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Dog Dangers: Common OTC Medications that are Poisoning Our Pets


Most owners of a dog with allergies, either seasonal or skin-related, are all too familiar with the redness, itching, and discomfort that our dogs can experience during a flare-up.

To ease our dogs’ discomfort and allergy symptoms, many veterinarians are recommending, even prescribing, certain human over-the-counter antihistimines as a safe, effective treatment for our dog’s itch and redness.

However, many pet parents are making a grave mistake when purchasing these medications. More and more antihistimines on store shelves today, marketed to humans, contain ingredients in addition to just the antihistimines. In an effort to create a one-pill solution to human allergy symptoms, drug manufacturers are adding decongestants into the mix. These decongestants, when given to a dog produce serious, often deadly side effects including increased heart rate, respiratory problems to hyperexcitability with muscle tremors, seizures, and hyperactivity. Vomiting, dilated pupils, increased body temperature, disorientation, heart rhythm abnormalities, even retinal detachment and blindness in some cases.

While it is perfectly safe, upon your veterinarian’s recommendation and dosage, to treat a dog’s allergies with over-the-counter antihistimines, certain brands containing a decongestant or other medication must be avoided.

To be safe, choose the following brands when shopping for your dogs:

Benadryl, Tavist, Claritin, Chlortrimeton, or an off-brand equivalent.

However, be certain that the brand you choose ONLY contains an antihistimine and NOT a decongestant. Specific brands to avoid are:

Contac, Actifed, Sudafed, Tavist-D, Claritin-D, or any other brand antihistimine with “D” added to the name, indicating that a decongestant has been added.  Many times a “D” will be added to the name to indicate the medicine includes a decongestant, but read your labels very carefully before dispensing any OTC pills to your pets, and do it only with your vet’s recommendation.

In any case, be sure to consult your veterinarian before administering any medications, particularly those designed for humans. If your dog ingests any OTC medication containing a decongestant, immediately seek out an emergency veterinarian.

73 Responses to Dog Dangers: Common OTC Medications that are Poisoning Our Pets
  1. […] An antihistamine, given immediately and at the right dosage, can save a dog’s life. Many times, a bug bite or bee sting, particularly around the dog’s face and mouth, can cause extreme swelling, even cutting off air supply. Every dog owner should have dog-safe antihistamines in their first aid kit. For information about antihistamines and which ones are appropriate for dogs, click here. […]

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    • florence fickes
      April 6, 2014 | 11:16 am

      Air pureifiers, are a must, you use shampoo, hair conditioners, soaps, perfumes, toothpaste, mouthwash, clothes detergent and conditioners, room sprays, etc. Many people keep their windows closed and run their heaters then air conditioners. That means all those scents are locked into the house. It is even worse if several people live in the home and have their own personal scents they use. You as well as your dog need to have a clean air space. Good Luck

  14. Nancy Thompson
    April 5, 2014 | 10:47 am

    I do not see Reactine mentioned in the notes, and was wondering if it is ok
    or even the Chlortripilon tablets.

  15. Mia
    April 4, 2014 | 8:19 pm

    I have a 9 year old westie rescue I give antigen shots every 2 weeks. He went to a derm vet and as per her orders, he is fed a variety of meats but not much poultry and very little vegs and rice which has so much yeast in it. My dog is yeast prone. He was on steroids 6 years and now is not taking it anymore. He is fed part raw but I home cook. I steam veg and give probiotics as well. He is a happy guy..

  16. D. Burns
    April 4, 2014 | 6:46 pm

    My vet has recommended Benedryl.

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  18. Beth
    November 20, 2013 | 2:14 pm

    What about Zyrtec? My vet told me to try it with my dog, Roscoe. Now I am really worried because I have been giving it to him for a few months!

    • Gail BAnta
      April 4, 2014 | 7:07 pm

      Zyrtec should be fine. I took my itchy allergic cocker spaniel to a canine allergist and she recommended I try Zyrtec. Follow vets instructions and you should be fine.

  19. Julie Jo
    November 19, 2013 | 8:18 pm

    I have an American Staffordshire Terrier that has had allergies since I got her at a year old. She has been taking at least two doses 50mg of Benedryl twice daily and sometimes three times a day for the past 5 years and is fine. This is about the safest medicine I can give her. She is so allergic that she cannot live outside. She does pretty well. Healthy and happy.

