Top six vet-recommended over-the-counter pet meds in veterinary practice

Patty Khuly, DVM
Updated: June 05, 2019
Published: February 23, 2008
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Most of you Class A vet clients already know about all these common OTC pet meds. Nonetheless, I offer ‘em up here because maybe (just maybe) there’s something I can add to your basic understanding of these medications, their indications and contraindications.

So without any further ado, here are my top five, peppered with disclaimers about always asking your vet first before using ANY drug. Remember, O-T-C does not mean S-A-F-E!

1-Pepcid AC (famotidine) and Tagamet HB (cimetidine): These stomach drugs are great for pets when gastric juices get flowing into overdrive. Mostly used in dog medicine for simple gastritis (stomach inflammation) as a result of any number of tummy insults (self-inflicted through “dietary indiscretion” or otherwise), it hinders the body’s production of GI tract acids.

Dosages depend on size, other drugs administered and your pet’s general condition. Always check with your vet first to get the right dose and the go-ahead.

2-Aspirin: Though I don’t use aspirin much for pain (why use a less potent, more stomach-harming drug when you’ve got safer, more effective ones available?),  I still rely on it for dog pain when a client is far away and has nothing else available. As a rule, I never recommend the use of aspirin for more than two days in a row. If your dog still has pain, you need to get to your vet for a look-see and more appropriate meds.

NOTE!: Drug interactions with aspirin are not uncommon so don’t automatically assume it’s safe to give!

Some kitties will also do well with aspirin (in very small doses) when they have heart murmurs. Blood clots can come about as a result of feline heart diseases. Aspirin hinders clot formation so if your cat has a heart murmur due to “hypertrophic cardiomyopathy” or an undiagnosed heart ailment, aspirin may be in order to lower the likelihood of a catastrophic  “saddle thrombus.”

Ask your vet, internist or cardiologist about this before using it as other drugs your cat may be taking may interact adversely with it! And always discontinue aspirin for several days before surgery (it’s true, sometimes we vets forget to tell you these things so it’s always good for you to know).

3-Artificial tears (Genteal, et. al.): I love artificial tears for minor eye irritations—it’s the ultimate do-no-harm eye treatment.

Most of the time, very mild conjunctivitis (slight weepiness or redness around the eyes) will clear right up with a few days of simple soothing with extra tears. But if you’ve got white, yellow or greenish discharge, if extreme redness or swelling is present, or if the eye is painful (obvious with winking or closing or the eye), skip this step and head to the vet immediately.

Remember, even a day is too long to wait with a painful eye!

4-Benadryl (diphenhydramine): This is a great, easy-going drug for a common case of the itchies or at the first sign of hives. I use it pretty liberally in my practice but it’s not without its side-effects.

Be warned: some pets will feel its sedative effects more than others, especially pets on mood-altering drugs and/or seizure medication. And also note: The dosages can be significantly different than for humans, so don’t just pop a pill down. Call first and ask if it’s OK.

5-Neosporin and other antibiotic gels: Minor cuts and abrasions love this gel. Problem is, overuse can hinder the body’s own superficial defense mechanisms. I tend to recommend it for the slightest of scrapes applied in a very light coat onto clean skin for only a day or two—that’s all it should take.

Other issues with these ointments: People tend to buy fancy ones with tetracaine and other ingredients (which can hinder healing for some wounds). And pets like to lick wounds, especially when their attention is drawn to them by smelly gels. In these cases they’re contraindicated.

6-Hydrocortisone sprays, gels and creams: Standard OTC hydrocortisone sprays and creams can be a life-saver in a pinch when itchy red patches and hot spots result. But you should know that the sprays can be stingy (they typically contain alcohol). And the gels and creams are great—unless they attract unwanted attention to the licky or itchy-spot.

As always, let me know if you have others you can't live without...