Hartel Veterinary Hospital

Quality pet care because they are a part of the family.

Over the Counter (OTC) Medication

There are a number of over the counter medications that can be administered to your pets; however the use of these products always requires input from your veterinarian.

Dogs and cats are not small people, and the dosage requirements of virtually all medications, prescription or OTC, are much different than human dosages.

Anytime your veterinarian instructs you to pick up a human medication to give to your pet, remember that  you must purchase exactly the medication indicated. Even though these human drugs are OTC for use in people, their use in animals is considered extra-label (legal for a veterinarian to prescribe, but without appropriate dosage information for the intended use.) You should have written instructions (a prescription) before you pick up these medications.



Antihistamines are commonly prescribed for pets, but human medications often have additional active ingredients that can be harmful.   Common names of antihistamines include 

Chlorpheneramine (Chlor-Trimeton brand name)

Hydroxyzine (Atarax)

Cetirizine (Zyrtec)

Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)

In the event that you need to pick up an antihistamine at the pharmacy, your veterinarian should record the strength and name of that antihistamine to take with you. Make sure that whatever you pick up includes only one active ingredient


Pain Medication

Over the counter pain medication can include oral compounds such as aspirin and acetaminophen, as well as topical products such as Aspercreme and Lanacane.

Aspirin does have some limited use in companion animals, but must be used with extreme caution. One of my biggest concerns with the use of aspirin is the fact that many people think it is an innocuous product that can be used with impunity.This isn't true for people and it isn't true for animals

Aspirin can cause stomach upset and increased bleeding times.  It also has a prolonged negative effect on the protective layer in the stomach that allows us to digest our food without digesting ourselves.This can lead to ulcers  and life-threatening perforation of the stomach.  This negative effect lasts longer with aspirin  than with most prescription anti-inflammatory medications.This can be severely aggravated by giving another NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) too soon after the administration of aspirin.  

  • If you have given your pet aspirin within the past 2 weeks, please tell us.
  • If your pet is presently taking anything for pain or arthritis, please check with us before you administer another form of pain medication.
  • Don't give aspirin to either your dog or cat without speaking with your veterinarian first.

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is absolutely, positively NOT aspirin.  It can NEVER be given to cats and if used in dogs, dosage must be carefully calculated.  APAP (abbreviation for acetaminophen) is not an anti-inflammatory, although it does reduce fever and can act as a painkiller.

Topical Painkillers, such as Aspercreme and Lanacane  should not be used without veterinary guidance, and never used in cats at all.  Although these products are designed to be applied to the skin, our animal friends don't read the labels.  Any animal may lick these medications and accidentally ingest them.  While a particular problem in cats who groom themselves regularly, dogs are also noted for licking and chewing on themselves, particularly if an area is inflamed, itchy or painful.


Protective ointments

Dogs and cats (particularly older individuals) may develop skin lesions as a result of exposure to urine or fecal material.  Fecal or urinary incontinence, diarrhea or urinary tract infections can all lead to skin excoriation or infection.  There are many over the counter ointments and lotions that are used in humans to protect skin or aid in healing. Diaper rash ointments can be a big help in easing skin discomfort in humans.  But beware:  many ointments or lotions may contain toxic ingredients when ingested, and as previously mentioned, our fine furry friends don't read the label, and often have indiscriminate taste buds. Zinc oxide is one potentially poisonous addition, and sometimes the only active ingredient in many products used for diaper rash.  While most oral exposures result in only gastrointestinal distress (possible vomiting and diarrhea all over the house, reason enough not to keep this stuff around) a large enough exposure can lead to very serious complications with destruction of red blood cells, anemia necessitating a transfusion, and possible liver and kidney damage. Sunscreens may also contain zinc oxide.

Galvanized metal or pennies

Not usually considered a source of poisoning (how many dogs are going to eat galvanized sheet metal roofing material?) galvanized nuts and bolts can be a very serious source of poisoning, because of the zinc coating that prevents rust.  Pennies minted in 1943 were made of zinc-coated steel, but many people are unaware that US pennies minted since 1983 are 97.5% zinc with a pure copper plating.  If swallowed, exposure to stomach acid erodes the copper, resulting in zinc poisoning. If your pet swallows coins or small pieces of metal of unknown composition, call your veterinarian at once, or seek help from an emergency clinic.

Here's a link to a short article about zinc poisoning from Veterinary Partner.

Flea Treatments

You can find some very good flea products OTC;  you can also find some really poor ones.  Of the OTC products I still like Advantage; it was a good product when we sold it and it is still a good product.  Please take care to use only that size product designed for your pet:  the package will include weight guidelines.

If the product is labeled for dogs, DO NOT USE IT ON CATS!!! You must read the label!!! Don't assume that the photo on the label indicates the species on which it can be used.  As far as I am concerned, the only OTC flea medication safe for cats is Advantage.  Do not confuse this with Advantix, which has an additional ingredient and is labeled for use in Dogs ONLY.

Here's a link to an excellent summary of available Flea Treatments from Veterinary Partner.

Sugar-Free Gum (Xylitol poisoning)

 Xylitol is a frequent additive in sugar-free gum and has become more and more popular in tooth paste and mouthwash as a sweetening agent that actual has some cavity-preventing properties.It can also be found in sugar-free candies and purchased in pure form for baking.  It is popular among those on a low-carbohydrate diet, as it is virtually as sweet as sugar, but is  slowly absorbed from the human intestinal tract and is not metabolized as sugar.  It has little effect on blood sugar levels and very little effect on insulin release in humans.

Dogs, however, are an entirely different story.   Xylitol is rapidly absorbed and incorrectly identified as sugar, promoting a rapid release of insulin.  However, xylitol is not metabolized as sugar, and the release of high level of insulin results in real sugar (blood sugar or glucose)levels plummeting (hypoglycemia).  For unknown reasons, xylitol can also cause liver failure. As little as 2 pieces of sugar-free gum can poison a 20 pound dog.

Here is a link to an excellent article from Veterinary Partner.

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