NOT safe for dogs Do not assume that drugs are safe for your dog just because they can be purchased without a prescription; making that assumption can lead to toxic effects.
Antihistamines. Diphenhydramine (Benadryl®), cetirizine (Zyrtec®), and loratadine (Claritin®) are commonly used antihistamines that relieve allergy symptoms or counteract allergic reactions. Antihistamines are usually safe but can make some dogs drowsy and others hyperactive. OTC antihistamine preparations may contain other ingredients such as decongestants that are not safe for dogs. Read the label carefully to ensure that the product only contains antihistamine. Check with your veterinary healthcare team to make sure that the antihistamine you have is suitable for your dog.
Antidiarrheals/Antinauseants. Bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol®) is commonly kept in medicine cabinets for digestive upsets and can be administered to your dog. If your dog has never taken it before, check with your veterinary healthcare team before dosing. It can be dosed at 1 teaspoon for 5-10 pounds of body weight to treat both diarrhea and vomiting. But if your dog vomits up the Pepto-Bismol, call your veterinarian.
Kaopectate® is another anti-diarrheal that is typically safe and soothes upset stomachs. But at a dose of 1 ml per pound, a large dog needs a lot of Kaopectate. Your veterinarian can prescribe a medication designed for dogs.
Loperamide (Imodium®). This medication is a good treatment for diarrhea in a pinch and should be safe for your dog if dosed at 1 mg per 20 pounds of body weight. Only give one dose. If the diarrhea does not resolve, contact your veterinarian. Accurate diagnosis of the cause of the diarrhea will allow targeted treatment of the problem.
Famotidine (Pepcid AC®) and cimetidine (Tagamet®). These medications are used by to treat or prevent heartburn in people, and they work on dogs too. By decreasing the production of gastrointestinal acids, these medications can make dogs feel better. It is okay to use them intermittently for dietary indiscretions, but if your dog’s stomach issues persist, see your veterinarian to determine the underlying problem.
Steroid sprays, gels, and creams. OTC steroid preparations contain a lower percentage of active ingredients than prescription steroids and are usually very safe. The upside is that they decrease the itchiness of insect bites and hot spots. The downside is that steroids can delay healing especially if the wound is infected. If your dog’s wound does not look better after a couple of applications, have it evaluated by your veterinarian.
Topical antibiotic ointment. Neosporin® is a common topical antibiotic used on minor cuts and scrapes. This ointment is pretty safe in dogs and should be in every first aid kit. Verify that the ointment only contains antibiotic and not steroids, which can actually delay healing. Make sure to clean your dog’s wound before applying the antibiotic ointment and cover the wound so your dog does not lick the ointment off.
Anti-fungal sprays, gels, and creams. Most fungal infections are too complicated to be successfully treated with OTC products; however, you may use them until you can get your dog to a veterinary clinic. Since some fungal infections can be transmitted from pets to humans, it is important to treat these types of infections quickly and effectively.
Hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide can be used topically to clean out a superficial flesh wound and can also be given orally to induce vomiting if your dog ingests something he should not have (i.e., your medications, rodenticides, toxic plants). However, vomiting may cause more harm than good, so PRIOR to giving an oral dose of hydrogen peroxide, contact your veterinarian, or emergency veterinary hospital before you give your dog an oral dose and to find out how much to give.
Mineral oil. This relatively benign liquid has a variety of uses. You can place a couple of drops in your dog’s eyes before giving him a bath to avoid irritation from soap.
Artificial tears. If your dog squints or blinks excessively, he may have dry eyes or could have a bit of dust or debris in them. Even the tiniest speck in your eye is annoying and dry eyes are irritating. Sometimes a little lubricating eye drop is all that is needed to clear debris out. However, if your dog continues to squint or blink, take him to your veterinarian right away. He may have an eye infection, a scratch on his cornea, or a foreign body that needs to be removed. If your dog’s eyes look red or swollen, or if you notice a discharge, contact your veterinarian immediately. Quick response time will relieve your dog’s discomfort and may prevent permanent vision loss.