Using Human Medicine to Treat Pets

Ask PHP Pete

Dear PHP Pete,
My dog and I are totally in sync! Apparently, we even get sick together. We both have a cold. I’ve been taking cough medicine to get some relief and was wondering if I could give a small amount to my dog. Is this ok?
 Sincerely,
Under the Weather Together
Dear Under the Weather Together,
Many human medications are used to treat pets. Unfortunately, there is not always a simple answer as to what dose should be given to our furry friends. Animal dosing is often based on weight, whereas human adults may receive fixed doses. There are physical and chemical differences between humans and pets. A medication that is commonly used in people may be toxic or even deadly to animals. Many cold medications contain a pain reliever such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil). These medications are toxic to some animals and are rarely used in dogs and cats. For example, acetaminophen cannot be broken down effectively in cats. This causes toxic substances to form which attach to liver cells and destroy them. These substances can also alter blood cells so they no longer carry oxygen to the body. Ibuprofen can cause ulcers and/or holes to form in the stomach or small intestine and may cause kidney damage in dogs. Cats are even more sensitive to this drug. Cough medications such as dextromethorphan (Robitussin) and guaifenesin (Mucinex) are sometimes used in pets, but should only be used as recommended by your vet.
Coughing, sneezing, or a runny nose may not always indicate a “cold.” While dogs and cats can get colds (not contagious to us), there are many possible causes of these symptoms. Other viral, bacterial, or fungal infections are possible and may require antibiotics or antifungals. Environmental allergies can also impact pets and may require antihistamine drugs. More serious infections such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, valley fever (in the US southwest), and kennel cough (in exposed animals) can also cause these symptoms.  Your vet can help you determine which medication is right for your pet.
In the meantime, you can help your furry friend (and yourself) by providing lots of water to drink and placing a humidifier near bedding or allowing her/him to stand in a steamy (but not too hot) bathroom to try and relieve congestion. If the illness is a cold, symptoms should improve within a few days, if not seek veterinary help, particularly if your pet is very young or old.
– PHP Pete
  • Richardson J. (2000). Management of Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen Toxicoses in Dogs and Cats. J Veter Emer Crit Care. 285-291.