We are all used to running to the drug store to buy over the counter medications for ourselves before we call our doctor. Is the same tendency wise for your dog? Don’t forget that most dogs are not human size and animals have a very different way of metabolizing things. Medications that are tested safe for humans may not have been tested at all for other species. There are quirks about them that your vet will know.
If you are tempted to “home medicate” your dog, read this first.
Ibuprofen and other Non-steroidal pain medications
This is a common drug owners think is safe for dogs because it is a first choice among humans to manage everything from headaches to joint pain. It is not a good idea for pets because this class of drugs has been found to cause gastric ulceration in dogs. Your dog cannot tell you that his stomach burns each time he takes it and before long, a stomach ulcer could rupture and become life-threatening. Your vet can prescribe medications labeled for dogs that have been shown to cause this issue much more rarely. Ibuprofen is on the NEVER give to dogs list unless for some reason you vet specifically directs you to and gives you an individual dose plan.
For a long time, it seemed like every phone caller was directed to try giving Benadryl to their dog. It became a panacea to help a Pandora’s box of symptoms from itching to insomnia. Although diphenhydramine is generally considered safe, it might not do much for your dog except make her sleepy (and cannot be consistently expected to even do that). Studies in humans have suggested that older antihistamines may contribute to dementia ¹. We do not know for sure their effects on dogs because there are few studies. Even readily available drugs are still drugs and none are completely without side effects. Let your vet help you address whatever symptom your dog has with the most current drug at a dose that is most likely to be safe and effective.
Visine® eye drops
Some dogs experience itchy red eyes from allergic disease. Owners are used to reaching for the Visine for their own eyes, but do not be tempted to apply Visine to your dog’s eyes. Visine is Tetrahydrozoline HCl and it works by constricting the blood vessels in the eye. Although constricting blood vessels will visibly reduce ocular redness, you will have done nothing to address the reason for the redness. Serious problems like glaucoma can cause red eyes and since you cannot ask your dog if he has pain, so it is best not to mask issues with a medication that has not been tested for use in animal patients.
We have all been tempted to self-diagnose and dig up that old vial of pills from the last time we were ill. Do not be tempted to do this for your dog. Old human medications are even worse that using old medications that were originally prescribed for an animal patient. Even though it might not seem like it, your vet is using diagnostic skills and tests to be sure that the medication chosen is appropriate and likely to be effective. If you use old human medications, the best case scenario is that you will do nothing for your dog and the worst case is that you will poison your dog with a drug his species cannot metabolize. Make sure your vet sees your dog and prescribes a medication for that specific pet with that specific issue at that exact time.
Be aware of children’s cough or cold medication syrups. Some of these medications have artificial sweeteners that could be very toxic to pets. Avoid these unless your vet has given you specific instructions for which and what dose.
Dogs are not small humans, even though they act like it sometimes. Do not be tempted to try to manage issues with at home medications. Sometimes you can make your dog sicker or even complicate what your vet can give to help if you have administered these drugs at home before calling him/her. Keep your dog safe. Give her dog tested medications appropriately chosen and dosed by your vet.
Psychosomatics. 1994 Jul-Aug;35(4):399-402. Diphenhydramine-induced delirium in elderly hospitalized patients with mild dementia. Tejera CA, Saravay SM, Goldman E, Gluck L.