    • Terrie Jordan
      April 4, 2014 | 7:52 pm

      My American Staffordshire Terrior had the exact same problem. I hated giving him drugs all the time. I put him on several products called “Nzymes”, a quality seafood based dog food (Taste of the Wild) and a top grade Omega oil and he finally has stopped dragging his rear across the rug.

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  21. vkaforey
    November 19, 2013 | 5:24 pm

    could an allergy cause a dog to lick her bottom excessively I was told it could be an allergy by my vest Anyone else have this prblem or a solution

    • Bast Adams
      April 4, 2014 | 6:36 pm

      My Pomchi licks and also does what we call a “sit-n-spin”. Has your vet check her anal glands? The first thing my vet checked on my fur baby was her anal glands (which were good, thank heavens). He said she had an allergy and put her on prednisone. Did absolutely nothing for her licking and sit-n-spin routines. Benadryl actually worked for her. She’s 19 pounds, and one pill a day cleared her right up.

      Hope this helps.

  22. Barbara
    November 19, 2013 | 4:50 pm

    Has anyone tried that “Dynovite” they always advertise on the radio? I think it’s some kind of food supplement that contains some enzymes that are normally cooked out of regular dog food. They swear it takes care of allergies, yeast ear infections, etc.

    • Kristi Thorpe
      November 19, 2013 | 9:40 pm

      Yes And it works GREAT If you can get your dog to eat it. When I first got it she loved the stuff and it worked great. About 8 months later she hated it and would not eat it. Not sure why. I had to get up, she just would not eat it!

  23. Donna
    November 19, 2013 | 4:33 pm

    My friend’s dog, Benny the beagle is allergic to 5 things and gets a shot every other Wed. I have to give him Benadryl an hour before his shot. They say it is case he has a reaction to the shot. Luckily he hasn’t had bad reactions. Both Benny and my Ginger are on Wellness Core food.

  24. Louise
    November 19, 2013 | 4:13 pm

    I have started giving my english mastiff Quercetin + bromelain for summer allergies….I read it on Dr Mercola….seems to be working well

  25. Nancy
    November 19, 2013 | 3:58 pm

    All the different allergies no one has said a word about FLEAS being the problem
    Dogs can be very allergic to them.

  26. Helen Ware
    October 29, 2013 | 9:58 pm

    Our beagle has developed terrible nasal allergies. She has a condition called reverse sneezing and her nose is so congested that she breathes through her mouth. She sneezes and greenish yellow goop comes out. I have had her to three different vets. The only thing that they recommended was benedryl and it is not working at all. She really seems to be lackadaisical and miserable. She is normally a very active dog. Loves bunny “hunts” and runs with our Labs. It is sad to see her so miserable. I really think she needs an antibiotic and allergy testing. Why can’t they give her a decongestant? I am so frustrated. Are there any natural remedies that any one may be aware of?

    • Patricia
      November 19, 2013 | 6:14 pm

      Have them do a culture of the mucus. My Norwegian Elkhound developed what looked like a sinus infection – sneezing, green/yellow discharge – but turned out to be a rare bacterial infection that was resistant to every antibiotic available. My vet tried the ones that it was less resistant to, but nothing helped. I was going to take her to the nearest vet school to see if they could figure out what to do for her, but sadly, she went into renal failure (unrelated) and passed away before I could take her. But if my vet hadn’t done the culture, we wouldn’t have known about the infection.

  27. Zee
    July 10, 2013 | 12:45 am

    Hi…our Newfie has allergies and she gets Prednisone and Benadryl. Our vet said she could have the Benadryl but didn’t even mention the decongestant part. But I am curious…what happens to the dog is they get a decongestant? Thanks!

    • Caroline
      November 19, 2013 | 5:22 pm

      It says in the article “These decongestants, when given to a dog produce serious, often deadly side effects including increased heart rate, respiratory problems to hyperexcitability with muscle tremors, seizures, and hyperactivity. Vomiting, dilated pupils, increased body temperature, disorientation, heart rhythm abnormalities, even retinal detachment and blindness in some cases.”

  28. Lori
    July 9, 2013 | 10:05 pm

    also watch for acetaminophen added to cold medications!

  29. Deb
    June 28, 2013 | 6:41 am

    My vet advised that a standard Benadryl is good for every 25lbs of dog – so 70lb dog can get TWO regular Benadryl. Have two goldens that get pre-medicated for shots and during high allergen seasons.

