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Sometimes our doctor advises us to use to use human medicines for our pets. For example, when my sister's Labrador was small, the doctor advised us to administer children's syrup for stomach disorder.

Is this good advice or should we ignore it?

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While we don't want to be dispensing very specific medical advice about medications (i.e. which medications are "safe") this provides a great overview of the issue. I changed the title so this can become THE canonical post to refer other such questions when asked. –  Robert Cartaino Oct 17 '13 at 15:02
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2 Answers

up vote 22 down vote accepted

Never give pets human medication unless advised by your local Veterinarian.

People may be tempted to try and save money, by bypassing a trip to the Vet or paying for expensive Veterinary medications and products. Unfortunately the cost of looking after our pets can be high, but to try and help our pets with well meaning shortcuts, by using human products and medications is not a viable solution.

Animals metabolise drugs differently from human beings and differently between species. What may be effective in a human being, may be harmful or potentially fatal for a dog.

Top 10 Dog Poisons

Dog poison No. 1: Prescription medications for people. Drugs that might be beneficial or even lifesaving for people can have the opposite effect in pets. And it doesn’t always take a large dose to do major damage.

Some of the most common and harmful medications that poison dogs include:

  • Prescription anti-inflammatory and pain medications can cause stomach and intestinal ulcers or kidney failure.
  • Antidepressants can cause vomiting and, in more serious instances, serotonin syndrome -- a dangerous condition that raises temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure, and may cause seizures.
  • Blood pressure medications. (1)

Common Dog Poisons

Medications that can be toxic at certain doses include: Aspirin, Paracetamol and Ibuprofen. Other medications that should not be given to your dog as they can be potentially lethal, even in small doses, include:

Antidepressants – can cause vomiting and lethargy with certain types leading to serotonin syndrome.
ADHD medications – act as a stimulant and dangerously elevate heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature.
Anti-cancer drugs.
Anti-diabetics – cause a major drop in blood sugar levels causing disorientation, lack of coordination and seizures.
Cold medicines – acts as a stimulant causing elevated heart rates, blood pressure, body temperature and seizures.
Vitamin D derivatives – cause life-threatening spikes in blood calcium levels in pets that can lead to kidney failure.
Diet pills.
Muscle relaxants – can impair the central nervous system and lead to death. (2)

It's important never to assume:

An important note to make is, although many medications may be the same that is used for a pet and a human, it is important not to dose a pet based on the dosage given to a person. It is not just a weight by weight correlation, different species may require a varying dose per weight, as they have different metabolisms.


The only exception:

On the written advice of a Veterinarian:
For instance, you take your dog to the Veterinarian and the Vet gives you written instructions on the use of any over the counter medications with explicit dosage guides.


References:

  • WebMD (1)

  • Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI)
    Victorian State Government Australia (2)

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Nice answer, +1. Its like a debate ending answer. –  Ankit Sharma Oct 10 '13 at 7:51
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Nice link. But vets around here don't really care giving a human medication to dogs. Can it be harmful to health? –  Mistu4u Oct 10 '13 at 7:59
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Our vet has suggested we use specific human over-the-counter medicine on our dog in specific cases, however she has also said we need to pay careful attentions to dosages.

The most common specific case is Benadryl for allergy relief, and I know others who have been told the same. Children's Benadryl is preferred but they don't make that in pill form anymore, so we either have to get him to take a liquid syrup or cut an adult Benadryl in half.

I can't speak for Children's cough syrup though as I don't have any direct experience, but based on some outside references, it is ok for a minor case for very short time periods. It should be avoided however because cough syrups suppress the cough but do not treat the condition causing the cough, and hence could delay treatment for a more serious problem.

Source:
http://pets.webmd.com/dogs/coughing-dogs-causes-treatments

One of my most common human OTC medications, pain relievers, are a big no-no though. A dogs liver cannot process pain relievers the same way human's can, so it can kill them or at least damage their stomach or liver, especially Advil/Mortin (Ibuprofen) and Tylenol (Acetaminophen). Aspirin, specifically buffered Aspirin, is the safest of the 3 and it is still not recommended.

Source for the pain medicine info:
http://pets.webmd.com/dogs/guide/dog-pain-medications

When in doubt, don't do it. Always ask your vet.

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It should be noted that the name brand Benadryl is often formulated differently than the generic/store brands. There are some generics that use ingredients that can be bad for your animal. –  user9 Oct 17 '13 at 21:29
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