As a veterinarian and an owner of two dogs, I can completely understand the desire of pet owners to try to take care of problems at home if they can, before taking their dog or cat to the vet. There are times when the need for a veterinary visit is obvious—a very sick dog, bloody diarrhea, large cuts or wounds. But there are plenty of times your pet may have a minor issue that you yourself wouldn’t necessarily seek professional care for.
I often am asked about or told about giving over-the-counter home remedies to pets at home, and so I thought that I would give you the true low-down on a few common medications that are often used at home.
Baby Aspirin (technically, a coated, buffered 81mg tablet of aspirin)
“Maisie was limping and so I gave her a baby aspirin to help her out.”
Aspirin is classified as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) and has been used for over a century in people as a pain reliever. Can it be used safely in pets? Yes and no. The number one side effect of NSAIDs in people is stomach upset, which can be severe enough to cause stomach and colon ulcers. Dogs are generally much more sensitive to the GI side effects of NSAIDs and cats are extremely sensitive to NSAIDs. The therapeutic dose for aspirin as a pain reliever in dogs is about 10mg/kg. However, dogs taking this dose for more than a few doses are very likely to have GI side effects and most veterinarians would never recommend it for regular use. If we take a 50-pound dog as an example, which is about 22 kg, 10mg/kg would be 220mg – about 3 “baby aspirins.” So, giving your Labrador one baby aspirin is probably safe, but also probably about as effective as you taking ¼ of an ibuprofen tablet.
There are plenty of NSAIDs that are effective and pretty safe for use in dogs, but these are mostly prescription. If your dog has some arthritis, just ask your vet what the options are.
Important notes here—NEVER give a dog ibuprofen—I have seen several dogs die from just one dose of ibuprofen causing a stomach ulcer. Also, NEVER give cats any NSAIDs, but especially Tylenol. Tylenol will kill your cat, even in small doses.
So overall, aspirin gets a thumbs down for its practical use in dogs.
“We’ve been giving Betty a Benadryl twice a day for her itching.”
“I give Jimbo a Benadryl before we take him in the car to try and sedate him.”
The great thing about Benadryl is that it is an extremely safe medication for people and for pets. As an antihistamine, its main use is to try to decrease allergic inflammation in the body. As many people experience, it can also cause drowsiness. So, same in pets?
I would describe Benadryl as “maybe/minimally helpful” for the treatment of allergies in dogs. I wish it worked better, because allergies are the number one problem we deal with in dogs! I think one of the problems is that dog and cat allergies are almost always skin problems, vs human allergies which are more commonly sneezing/eyes/throat. We will often discuss giving Benadryl as something safe and cheap to try, but I’ve just never been impressed with it in 17 years of practice. Same thing to be said of other antihistamines like Zyrtec and Claritin. Also, dogs take a lot more Benadryl than we do, about 1 mg per pound, so your 50-pound dog would take 2 of the 25mg tablets, up to three times a day.
The one problem that Benadryl does seem helpful with is acute allergic reactions. Like when a dog comes in from being outside and suddenly the face is swollen, presumably from an insect bite. We will often recommend giving it Benadryl and then bringing it in for monitoring.
Last, as far as sedation, there have been several studies that confirm Benadryl is definitely not a good sedative. Yes, it can make us drowsy when we are relaxed, but as far as decreasing anxiety or causing sedation during times of stress—nope, not helpful.
Overall, Benadryl gets a “sure, give it a try, won’t hurt” rating.
“Fluffy was having bad diarrhea and we’ve been giving her Imodium for a few days.”
Imodium is an anti-diarrheal medication that works by decreasing the overactive motility in the gut. Although it can indeed work, it is generally thought of as a “band aid” because it never addresses the underlying cause of the diarrhea. Unfortunately, in dogs, the number one cause of diarrhea is colitis, which is often caused by an imbalance of bacteria in the large bowel. Imodium often seems to have little effect on this and when your dog is having frequent accidents in the house and waking you up at night, they may be on the verge of getting very ill from the colitis. Also, if too much Imodium is given and it actually works, you may have a new problem on your hands—constipation.
So, Imodium gets a “ok to give it just once” rating.
“I cleaned up her wound with some peroxide”.
“She ate a sock and I made her throw up by syringing her with hydrogen peroxide.”
I am actually a fan of using hydrogen peroxide for cleaning dirty wounds. It doesn’t quite sting like alcohol and it’s a great initial way to clean a wound that has a lot of caked on blood, fluid, and dirt (as many dog wounds tend to be!). Its enzymatic activity can be seen right away and it’s an overall great disinfectant. The problem with hydrogen peroxide and wounds is that it will eventually delay wound healing. If used regularly, you will have a very clean, but non-healing wound.
So, for a dirty/contaminated wound, I give a yes vote for using hydrogen peroxide to help you get it clean initially, and then call your vet to see if the wound needs additional care such as stitches or antibiotics.
You will often hear of people using peroxide to induce vomiting. Yes, it does work most of the time, however it works by irritating the stomach lining to the point of nausea and vomiting. If you’re in a pinch and your dog just ate something problematic, it can be helpful. However, my main worry is that sometimes your dog got into something bad and irritating, and then we are making the problem worse by irritating their stomach with hydrogen peroxide. There are many case reports of dogs getting a hemorrhagic gastritis from hydrogen peroxide—i.e., vomiting blood. And now we can’t really determine if the dog is sick from the bone, or sick from the peroxide.
So, if your dog ate something potentially toxic, I always recommend calling your vet or the ER vet where they will typically give apomorphine, a great “make them puke” medication that doesn’t irritate the stomach lining.
This list really only scratches the surface, but these are some common ones. Ask your veterinarian if you have questions about some home remedies and they will give you an honest answer if it’s worthwhile or a waste of your time.