8 Over-the-Counter Medications that are Safe for Dogs

three golden retriever puppies eating

Your dog is a valued and loved member of your family. When they’re not feeling well, you want to do everything you can in order to help them feel better, even if it means digging into your own medicine cabinet. Before you give your dog any over-the-counter medications, make sure you check with your vet! Many OTC medications for humans are downright dangerous for your dogs. Even those that are considered “safe” can easily become dangerous or fatal if given in improper doses. In general, these are some over-the-counter medications that are safe for dogs and are a good start when talking with your vet:

Warning – Stay Away from Pain Medication!

In general, over-the-counter pain medications are not safe for dogs. Two of the most common, acetaminophen and ibuprofen, tend to be extremely dangerous for dogs and can even be fatal. Even a slight overdose of these in your dog can upset your dog’s stomach, destroy liver cells, damage kidneys, increase bleeding risk, and more. Buffered aspirin is often considered a safer option when it comes to over-the-counter pain relief, but can still cause issues.

Most vets recommend avoiding most aspirins as they are often unsafe for dogs. The best bet when it comes to pain relief for your dog is to talk to your vet about an aspirin made specifically for dogs or another avenue of pain relief. Not only will this get you a safe recommendation, but you will also get you the information you need in order to give your dog the proper dosage.

8 Over-the-Counter Medications that are Safe for Dogs

With that said, there are some over-the-counter medications that are considered generally safe for dogs. Here are a few of them:

1. Antihistamine

Many dogs suffer from seasonal allergies. Thankfully, an antihistamine is generally safe for dogs and can help alleviate allergy symptoms or allergic reactions. Much like in humans, drowsiness or hyperactivity can be some of the side effects with these medications. The most common OTC allergy brands tend to be Benadryl, Zyrtec, and Claritin.

It’s important to make sure that whatever antihistamine you use is only an antihistamine. Many over-the-counter allergy medications contain other ingredients that can be harmful to your dog. In particular, you need to be aware of decongestants as these are not safe for dogs.

In general, the dosage for an antihistamine is 1 milligram per pound of your dog and it can be given twice in a day. However, you will want to make sure you check with your vet to verify the proper dosage for your dog.

Beware of Cold and Cough Medicines

When your dog is coughing, it may be tempting to administer a cough medicine. However, you do want to be wary of cold and cough medicines. Much like OTC allergy meds, cold and cough meds often have other ingredients, like decongestants, that can be dangerous for dogs.

On top of that, coughing can be a sign of something more serious in your dog, so it’s better to take your pup to the vet first before giving them OTC medication to treat it. In terms of an OTC med for coughing, Robitussin DM tends to be relatively safe for dogs. But, you will not want to give it to your dog until you’ve talked to your vet about it.

2. Pepto-Bismol and Kaopectate

Stomach trouble can make your dog absolutely miserable. Pepto-Bismol and Kaopectate can be a big help and also are safe for dogs. If your dog is vomiting, has diarrhea, or just has an upset stomach in general, Pepto-Bismol can help provide some relief.

General dosage is 1 teaspoon per every 20 pounds of weight in your dog. It can be administered every 4-6 hours within a 24-hour period. However, if your dog vomits up the Pepto-Bismol or is showing signs of bloat in dogs, you need to call your vet as soon as possible.

If your dog just seems to be having a bout of diarrhea and an upset stomach, you can also give them Kaopectate. This tends to be a better fit for smaller dogs than larger ones as the general dosage is one milliliter per pound of your dog. That’s a lot of Kaopectate to swallow for a larger dog!

Be Careful with Imodium!

Imodium is a common anti-diarrheal, but you need to be careful with it. Some breeds, especially those related to Collies, are prone to having adverse reactions to this OTC med. Collies, Australian Shepherds, Long-Haired Whippets, Shelties, and more all fall in this category and should not be given Imodium.

