Hydrogen peroxide

There’s no doubt about it: Over-the-counter medications can ease suffering and save money. From allergy and pain relief to upset stomachs, constipation and diarrhea, these products are so helpful and so common that most of us have a difficult time imagining our life without them.

But do they have a place in your pet’s medicine chest? Some do, but some definitely don’t, and all over-the-counter medications should have you picking up the phone for veterinary guidance before you guess at the use or dosage. Just because you take something doesn’t mean it’s safe and effective for your pet — no matter what you read on the Internet.

Pass on the OTC Pain Meds

Played a little too much soccer, weekend warrior? Spent too much time digging in the yard? Headache slowing you down? No problem! There’s always an effective over-the-counter pain-control medication that will ease your aches and get you back into the game. Seems reasonable to cut the dose down and give a pain pill to your cat or dog, doesn’t it?

Actually, it’s not. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen are two of the most common pet poisons — which is why on any list of “do-not-give-your-pet” OTC medications, No. 1 is always pain medications. I hope the day comes, and soon, when every cat lover knows that acetaminophen can be deadly to cats. Alas, my emergency care colleagues tell me we’re far from that universal knowledge. Even less widely known: Acetaminophen is also toxic to dogs. The same is true for ibuprofen.

Never give any over-the-counter pain medication to your pet. Even aspirin, once widely recommended by veterinarians for mild pain in dogs, is now on the “do not give” list after the discovery that even this “safe” product causes gastrointestinal ulcerations. Pain management is very important in pets, but don’t take matters into your own hands: Talk to your veterinarian about which prescription medication (or combinations of medications) will best ease your pet’s suffering safely. (Related: Pepto-Bismol contains bismuth salicylate, which is similar to aspirin and can cause similar problems in cats and dogs.)

Other OTC Products to Skip

Tear supplements with antibiotics: Dogs with chronically dry eyes (commonly a problem in short-faced dogs with protruding eyes) need tear supplements to help with lubrication and keep them comfortable. But read the label: Some of these products contain neomycin, an antibacterial that should be administered under the advice of your veterinarian only.

Alcohol-based ear treatments: Alcohol burns and inflames the sensitive tissues of the ear canal while drying them out, which actually makes problem ears worse. And yet, a quick internet search will show you all kinds of “home remedy” sites encouraging its use. (Along with gentian violet, another Internet “cure” that’s not recommended by veterinarians.) If your pet has an ear infection, you need to take him to your veterinarian. After that is resolved, you can use a veterinary-recommended cleaner on a regular basis to help keep the ears clean and healthy.

Hydrogen peroxide: While commonly, effectively and safely used to induce vomiting in dogs (and as part of a recipe to eliminate skunk smell), hydrogen peroxide should not be used on wounds.  The fizz created when it interacts with tissue makes it seem like something good is happening, hydrogen peroxide, in fact, inflames the healthy skin around a wound, which increases healing time. And recent studies have shown that it’s not even an effective antibacterial.

Steroid creams: We all know how miserable itching makes us, and when your dog is scratching, you’re almost as miserable as he is, just from watching and listening. But don’t just slap a steroid cream on the itchy spot; you may be making an infection worse, or you may just be wasting your money. Your veterinarian has many ways to help stop the itch, but the problem needs to be correctly diagnosed before any of them will work properly.

While these are products you should never use on your pet, there are some over-the-counter medications that are safe and effective for cats and dogs. Just remember, you must ALWAYS check with your veterinarian before giving your pet medication.