  30. Michelle Ford-Copley
    June 27, 2013 | 9:18 pm

    I really hate it when folks make broad statements about ‘feeding raw’ feeding ‘grain free’ go the ‘homeopathic route’ In the end our babies are different from each other like we are. I never feed mine the usual suspects for poisoning like onions, chocolate etc but I also know that growing up, before I knew any better we routinely gave our pets candy, fed them grapes and a plethora of other‘big no-nos’ with no side effects. I now prefer to err on the side of caution and totally have them abstain from such things but just another example of our babies all being different. It depends on the animal – what might work miracles for one might be the worst thing ever for another.

    • Andrew
      April 5, 2014 | 8:04 am

      Raw meats and no grains are what dog’s diets are supposed to be like, and so far I’ve only seen people say “I do this, and it helps”. What’s the problem? Dogs have only been domesticated for maybe 30,000 years. That isn’t very many generations away from wolves. It’s no wonder that they haven’t adapted to eating foods made with mostly grain, and only cooked meats.

      (Unfortunately, I know this is a really old post I’m responding to, but I’m hoping my response will help other readers think.)

  31. Tina
    June 27, 2013 | 4:26 pm

    I don’t understand how raw feeding will treat a dogs allergies if they are allergic to things outdoors or even indoors like dust mites? I have seasonal allergies, ragweed and hay fever. The minute my ragweed allergy popped up this spring, itchy eyes, red, etc I saw the same thing happen to one of my Tzu’s. The vet and I agreed to start with Benadryl, 25mg, yes that’s right it won’t hurt them, up to 3x a day and his eyes stopped weeping, his paws stopped itching and the redness inside the paws went away. Feeding him raw food would have stopped none of this. If you need to try something for itchy skin etc why not try a grain free food first? Worked for mine as well, but every dog will be different, thus caution on the side of error and listen to your gut.

    • Andrew
      April 5, 2014 | 8:10 am

      Enzymes. That is the simple answer. As an example: Human vegetarians can eat all the spinach they want, and take extra iron pills and still be anemic. This is because enzymes in red meat are needed to absorb iron properly. We don’t produce this enzyme, but cows do, so a nice steak, the redder the better, twice a week will cure many anemias. Overcooking will destroy the enzyme, so a well-done steak won’t work for us, and dog food won’t give any enzymatic benefits to our pooches.

  32. Pam Brafdley
    June 27, 2013 | 9:06 am

    I am very new to this but with your permission I would like to ask a question ive got a jack russell x and he has been having trouble we have taken him vet his stayed over while test were done X rays Scan’s his been fetching up like a jell his throat must be very sore our vet said he has a very healthy chest etc but he has like a sore throat im at a loss at times I just cry to see him like this our vet just said it was a virus but its still going on his 10 yrs old I would just like to easy his throat .

  33. Lenora KIng
    June 12, 2013 | 5:33 pm

    love dogington post. thank you for all you do for us pet owners.

  34. Cynthia
    April 24, 2013 | 8:57 am

    I am so glad I learned about the “Dogington Post” – What a great publication (my #1 favorite!) One thing I thought that should be mentioned -Currently I have two dogs, but have had dogs from the time I was a small child. We all know that just like children, each one if different in many ways. Over the years I’ve used a number of various cleaning and air freshening products in and for my home. I have learned that for two of my past dogs, the plug in air fresheners caused serious allergies. One of them almost chewed his paws off while the other was in constant itch and scratch mode. Once I eliminated the plug-ins no more problems. Unfortunately it took me a while to narrow it down. I started off with the typical conclusion that it was a “food” allergy. Also, over the years I’ve learned “smoke” from cigarettes, cigars and yes, the burning wood in the fireplace caused really bad ear infections for some (not all) of my pets. Always keep in mind that pets are people too, and while one might have an allergy the other(s) may not. One should never “assume” that an allergic reaction is actually an allergy and just because something is good for the goose, it isn’t always good for the gander.

    • Tina
      July 10, 2014 | 12:28 pm

      Cynthia, thanks for the info! I think this may be my dog’s problem!

  35. Patsy
    April 19, 2013 | 5:25 am

    Barbara in response to your question why they don’t advise raw feeding may I answer that question? Raw feeding would make my 2 dogs very poorly. Sadly we discovered both my boys are allergic to many meats, one to lamb, chicken and milk the other to every red meat, chicken, fish, soy bean, milk and lots more.

