Depending on the medical conditions your dog may be dealing with, or even an emergency situation, you might wonder whether any medications intended for people might help your dog get better or provide some pain relief.
But you should never give your dog any pills or medications made for humans—prescription or over-the-counter—without talking with your vet. Even a small or single dose of a medication can be toxic, potentially causing vomiting or diarrhea, gastrointestinal bleeding, seizures, liver failure, or kidney failure. For instance, non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Advil (also known as ibuprofen) or Aleve can cause organ damage or prove fatal. Some dogs might have an allergic reaction to a medication, while others might not. The fact is that many human medications are deadly for dogs, so it’s never worth taking a risk on your dog’s life, however well-intentioned you might be.
If you want to know whether any human medications can be given to a dog, ask your vet first. Just because you heard that another pet owner gave a certain medication to their dog doesn’t mean it will be safe for yours.
Which common human medications are sometimes given to pets? And how do I know whether it’s safe for my dog?
To find out whether a medication is safe for your particular dog, consult with your vet and make sure you understand the dosage instructions, potential side effects (vomiting, lethargy, etc.), and duration of use. Your dog’s weight, age, size, and underlying medical conditions are among the factors your vet will consider in deciding if any human medications can be given to your dog.
Some medications are commonly used “off label” for dogs, meaning that the usage is (potentially) safe but not listed on the actual label—and not FDA-approved. An example is the drug gabapentin, which is often used as an anti-seizure medication for people with epilepsy, but some vets also prescribe gabapentin “off label” for pain management in dogs, to treat nerve pain and arthritis. Other examples include the following:
- Trazodone: Developed for people, Trazodone is also commonly used to treat anxiety and stress in dogs, either for short- or longer-term management. The dosage varies based on breed, size, and specific condition(s) being treated. As it does for people, this drug increases serotonin levels in the brain.
- Amoxicillin: In people, this oral antibiotic is often prescribed to treat bacterial infections. Vets use Amoxicillin for dogs to treat these infections too, including urinary tract infections, and skin and respiratory infections.
- Benadryl: Used over the counter to treat allergies in people, this medicine has been given to dogs for help with itching, motion sickness, travel anxiety, and allergies/hives, but it’s critical to know the correct dosage for your dog’s weight and size, and whether liquid or tablet dosage is best. It’s also essential to monitor your dog for side effects such as rapid breathing, drowsiness, and dry mouth.
- Pepto Bismol: For people, this medicine is used to treat conditions such as acid reflux, indigestion, heartburn, and nausea. For dogs, it can similarly be used to treat symptoms such as nausea or diarrhea, as well as stomach ulcers. However, prolonged use in dogs may lead to constipation and toxicity.
- Neosporin: This topical antibiotic ointment is typically used to treat minor wounds and burns in people, and it can also be used for wounds and scrapes in dogs, protecting the skin from bacteria, dirt, and debris, and helping to speed up healing. The trouble is, dogs may try to lick their wounds—and licking the ointment could cause gastrointestinal problems.
There are, of course, countless other medications, as well as supplements, that are used for human ailments that you may wonder about using to treat your dog. If you’re interested in integrative medicine, or if you take your dog to a holistic vet, they might offer alternative suggestions or modalities for pain management, for instance. Some herbs, essential oils, and natural treatments/remedies for people can be problematic for dogs so talk to a holistic/integrative vet for safety information before administering. If you want to feel absolutely confident in your choices, or you’d simply like an additional perspective, you can always get a second opinion from another vet.
What if my dog accidentally swallows medications intended for people?
First, always keep medications out of sight and out of reach of both children and pets. Keep medications locked up, and make sure that pills or liquid medicines are never carelessly lying around on a countertop or table, able to be accidentally tipped onto the floor.
If your dog does somehow get hold of medications, you might either catch them in the act or observe signs of gastrointestinal distress, such as vomiting or diarrhea. Err on the side of caution. If you think your dog may have swallowed human medications, regard it as an emergency. Call poison control, your vet, or an urgent-care facility. You’ll likely get some importance guidance for next steps over the phone. If recommended, or if you can’t reach anyone, get to the vet as quickly as possible—or, if the incident occurs after business hours, or late at night, take your dog to the nearest urgent-care vet clinic. It’s a good idea to keep the phone number of an emergency clinic and poison control handy and posted in a prominent place beforehand (such as the kitchen fridge), so you’re always prepared—and if you’re out of town and you have a pet sitter staying with your dog, that person will be able to act quickly if needed.
How can I know which human medications are safe for dogs?
Don’t just do an online search to determine whether a human medication is safe for dogs; there’s plenty of misinformation (and incomplete information!) out there. No one knows your dog’s specific needs better than your vet, and whether a medication is only safe for short-term use, or if it can be used over the long-term if needed. (Giving excessive amounts of medication to a dog, or prolonged use over time, may prove toxic, resulting in symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, and even neurological issues or kidney and liver damage.)
So regardless of what you’ve read or heard about the safety of a particular medication, or what a friend might recommend, always consult with your vet before giving your dog human medications of any kind—no matter the dosage—to protect your dog from potential health risks and side effects. Medications should only be given to a dog under a vet’s guidance: no exceptions.
If you’re a veterinary professional, learn more about The Farmers Dog in our vet pro portal.