Toxicity of Cold and Flu Drugs in Dogs

How toxic are cold and flu medications to dogs?

People often use over-the-counter cold and flu medicines when they feel unwell to relieve nasal congestion, fever, coughs, sneezes, pain, and many other symptoms. While some of these medications can be given to dogs in certain situations, do so only after consulting your veterinarian.

Some cold and flu medications contain more than one active ingredient, which can make them dangerous for your dog.



If you suspect your dog has ingested cold or flu medication, contact your veterinarian, emergency room, and/or pet poisoning helpline as soon as possible.

How toxic are cold and flu medications to dogs?


Over-the-counter or prescription cold and flu medications contain ingredients that can be fatal to pets. These medications can affect many parts of the dog’s body. While the cardiovascular system (heart and blood vessels) and central nervous system (brain and spinal cord and associated nerves) are most commonly affected, the gastrointestinal system (stomach, intestines, and colon), kidneys, and liver are also affected. may be hit.

What cold and flu medications are toxic to dogs?

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol, Baracetamol)
  • antihistamines*
    • chlorpheniramine (clomicalm, chlortabs, allichlor)
    • Clemastine (Dyhest)
    • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
    • Promethazine (Phenergan, Promethigan)
    • Meclizine (Bonin, Easy Travel)
    • loratadine (claritin)
    • cetirizine (Zyrtec)
  • cough medicine
    • dextromethorphan* (Delsym 12 Hour, Robitussin, Vicks Dayquil and Nyquil, Tussin Cough DM, Robafen Cough)
    • cough drops
      • It may also contain xylitol, which is highly toxic to dogs.
  • Decongestants
    • imidazoline (OTC topical decongestants)
      • Oxymetazoline, xylometazoline, tetrahydrozoline, naphazoline
      • nasal drops
        • Afrin
        • private
        • artificial
        • Triamine
      • tears
        • balloon
        • Vizin LR
    • Oral decongestants (tablets, capsules, oral syrup)
      • Phenylephrine (Sudafed PE, benylin, neo-synephrine)
      • pseudoephedrine (Sudafed, Nasuvid, Equivid)
      • ephedrine

*While all of the above medications can be toxic to dogs, some medications given to a dog by a veterinarian and administered in the correct amount may be beneficial for dogs with certain medical conditions.




Symptoms of cold and flu drug toxicity in dogs

Clinical signs of poisoning with various cold and flu medications may include:

  • acetaminophen
    • Abdominal pain (vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite)
    • Dry eyes (redness, discharge, puffiness around the eyes)
    • Swelling of the face, legs and forelimbs
    • Symptoms of liver failure
      • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and mucous membranes – eyes and gums)
      • weakness
      • depression
      • Elevated heart rate
      • breathing heavily
      • Stomach ache
      • vomit
      • slobber
  • antihistamines
    • CNS agitation/hyperactivity or depression/sedation
    • profuse salivation
    • vomit
    • rapid breathing (tachypnea)
    • High heart rate (tachycardia)
  • cough medicine
    • Low doses cause depressive effects and higher doses cause stimulant effects.
      • stumble, stumble
      • idle
      • Excitation
      • Upset stomach (vomiting and diarrhea)
      • hallucination
      • Tremor, seizures
      • confusion
      • nervousness, tremor;
      • Mydriasis (dilated pupils)
      • High body temperature (hyperthermia)
  • Oral decongestants
    • Excitation
    • Hyperactivity
    • High heart rate (tachycardia)
    • High blood pressure (hypertension)
    • Chills
  • local decongestants
    • stomach ache
    • straight
    • depression
    • low blood pressure (hypotension)
    • Low body temperature (hypothermia)
    • slow heart rate (bradycardia)

If your dog is taking cold and flu medication or you suspect he may have the condition, don’t wait for your dog to show symptoms because time is running out. It is best to get your dog to the veterinary clinic or emergency hospital as soon as possible. It is also recommended to call the Pet Poison Help Desk. They can help guide the treatment process with you and your veterinarian.

Are vitamins and natural medicines toxic to dogs?

Vitamin C and echinacea are the least toxic natural vitamins or medications sometimes given to dogs, but they can cause mild stomach upset. However, zinc is highly toxic to dogs in high doses and causes the dog’s body to destroy its own red blood cells, leading to potentially life-threatening anemia.

Most multivitamins also contain iron, which can be toxic to dogs and cause heartburn and irritation of the mouth and digestive tract. In large amounts, supplemental iron can also cause liver failure in dogs.

What to do if your dog is taking cold and flu medication

If you suspect your dog has taken cold and flu medication or is showing signs of poisoning, contact your veterinarian, emergency room, and/or poison control center as soon as possible.

It is by no means recommended that your dog vomit at home. Any induced emesis should be done under the direction of a veterinarian or veterinary staff. Inducing vomiting at home can cause life-threatening conditions such as aspiration pneumonia or chemical burns to the gastrointestinal tract.

It is very important that you provide your veterinarian with as much information as possible, including:

  • name of drugs
  • Dosage in milligrams of each tablet/capsule/liquid
  • Approximate number of missing/suspected drugs
  • Possible temporary swallowing

It’s best to reevaluate the amount of medication your dog may be taking to determine the worst case scenario.

Treatment options for cold and flu drug toxicity in dogs

Poisoning can be scary, but treatment is available—and the sooner it starts, the better. Your veterinarian may induce vomiting if the poison has been ingested recently and the dog is not yet showing signs of toxicity.

If your dog has swallowed a large amount of cold and flu medication, your veterinarian may insert a stomach tube to flush the dog’s stomach with water. They can also give activated charcoal to prevent absorption of the drug into the bloodstream, causing more toxicity.

Treatment of poisoning with cold and flu drugs is aimed at correcting symptoms and providing supportive care, since there is no specific antidote for these drugs. It is important that dogs in this condition are kept warm and calm and under close supervision to ensure they remain responsive and that their breathing is normal. Most likely, this means that your dog will have to spend the night in the hospital.

Intravenous fluids will be administered to keep the dog hydrated and the kidneys to function normally. Anti-nausea medications and hepatoprotectors can also be used to help your dog recover from this toxicity. If anemia develops, a blood transfusion is likely to be needed.

Preventing Dog Poisoning from Cold and Flu Medicines

It is good practice for medicines to keep all original packaging until the medicine runs out, in case information is needed. Also, use extreme caution when repackaging medications, such as adding them to a pill organizer or other non-medical container. It may seem convenient to keep a plastic bag of Tylenol, vitamins, and cold pills in your purse or pocket, but be aware of the potential complications if your dog eats the entire contents.

Do not give your dog any human medications unless you have consulted and agreed to use them with your veterinarian. Don’t leave pills on the counter or bottles within reach of your dog. If you drop the medicine, take it immediately so that your dog cannot take it.

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