    Raw feeding in this instance would be suicidal my dogs would itch themselves raw and chew themselves to pieces. I wish there was a magic wand to prevent this as my dogs suffer on a day to day basis :-(

    We now use a homeopathic vet which helps to a degree but has not resolved my dogs problems.

    • kris
      June 27, 2013 | 9:10 am

      they are probably allergic to the cooked meats but not the raw. cooking changes everything so i would start with a raw protein not found in many pet foods like pork and see how that went…and no raw pork is not dangerous. but i have fed raw for 12+ years and i have a dog that itches himself to pieces every march thru september and has tested for pines/etc. tired many meds and nothing seems to help much except keeping asmuch pollen as possible off him by wiping him down and frequent bathing in soaps designed to keep the staph infections he gets onhis skin from scratching so much.

    • Jennifer
      November 19, 2013 | 10:11 pm

      My poor girl Missy is allergic to lamb, grains, chicken beef you name it, we have to be very ingredient specific to what she can eat. It took us at least 3 years to find the perfect food that she isn’t allergic to. We still give her 1-2 benadryl a night to ensure the non-itching. And we use a hypoallergenic baby fragrance free lotion that is non toxic on her poor little puppy tummy every night. We also tried raw feeding, not cooked, but raw and my poor little girl developed gastroenteritis twice with different types of meats, some dogs it’s great for others not so much.. good luck everyone!!!

  36. Barbara`ODay
    April 18, 2013 | 9:09 pm

    Why can’t you guys really recommend something that will stop 99% of the allergies in their tracks with 100% SAFETY!! RAW FEEDING!! You can feed your dogs raw chicken, beef or venison for example… and especially the chicken is to be fed with the bones that when raw are totally safe!! I have been feeding my dogs this way with total safety for over 16 years now and I have “cured” at least 25 different dogs that had terrible allergies by simply having the owner change to raw feeding! If they want to get more info on it, there are some sites on FB like “raw feeding” or “raw and meaty bones” or here is a faq sheet that is full of great information:

    • Brenda
      June 12, 2013 | 6:01 pm

      I’m an advocate for raw diets however it is not 100% “safe” as there is always the risk of bacteria when dealing with raw meat.

    • Caroline
      November 19, 2013 | 5:18 pm

      My 13 year old poodle has been raw fed all his life…raw feeding does not mean your pet will never get allergies. He developed allergies 3 years ago…started with beef…now he is allergic to all meats.

      • Chuck
        November 19, 2013 | 10:59 pm

        Yeah I’m there with my dog she is a Pit. She is highly allergic to flea or insect bites. She can’t eat beef,pork,chicken, turkey because that only makes it worse. I have her on Taste of the Wild lamb.I was told by a older man that has been breeding dogs since the 60′s that there is a deficiency in amino acids with skin allergies, and he recommended something called RH health tonic. That u can get at Green River dog supplies ,but the company is in Europe. I haven’t tried it yet but I have tried everything else including raw feeding. Allergies are a big problem.

  37. Linda
    April 16, 2013 | 2:02 pm

    My Chihuahua has a sensitive stomach…. she stopped eating
    her food and treats… I heard her stomach churning and knew that
    there was something really wrong…. took her to the vet who recommended
    Pepcid and no more brown rice (I make my own dogfood) she is doing much better.

  38. tracy
    April 16, 2013 | 11:16 am

    It’s also important to avoid OTC drugs that are flavored-e.g. Children’s Grape Flavored Claritin. These flavored drugs contain artificial sweeteners that are toxic to animals.

  39. Beth
    April 16, 2013 | 2:24 am

    My little girl (Chihuahua) has problems with stuffy/congested sounding nasal passages and breathing. After several tests to determine the problem, the vet settled on allergies and suggested that I use Benadryl but also to go to the store and find a decongestant (his exact words were to look for a product with a “D” in the name!) I always research anyway and I found online that human decongestants are NOT for dogs. I can’t believe he advised me to do that! Anyway I found a natural homeopathic remedy made just for dogs that is helping her.

    • amber
      June 12, 2013 | 3:45 pm

      Go to Tractor Supply and get something called VetRx it is All natural and can be used for a variety of things. You can put a drop or 2 in each nostil to help with congestion. I use for my goats and chickens as well. It also helps with ear mites and legmites on poultry. If you cannot find in dog/pet section try poultry or rabbit it is all the same stuff. Good luck also a vaporizer/humidifier might help as well.

