Written by: Allison Ward
If you’re like most pet parents, you have probably wondered, “is there any human medicine for dogs or cats that is safe?” After all, there are many drugs and therapies that have been created for humans and which can help dogs and cats, too! However, many medications that are safe for YOU are actually dangerous for your pet. Always remember that cats and dogs are not small humans, and their bodies may process and react to certain human medication very differently.
Here, we’ll discuss the most common items in your own medicine cabinet that you may be tempted to use for your sick or injured pet!
You notice your precious pup or sweet kitty starting to limp on one of their paws. Of course, your first instinct is to try to make them feel better—but please DO NOT reach for ANY human pain medication. Unfortunately, there are NO SAFE OVER-THE-COUNTER PAIN MEDICATIONS that you can give your cat or dog. In fact, most human pain medications are downright toxic to pets—and, in some cases, can even kill your pet.
These human pain reliever medications include (but are not limited to) aspirin, Aleve/naproxen, ibuprofen, and Tylenol/acetaminophen. Dogs and cats process drugs differently than people (and differently from each other!), so it’s important to stick with pain medication that is ONLY prescribed by your veterinarian.
But My Pet is in Pain—What Can I Do Instead?
If your pet is limping or seems painful, make sure you chat with an AskVet veterinarian to determine if your pup or kitty needs to be seen on an emergency basis, or if he can wait for a non-emergency scheduled appointment with your family veterinarian.
If it is safe for your pet to wait to be evaluated in person, keeping your cat or dog confined to a small room (or even a crate or playpen, if they are trained to be confined) is usually the most effective form of pain control you can provide at home. Since we can’t tell our cats and dogs to stay off their feet, being confined is the only way to keep your pet from overdoing it on their injured leg, or from worsening a back or neck injury.
Confinement also helps prevent your pet from following family members around the house, bounding up and down the stairs, or running to the door if they hear something outside–common ways for injured pets to make themselves more painful! Dogs should only be taken outside on a leash to prevent them from excitedly chasing animals and people, and walk only long enough to use the bathroom before coming right back inside. Cats should have access to a shallow, easy-to-use litterbox while in their confined space.
Sometimes, an injured area becomes swollen and it is obvious what part of the body is painful. In these cases, a cold compress can be your pet’s best friend! Place some ice cubes in a baggie, wrap it in a light towel, and hold it gently to the painful area for ten minutes at a time in order to help numb the pain. **Note: ONLY apply a compress if this is well-tolerated by your pet—it is NOT worth putting yourself at risk of getting bitten by a painful pet!**
In some cases, a warm compress may provide more relief than a cold compress. For a warm compress, simply microwave a damp washcloth until it is comfortably warm–you can test it on the inside of your wrist, just like a baby bottle–place it in a baggie to keep your pet dry, and wrap in a light towel before gently placing it on the sore area.
If your pet has begun vomiting, having diarrhea, or seems to have difficulty passing a bowel movement, you may be tempted to reach for medications to settle your pet’s stomach. In certain cases, antacids (such as Pepcid AC/famotidine), diarrhea medication (such as Imodium), or laxatives (such as Miralax or Metamucil) MAY be recommended by your veterinarian, once they have thoroughly examined your pet.
However, the doses for these medications are very different between dogs, cats, and humans—and with certain medical conditions, some of these medications should be avoided altogether. That’s why these medications should NEVER be given unless they are vet approved from your family veterinarian.
AskVet Tip: If your pet constantly struggles with an upset stomach, ask your family veterinarian for dosage guidelines specific to your pet for anything over-the-counter you can administer for future mild stomach flare-ups. Keep a written list of these in your medicine cabinet, and make sure to put a date on the recommendations in case they change over the years.
But My Dog/Cat is Vomiting and Having Diarrhea…What Can I Do?
The safest home remedies for a vomiting dog or cat is to feed them very small meals of an easily-digestible bland diet to try to help settle their stomach. Also, knowing what to watch for in case a vet visit becomes necessary is essential pet parent education!
My Pet is So Itchy!
We’ve all been there: your cat or dog is scratching incessantly, shaking their head, and sometimes even chewing on themselves! It’s so miserable to be itchy, and you desperately want to give your pet some relief!
Two of the most useful tools in your toolbox with any itchy pet are #1: prescription-strength flea prevention, and #2: a good soothing shampoo. Since the most common cause of itchiness in dogs and cats is flea bites, it is always a good idea to stock up your cabinet with vet-recommended medication in order to get rid of fleas on dogs or cats ASAP.
Since dogs and cats can be sensitive to dust, pollen, household cleaners, and other sources of particulate residues in their home environment, bathing is an effective way to remove anything from the surface of their skin that may be causing any cat or dog allergies. Some shampoos also have soothing ingredients, such as oatmeal, that help to calm down mild skin redness and itchiness. If your pet has a chronic skin condition, ask your veterinarian if they recommend a specific shampoo that you can use at home for your fluffy kiddo on days with breakthrough itching.
For especially itchy areas, or those that are painful from excessive scratching and chewing, you can use a cold compress (described above) to numb the affected area for 10-15 minutes at a time to give additional relief. Also consider pulling out that “cone of shame” that you have kept in your closet since your pet’s last surgery! Applying the cone until your pet can be evaluated by his veterinarian can help prevent him from licking and itching, making the area even more irritated.
What About Benadryl and Other Antihistamines?
