Over-the-Counter Medications for Pets – Part 1 of 3

My last post discussed pet medications and how to best communicate with your vet about whatever your pet may be taking, especially in an emergency. I had mentioned that it isn’t a good idea to give an over-the-counter medication for people to your pet without speaking to your vet first.

Sometimes your vet WILL tell you to give an over-the-counter drug. This post isn’t intended to take the place of that, but is intended as a resource once your vet has given you that guidance. I wanted to provide some information so that pet owners have more confidence making sure they have purchased the right product and to give some basic information on what these drugs are for.

Names and Labels

One initial point of confusion is that most drugs have more than one name. The actual drug in the product has a chemical or generic name. This is not usually what you will see in big print on the packaging, but rather in smaller print in parentheses. It is also what will be listed under the active ingredients. The brand name or trade name is what the manufacturer has called their version of the drug. You might find several brands of the same drug available over-the-counter.

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The active ingredient has to be listed on the packaging. If you aren’t sure that you have identified the correct product, you can look for this section.

The brand name is outlined in orange above (Benadryl) and the generic name is outlined in green (Diphenhydramine HCl 25 mg). Most doctors are going to just refer to this as diphenhydramine and not include the HCl part. The HCl is a chemical abbreviation and indicates that this is the salt form of the drug and is simply how it has been prepared. The 25 mg in the example above is the dose. This is how much of the diphenhydramine is in each tablet.

Older drugs, like aspirin, may only have one name. Other drugs may have different names in different parts of the world, like acetaminophen/paracetamol.

With any of these over-the-counter products, the dose that your vet recommends may not be the same as that listed for humans. Follow your vet’s advice and double check with them if you have any questions.

Gastrointestinal medications

Pepcid AC (famotidine)

Pepcid AC is an antacid medication that is very commonly recommended by vets for both dogs and cats. The stomach is very acidic to help in digestion of food. However, sometimes that acid causes problems and needs to be suppressed. Famotidine, the active ingredient in Pepcid AC, decreases the acid production in the stomach by interfering with histamine receptors on the cells that produce acid.

Pepcid AC comes in two strengths – regular and maximum strength. You will need to pay attention to what your vet recommended to make sure you pick the correct strength, although this drug is also extremely safe.

Pepcid AC does not come in a liquid formulation. Pepcid Complete is not the same product – it contains some extra ingredients so don’t substitute this unless your vet has told you to. Some dogs and cats can stay on Pepcid AC long-term for chronic conditions.

Other common brand names for famotidine include Zantac and dozens of store brand and other generics. These are usually labeled as “Acid Reducer” or simply famotidine.

The generic famotidine tends to also be available in two strengths, 10 or 20 mg tablets.

Prilosec OTC (omeprazole)

Prilosec OTC is a newer antacid medication that is becoming more commonly recommended by vets for both dogs and cats. Omeprazole, the active ingredient in Prilosec OTC, decreases acid production in the stomach by stopping the cells that produce acid from releasing it to the stomach lining.

Prilosec OTC only comes in one strength – 20 mg. This might make it challenging to dose for small dogs or cats. It is not available in a liquid formulation. All of the products containing omeprazole are a delayed-release formulation. Prilosec OTC is a tablet, while other brands may be capsules.

Other common brands of omeprazole include Zegerid OTC and numerous generics and store brands. These are frequently labeled “Acid Reducer” or “Treats Frequent Heartburn.”

Tums (calcium carbonate)

Tums is an antacid that is used more commonly as a calcium supplement in dogs than as an antacid. Nursing mothers and dogs with conditions of the parathyroid gland may require this supplement.

Tums is available is a dizzying number of formulations, flavors, and strengths. It is simplest to look at the basic mint or fruit-flavor options which come in 500 mg (regular strength), 750 mg (extra strength), and 1000 mg (ultra strength) sizes. The active ingredient is calcium carbonate.

Other products that might look similar to Tums but contain extra ingredients include Rolaids or Phazyme. Don’t substitute these for Tums without checking with your vet. A lot of generics are available, usually labeled “Antacid” or “Compare to Tums.”

Are there other gastrointestinal drugs that you might commonly recommend as a vet? Let me know in the comments.

Part 2 coming soon!

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