    • Becky Reed
      June 12, 2013 | 5:13 pm

      I hope you picked a different vet after that

    • Jane
      June 12, 2013 | 6:27 pm

      Oh my!! I hope you told that Vet about his error. He might prescribe decongestants to someone else who wouldn’t do the research first, like you did! Good catch!

    • pauline potter
      November 26, 2013 | 3:14 am

      Can I ask what you use as my dog has allergies that cant b pinpointed and steroids are the only thing that helpes but now she has a weight problem too because of the steroids!!

  40. Ginney Gun
    April 15, 2013 | 7:21 pm

    I give my dogs RnA Drops – they are totally natural and great for them – also inflammation and itching is a sign of magnesium deficiency. Try magnesium instead!

    • jeri Jo
      November 19, 2013 | 11:20 pm

      true about magnesium . my vet mentioned. You can get that from peanut butter or ask about doggie vitamin supplement he gave me some as I make his meat food with vegs but in case I leave something out.lots of great recipes healthy and no by products.

  41. john gurney
    April 15, 2013 | 6:43 pm

    I volunteer at the Wildlife Center of Texas working with baby squirrels, possums, and the like. We routinely give these animals Benadryl-it works great with no ill effects that I am aware of.

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  43. Maureen
    April 15, 2013 | 6:15 pm

    I have had my vet suggest human medication for my dogs with diarrhea and when he did I asked specifically how much and how often and if one brand was better then others.
    I guess the best rule of thumb is to ask those questions of your vet you would for yourself or for your child.
    I happen to have a WONDERFUL vet that puts the animals life and comfort above how much money he can deposit at the end of the day and because of his attitude he tells me everything I need to know and covers all that I SHOULD have asked even when I forget. If there is something we didn’t cover I know I can call his office and quickly get my answer.
    If you get home and are unsure what and how to administer the suggested medication just call your vets office! DO NOT GUESS! Remember you are a paying patient and not an inconvenience to your vet’s office and they will check with the vet for the answers you need. IF they don’t or they huff into the phone and say they’ll get back to you and they never do YOU my friend, need a different vet.

  44. sandra
    April 15, 2013 | 6:07 pm

    I’ve been giving my Boston Benadryl for years now for his skin allergies. Finally discovered Lipiderm and Blue Basic and no more Benadryl!

    • tara schaller
      June 27, 2013 | 8:47 am

      did you ever have to get the dog allergy shots?? we are almost at that point..just awaiting allergy testing results. i would prefer to go natural.
      i would love your input as he already has seizure issues and is hypothyroid and on meds for both issues.

      • klp
        July 11, 2013 | 7:01 pm

        Hi, I have a dog with allergies to almost everything I tried a lot of different things natural and medicines, until I switched to a raw diet (no chicken, he is allergic to it), grain free, also check this website and the G.A.R.D diet, it may also help with seizures.

      • Carol Adams
        November 19, 2013 | 7:38 pm

        Hi Tara, I’ve been giving one of my dogs allergy shots for more than five years, and they have really helped her. She does not have any other issues but her allergies are awful. Natural is good for some things but I believe in medicine. Good luck.

        • kris
          November 19, 2013 | 10:13 pm

          what are the allergy shots? are they steroids or what?

          • Tina
            November 20, 2013 | 11:54 am

            There are two types of allergy shots. 1) is a steroid shot and the other is an injection of basically everything they are allergic to.
            Continued steroid use will kill animals, via Cancer and killing the organs, period!! I would NEVER put my animals on a steroid unless they were at the end of their life anyway and it kept them comfortable. Steroids are NOT to be taken lightly!!

      • Donna
        November 20, 2013 | 8:53 am

        have you talked to the vet about your dogs diet? My dog was in similar situation and turned out she was allergic to the food i was giving her.

  45. Valerie
    April 15, 2013 | 5:40 pm

    This is so timely!! My little 6 lb chihuahua boy got stung by a bee yesterday evening and the vet recommended benadryl but was absolutely emphatic to make sure it was just benadryl — nothing added!! \

    And BTW — I absolutely love the Dogington Post!!

    • Judy
      June 27, 2013 | 9:01 am

      My doctor told be specifically to use CHILDREN’S Benadryl as it is 1/4 the dosage of the adult formula. My dogs are 70 pounds. Cut the pill in 1/2 for small dogs

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