You may be tempted to reach for some Benadryl to help relieve that itching. Although Benadryl is generally safe in dogs (at a very different dose than used for people), it is only effective for itching in less than half of all dogs. In cats, Benadryl can sometimes cause hyperactivity and aggressive behavior–so this usually isn’t a veterinarian’s first choice for itch relief!
There are other over-the-counter antihistamines which are safe in dogs and cats, and may be more effective. Even though they still don’t work as well as prescription medications, sometimes they can help just enough to give your pet comfort until their vet visit.
If your dog or cat has repeated episodes of itchy skin, ask your family veterinarian for a dosage of an over-the-counter antihistamine that is safe for your pet to have for future flare-ups. Write down the drug name, tablet size, and dosage as well as the date your vet made the recommendation and place it in your medicine cabinet for future reference!
Knowing how much Benadryl is safe to give your pet in case of a severe allergic reaction (see below) is ALWAYS good information to have—so make sure to ask your vet about Benadryl, too.
AskVet Tip: DO NOT give ANY pet a “non-drowsy” version of your vet approved antihistamine. These formulations have additional medications that are dangerous for your dog or cat!
Epsom Salt Foot Soaks
One of the most common symptoms of itchy skin is excessive licking of the paws. This affects dogs much more often than cats, and you may notice your pup’s paws are red, swollen, smell musty, and may have rust-colored staining of the fur. If your pet is suffering from itchy and painful paws, soaking the paws in an Epsom salt solution can provide a great deal of relief.
For this home remedy, just follow the directions on the package of Epsom salts to make a solution with warm water, and soak the affected paw(s) in a shallow container for 10 minutes at a time. For pups with more than one paw affected, the easiest way to do this is to mix an Epsom salt solution in a few inches of water in the bathtub, and then have your dog stand in the water for 10-15 minutes at a time.
**If your pet is experiencing sudden itchiness along with a swollen face, vomiting, or red bumps all over the body (hives), then these may be symptoms of a sudden and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Seek emergency vet care or chat with an AskVet veterinarian immediately if these symptoms are noted!**
Help! My Pet is Bleeding!
It’s easy to panic when you notice blood coming from your precious pet!
If your pet has suffered an injury such as being attacked by another animal, hit by a car, or falling from a height and is now bleeding, apply direct pressure to a bleeding wound and transport immediately to your family veterinarian (if they are open) or your closest veterinary ER facility.
Fortunately, the most common bleeding issues we see at home are minor injuries that are oozing small amounts of blood. If your pet is otherwise acting normally and you can identify where the blood is coming from, use sterile gauze (available at most pharmacies) and/or a soft towel and apply direct pressure to the wound. Release the pressure and check the wound for further bleeding after five minutes.
If the bleeding has stopped, call your family veterinarian or chat to AskVet for further advice. (Pictures of the wound are very helpful in these situations, and can be attached directly to your chat!) We may recommend first aid at home for your pet, or recommend that your furbaby be seen promptly by a veterinarian in person. If the bleeding continues for longer than 15 minutes, then a trip to the vet is warranted!
If your pet is bleeding on one of her legs, it is tempting to try and bandage the area. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to cause damage by accidentally applying a bandage too tight and cutting off your pet’s circulation. Some pets are also notorious for ripping a bandage off with their teeth and swallowing the bandage material–leading to yet another urgent problem!
For these reasons, we do NOT recommend attempting ANY at-home bandaging techniques.
AskVet Tip: If your pet has cut a nail and it is bleeding, don’t fret! Take some cornstarch or flour and add a bit of water to make a paste. Then, use your fingers to apply the paste directly over the bleeding nail. You may have to distract your pet with some peanut butter or a chew toy. Once the bleeding stops, inspect the nail for any breakage.
The Bottom Line
To summarize, here are some items that are essential for every pet owner to keep in your pet medicine cabinet:
- Veterinarian-approved over-the-counter antacids and/or laxatives (if your pet has a chronic condition)
- Cold compress/warm compress (these can be the “instant” type, or just make
- sure to have supplies to make one!)
- Oatmeal-based or vet-recommended soothing shampoo
- Epsom salts
- Benadryl (in case of allergic reactions) and dosage instructions from your vet
- Veterinarian-approved over-the-counter antihistamine and dosage instructions
- White rice in case your pet needs a bland diet
- Flea control as recommended by your veterinarian
- Cone collar to prevent licking and chewing itchy areas and wounds
- Sterile gauze or a clean towel to stop bleeding
- Cornstarch or flour to stop a bleeding nail
At AskVet, we know how scary and frustrating it can be for your pet to be uncomfortable. Our veterinarians are available 24/7 to advise you on your pet’s symptoms, what constitutes an emergency, and what home care options are available to give your pet relief! Whether you have an immediate need or are looking to improve your pet’s overall wellbeing, just sign into your account and one of our friendly and knowledgeable veterinary experts will attend to your needs, no appointment required!
Allison Ward, DVM
Dr. Allison Ward grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. and started working in veterinary hospitals when she was 14 years old. After graduating from veterinary school in 2011, she completed a small animal rotating internship in New Jersey, followed by a neurology/neurosurgery internship in Miami. After completing this advanced training, Dr. Ward then moved on to general small animal practice. Dr. Ward’s professional interests include feline medicine, neurology, and pain management. Her passion for educating pet owners carries over into her work with AskVet, and she loves being able to help pets and their parents at all times of the day (and night!). She currently resides in sunny south Florida with her two cats, Larry and George.