Hydrocodone for Dogs

Molly Price, DVM
By Molly Price, DVM on Nov. 17, 2023
vet examining dog on exam table

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PetMD’s medications content was written and reviewed by veterinary professionals to answer your most common questions about how medications function, their side effects, and what species they are prescribed for. This content shouldn’t take the place of advice by your vet.

What Is Hydrocodone?

Hydrocodone is a human prescription narcotic that can be used to suppress coughing in dogs due to collapsing trachea, bronchitis, pulmonary hypertension, and congestive heart failure.

Unlike in humans, hydrocodone is not effective as a pain-relieving medication in animals.

Hydrocodone is FDA-approved for human use as a generic tablet and is an active ingredient in many prescription combination products. Vicodin® and Norco® are brand name combination products that contain both hydrocodone and acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol® that is toxic to cats). Vicoprofen® is also another combination product that contains ibuprofen (toxic to dogs and cats), among many others that may contain additional active ingredients such as chlorpheniramine, guaifenesin, and pseudoephedrine.

Hydrocodone is never prescribed for use in cats because many hydrocodone formulations contain acetaminophen and ibuprofen, which are both highly toxic to cats.

Hydrocodone is currently not FDA-approved as a veterinary medication. However, it is readily utilized in the veterinary field, and veterinarians can legally prescribe certain human drugs in animals in certain circumstances. This is called extra-label or off-label use because this use isn’t described on the drug label. Your veterinarian will determine whether this medication is right for your animal.

Hydrocodone Considerations

Hydrocodone should not be used for pets with certain medical conditions such as severe respiratory disease, hypothyroidism, kidney disease, liver disease, Addison’s disease, head trauma, seizures, and certain gastrointestinal conditions, and it should not be used for pets who are severely debilitated, pregnant, or nursing.

Giving hydrocodone with certain other medications can result in health risks to your pet, so it is important to discuss your pet’s medications and medical conditions with your veterinarian.

Hydrocodone may cause dogs to feel sleepy or groggy, so it may not be an ideal choice for working or assistance dogs, as it can reduce their awareness.

Hydrocodone is classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration as a Schedule II controlled substance. As such, this may affect the prescribing, dispensing, and refilling of this medication due to federal and state law. Likewise, it is illegal for you to consume, transfer, sell, or otherwise give away your pet’s hydrocodone.

How Hydrocodone Works

Hydrocodone is an opioid narcotic in the same medication class as codeine. Hydrocodone works by suppressing the cough reflex in the cough center of the brain. Compared to codeine, hydrocodone is considered a stronger and more effective cough medication (antitussive).

Hydrocodone Directions

Follow the directions on the drug label or as provided by your veterinarian.

Hydrocodone can be given with or without food. Your veterinarian may recommend giving with food to decrease the risk of digestive upset.

If your veterinarian recommends that you discontinue hydrocodone in your dog for any reason, it is important to closely follow your veterinarian’s recommendations on how to wean your dog off this medication. Abruptly stopping hydrocodone after an extended period of your dog taking it can cause them to experience withdrawal symptoms.

This medication should not be used in cats because life-threatening toxicity can occur if the hydrocodone combination product contains acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and other medications.

Hydrocodone should not be used in pregnant or nursing animals.

Missed a Dose?

Speak with your veterinarian about what to do if you forget to give a dose of hydrocodone.

Hydrocodone Possible Side Effects

Possible side effects include:

  • Grogginess

  • Gastrointestinal signs such as constipation, loss of appetite, or vomiting

  • Decreased breathing rate with high doses or repeated use, particularly in pets with respiratory disease

Human Side Effects

Hydrocodone is also a prescription medication for humans, frequently with dosages different from those prescribed for your pet by a veterinarian. Due to possible side effects, humans should never use medicine dispensed for their pets and pets should not be given any medicine dispensed for a human’s use.

If you accidentally ingest a pet medication, call your physician or the national Poison Control Center hotline at 800-222-1222.

Call Your Vet If:

  • Severe side effects are seen (see above)

  • Your pet’s condition worsens or does not improve with treatment

  • You see or suspect an overdose

  • You have additional questions or concerns about the use of hydrocodone

Hydrocodone Overdose Information

Overdoses of hydrocodone can cause dangerously low breathing rates. Other signs of a hydrocodone overdose may include sedation, hyperactivity, vocalizing, loss of balance (ataxia), and vomiting.

If you suspect an overdose, immediately contact your veterinarian, seek emergency veterinary care,  or call an animal poison control center. Consultation fees often apply.

Pet Poison Helpline (855) 764-7661

ASPCA Animal Poison Control (888) 426-4435

Hydrocodone Storage

Always confirm storage requirements by reading the prescription label. There are more than 20 types of prescription hydrocodone combination products available, each with their own specific storage requirements.

Generally, hydrocodone tablets should be stored at controlled temperatures from 68 to 77 F. Keep the container tightly closed in order to protect its contents from moisture and light.

Keep out of reach of children and pets.

Hydrocodone for Dogs FAQS

How long does it take for hydrocodone to work in dogs?

It is thought that hydrocodone starts working in dogs within one to two hours of administration.

Can dogs take hydrocodone?

Yes. Dogs can take hydrocodone, but under very specific circumstances and only under strict supervision by their veterinarian. It is important to use only hydrocodone products approved by your veterinarian and to avoid human combination products that contain other ingredients that may be toxic to animals. Hydrocodone should not be used in dogs with certain medical conditions.

Always discuss your pet’s medications and medical conditions with your veterinarian, as giving hydrocodone to dogs with certain medical conditions and medications can result in health risks to your dog.

No vet writer or qualified reviewer has received any compensation from the manufacturer of the medication as part of creating this article. All content contained in this article is sourced from public sources or the manufacturer.

Featured Image: Nastasic/E+ via Getty Images


Benitez ME, Roush JK, McMurphy R, et al. Clinical efficacy of hydrocodone-acetaminophen and tramadol for control of postoperative pain in dogs following tibial plateau leveling osteotomy. American Journal of Veterinary Research. 2015;76:755-762.


Molly Price, DVM


Molly Price, DVM


Dr. Molly Price has practiced small animal medicine for over 20 years and is a graduate of Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine. She...

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