If your dog is allowed to have it, the general dosage for this OTC med is 1 milligram for every 20 pounds of weight in your dog. It can be administered every 4-6 hours. Checking with your vet before using this OTC med is a good idea and, if you have one of the previously listed dog breeds or a mixed dog breed, it may be best to avoid it altogether.

3. Zantac, Tagamet, and Pepcid-AC

Heartburn is another gastrointestinal discomfort and can be common in dogs that get into human snacks or food that they shouldn’t. Zantac, Tagamet, and Pepcid-AC are some of the more common over-the-counter medications for treating intermittent heartburn or stomach ulcer-related symptoms. Symptoms that persist can indicate something more serious and should be checked out by your veterinarian.

In general, the dosage for these is 1 tablet for dogs that weigh over 60 pounds, half of a tablet for dogs that weigh 20-60 pounds, and a quarter of a tablet for dogs that weigh less than 20 pounds. Again, it’s important to check with your vet first as the proper dosage for your dog may be different.

4. Dramamine

Many dogs suffer from motion sickness, which can make car trips uncomfortable and messy. Dramamine can help in a pinch, but it’s not the best option. Your vet can recommend some canine-specific medications for motion sickness that last longer and work faster.

If Dramamine is your only option, you’ll want to administer it at least a half hour before travel begins. In general, the dosage is 50 milligrams for large-sized dogs, 25 milligrams for medium-sized dogs, and 12.5 milligrams for small-sized dogs.

5. Antibiotic Creams & Hydrocortisone

When your dog has a wound or irritated skin, you can use some over-the-counter antibiotics and topical creams. These are generally safe for use on your dog as long as they don’t have steroids. Although OTC medications with steroids contain a lower percentage of them than prescription, they can delay and slow down the healing process. Hydrocortisone is a corticosteroid and is safe for use on your dog. It can be helpful for relieving raw, irritated, or itchy skin.

Still, you don’t want your dog ingesting it. The important thing to remember when using these topical treatments is to cover the area where they’ve been applied to prevent your dog from licking it off. You can dress the area to cover it and then outfit your dog with the dreaded “cone of shame” to make sure they are not ingesting these creams.

Also, when it comes to cleaning wounds, you can use hydrogen peroxide. It’ll work to clean out the wound, but antibacterial soap and water are more effective.

6. Lubricating Eye Drops

Dry, itchy eyes can be a miserable nightmare for dogs. If your dog is blinking or squinting a lot, or showing other signs of eye irritation, you can use lubricating eye drops to help provide them some relief. However, you need to make sure the eye drops are lubricating only, which means avoiding Visine or other medicated eye drops.

If lubricating eye drops do not help, go to the vet. If you see that your dog’s eyes are swollen, red, and/or have a discharge, it’s especially important to go to the vet. Eye issues like infections, foreign objects, or scratches need immediate attention from a professional and your vet can help you. Symptoms like these can also be an early sign of something more serious, like cataracts, so you want to make sure you visit your vet.

7. Saline Nasal Sprays

Whether suffering from allergies or working through a cold, your dog’s nose can end up taking the brunt of the discomfort. They may have a dry nose or be overly congested, both of which can make them feel lethargic and miserable.

Using a pediatric or saline nasal spray on your dog is generally safe and can help provide them some relief. It’s important to make sure you are not using any other over-the-counter nasal medication unless it has been specifically prescribed or recommended by your vet.

8. Glucosamine

Glucosamine is an over-the-counter medication that is often included in a long-term care plan for arthritis. It’s one of the best OTC arthritis medicines for dogs and can help with joint pain caused by arthritis.

Here, too, it’s not something you want to start giving your dog without talking to your vet. If your dog is suffering from arthritis, your vet may recommend this OTC med in combination with Chondroitin Sulfate.

Before giving your dog any type of over-the-counter medication, even any of the ones on this list, it’s important to talk to your vet first! Depending on your dog’s size, breed, other health conditions, other medications, and more, what they can or can’t have and how much they can have will change. It’s more than worth the extra time to make sure what you’re giving your dog is safe for them and the best option available for what they need.