This is not medical advice. Before pursuing feeding your dog a new food, supplement, or medication it’s advised to consult with your veterinarian.
It can be a scary or stressful experience when your dog is sick or injured. Your dog is a member of your family and your most faithful companion. Thankfully, with modern veterinary medicine, most ailments in dogs are easily treatable, leading to a full recovery. If you have taken your dog to the vet recently for a health concern, they’ve likely prescribed your dog medication. Sometimes the medication prescribed to your dog might look familiar to you. There is often overlap between medicine for humans and medicine for dogs. A common example is Benadryl, which vets often prescribe to dogs, which you may have taken the last time you had a cold. However, whatever medication is prescribed, it is important to follow your vet’s instructions carefully and always ask your vet before giving your dog any medication. In this guide, we will look at some of the common medications given to dogs, drug interactions, side effects, and adverse reactions.
Commonly Used Medicines for Dogs
Here are some of the more common types of medications vets will prescribe dogs. This is not a complete list of all the types of medications vets use for dogs, but it hopefully will help you understand more about what your vet prescribed your dog and why.
You’ve probably taken antibiotics before for a cold or flu. Antibiotics kill harmful organisms, called microbes, like bacteria and yeast. Antibiotics help treat infections in both dogs and humans. Antibiotics don’t kill viruses. But sometimes antibiotics are prescribed when an animal has a secondary bacterial infection that occurred when they have a viral infection. Penicillin, trimethoprim-sulfa, cephalexin, and enrofloxacin are all examples of antibiotics that your vet might prescribe your dog.
If your dog has a soft tissue injury or a mild case of arthritis, your dog may prescribe them a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medicine like aspirin. These drugs reduce inflammation, swelling, and pain and are typically safe when used under the care of a veterinarian. If you think your dog is in pain or has an injury, do not give them common NSAIDs for humans, like ibuprofen (Motrin), or acetaminophen (Tylenol). Call your vet and they can give you instructions for how to give your dog aspirin, or they may want to do a physical exam and prescribe a different NSAID, like carprofen (Novox or Rimadyl), deracoxib (Deramaxx), firocoxib (Previcox), or meloxicam (Metacam). While these drugs are typically safe for dogs when used according to your vet’s instructions, they can cause kidney, liver, or digestive problems. Remember the signs of a bad reaction to an NSAID with the word BEST: Behavioral changes, Eating less, Skin redness or scabs, Tarry stool (poop)/diarrhea/vomiting. These potential side effects mean there might be a problem with your dog’s kidneys, liver, or digestive system. Always talk to your vet before administering any medication, especially if it is a medicine made for people.
Opioid Pain Relievers
If your pup just had surgery or is in a great deal of pain, your vet might prescribe them an opioid pain reliever. These are strong drugs, typically made from morphine, and are “potent pain relievers”, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. These drugs are generally controlled substances because of their strong potential for addiction. Vets will usually only prescribe an opioid pain reliever for a short time and very specific reasons, such as surgery. Like with any medication, it is possible for your dog to overdose on these painkillers, which is why it is incredibly important to follow your vet’s instructions and to keep any opioid medication out of your dog’s reach. Because these drugs are so powerful, it only takes a small amount to cause an overdose. Signs of an opioid overdose in dogs include pinpoint pupils, becoming sedated, wobbly and uncoordinated walking, lowered breathing rate, and coma. If your dog is experiencing any of these symptoms, take them to the vet immediately, because if left untreated, an opioid overdose can be fatal. Examples of opioid pain relievers include oxycodone, hydromorphone, butorphanol, meperidine, and fentanyl.
Steroids are common drugs that vets can use for many different reasons. One common example is prednisone, which can be used to treat inflammatory illnesses such as allergies and arthritis. These drugs work to reduce inflammation in several ways, which is part of why they are so effective. Your vet may prescribe a steroid in the case of anaphylactic shock, if your dog has an allergic reaction to something like a bee sting. Because of their effectiveness in reducing inflammation, your vet may prescribe a short-term dose of steroids for pain. The general rule of thumb with steroids is the minimum amount needed for the shortest period of time. Used at high doses, steroids can suppress the immune system, however, a vet would only prescribe at this level for a very specific reason. It is also at high doses that your dog may have some of the negative reactions associated with steroids. It’s important to not mix NSAIDs with steroids, because of the increased risk of digestive side effects. If your dog is having side effects on steroids, talk to your vet about how to take your dog off the meds safely; do not just suddenly stop giving your dog the drugs. Examples of steroids used to treat dogs are prednisone, prednisolone, and dexamethasone.
Parasites are no fun for anyone involved. Parasites can cause anything from mild discomfort to a serious illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “A parasite is an organism that lives on or in a host organism and gets its food from or at the expense of its host.”. Heartworms are internal parasites that damage the heart and preventive medicine for them is often included in your dog’s monthly flea and tick treatment. Heartworms can enter the body through an infected mosquito bite. The heartworm then burrows its way into the heart and starts to clog it. They are far easier to prevent than treat, though there are effective antiparasitic medicines and treatments for heartworms. Still, they can be hard on the dog and quite expensive. Intestinal parasites are another common type of parasite and include hookworms, ringworms, roundworms, tapeworms, whipworms, and the non-worm parasites coccidia, giardia, and spirochetes. Hookworms are another common dog parasite, which feeds on your dog’s blood. They are more dangerous to puppies but are easily treated with cleaning and medicine. Most of the intestinal parasites can cause diarrhea and weight loss. Fenbendazole, known by the brand names Panacur and Safe Guard, is a common antiparasitic medicine for intestinal worms. You may have also heard of Ivermectin, which is a heartworm preventative medicine.
Behavior-modifying drugs and sedatives
If your dog is on the anxious side, having behavioral issues, or about to go through a traumatic experience like surgery, your doctor might prescribe drugs like diazepam, xylazine,
acepromazine, or midazolam. Unless the behavior-modifying drug or sedative is being used for a specific purpose, such as to calm a dog before surgery, vets will often work with you to come up with a holistic plan of action that includes medication, rather than relying on medication entirely to deal with anxiety or behavioral issues in your dog.
A classic example of a hormonal medication is insulin. Your dog’s pancreas makes insulin, which helps with digestion and regulating blood sugar levels. If your dog is suffering from diabetes, your vet will prescribe your dog insulin. Other drugs used for hormonal issues are methimazole or levothyroxine for abnormal thyroid levels. The drugs atenolol, digoxin, and pimobendan are hormonal medications for the heart.