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Cold and Flu Medication Toxicity in Dogs

What is Cold and Flu Medication Toxicity in Dogs?

Cold and flu medications are commonly used by people to alleviate symptoms such as congestion, fever, coughing, sneezing, and pain. However, it’s important to note that while some of these medications may be appropriate for dogs under specific circumstances, it’s crucial to consult with a veterinarian before administering them.

Many cold and flu medications contain multiple active ingredients, which can pose a significant risk to dogs if ingested. If you suspect that your dog has consumed any cold or flu medication, it is imperative to seek immediate assistance from your veterinarian, an emergency hospital, or a pet poison helpline. Delay in seeking help could exacerbate the situation and potentially endanger your dog’s health.

How Are Cold and Flu Medications Toxic to Dogs?

Cold and flu medications designed for humans, whether they’re available over-the-counter or by prescription, contain components that can be highly toxic to pets, including dogs. These medications can impact various systems within a dog’s body. Primarily, they affect the cardiovascular system (comprising the heart and blood vessels) and the central nervous system (encompassing the brain, spinal cord, and related nerves). Additionally, the gastrointestinal tract (consisting of the stomach, intestines, and colon), kidneys, and liver can also be adversely affected by these substances.

What Cold and Flu Medications Are Toxic to Dogs?

Certain cold and flu medications pose a significant threat to dogs due to their toxic ingredients. These include:

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol, Paracetamol)
  • Antihistamines such as Chlorpheniramine (Clomicalm, ChlorTabs, Aller-Chlor), Clemastine (Dayhist), Diphenhydramine (Benadryl), Promethazine (Phenergan, Promethegan), Meclizine (Bonine, Travel-Ease), Loratidine (Claritin), and Cetirizine (Zyrtec)
  • Cough medicine containing Dextromethorphan (Delsym 12 hour, Robitussin, Vicks Dayquil and Nyquil, Tussin Cough DM, Robafen Cough)
  • Cough drops which may contain xylitol, highly toxic to dogs
  • Decongestants including Imidazolines found in over-the-counter topical decongestants, and substances like Oxymetazoline, xylometazoline, tetrahydrozoline, and naphazoline
  • Nose drops like Afrin, Privine, Nasop, and Triaminic
  • Eye drops such as Albalon and Visine LR
  • Oral decongestants in the form of tablets, capsules, or syrup taken by mouth, including Phenylephrine (Sudafed PE, Benylin, Neo-Synephrine), Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed, Nasofed, Equiphed), and Ephedrine

It’s crucial to note that while these medications are harmful to dogs, some may be prescribed by a veterinarian and administered in the correct dosage for specific medical conditions.


Signs of toxicity resulting from various cold and flu medications in dogs can manifest in different ways:


  • Stomach upset like vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite
  • Dry eye indicated by redness, discharge, and swelling around the eyes
  • Swelling of the face, paws, and forelimbs
  • Symptoms indicative of liver failure
  • Icterus, characterized by yellow skin and mucous membranes (eyes and gums)
  • Weakness and depression
  • Elevated heart rate and panting
  • Abdominal pain, vomiting, and drooling


  • Central nervous system disturbances such as excitement or depression
  • Excessive salivation and vomiting
  • Rapid breathing (tachypnea) and elevated heart rate (tachycardia)

Cough medication:

  • At low doses, depressive effects; at high doses, stimulatory effects
  • Ataxia and stumbling
  • Lethargy and agitation
  • Hallucination and disorientation
  • Tremors, seizures, and nervousness
  • Dilated pupils (mydriasis) and elevated body temperature (hyperthermia)

Oral decongestants:

  • Agitation and hyperactivity
  • Elevated heart rate (tachycardia) and high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Tremors and stomach upset

Topical decongestants:

  • Stomach upset and ataxia
  • Depression and low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Reduced body temperature (hypothermia) and low heart rate (bradycardia)

If your dog ingests any cold and flu medication or you suspect ingestion, prompt action is crucial. Waiting for symptoms to appear is not advisable. It’s best to take your dog to the veterinarian or an emergency hospital immediately. Additionally, contacting the pet poison helpline is recommended as they can assist in guiding the treatment process with you and your veterinarian.

Are Vitamins and Natural Medications Toxic to Dogs?

Vitamin C and echinacea are among the vitamins and natural medications that are considered relatively safe for dogs, although they may occasionally induce mild stomach upset. However, zinc poses a significant toxicity risk to dogs when consumed in large quantities. It can trigger the destruction of the dog’s own red blood cells, potentially leading to life-threatening anemia.

Additionally, most multivitamins contain iron, which can be harmful to dogs. Iron ingestion can result in burning sensations and irritation in the mouth and gastrointestinal tract. In excessive doses, supplemental iron can even lead to liver failure in dogs. Thus, it’s essential to be cautious when considering the administration of vitamins and natural supplements to dogs.

What to Do If Your Dog Ingests Cold and Flu Medication

If you suspect that your dog has consumed cold and flu medication or is displaying symptoms of medication toxicity, it’s crucial to contact your veterinarian, an emergency hospital, and/or pet poison control immediately.

Attempting to induce vomiting at home is strongly discouraged. Any induced vomiting should only be conducted under the guidance of a veterinarian or trained veterinary staff. Home-induced vomiting can lead to life-threatening complications such as aspiration pneumonia or chemical burns in the digestive system.

When reaching out for assistance, provide as much information as possible to the veterinarian, including:

  • Name of the medication
  • Milligram dose of each tablet/capsule/liquid
  • Approximate amount of medication that is missing or suspected to be ingested
  • Time of potential ingestion

It’s advisable to err on the side of caution by overestimating the amount of medication your dog may have ingested to ensure proper evaluation and treatment.

Treatment Options for Cold and Flu Medication Toxicity in Dogs

Dealing with poisoning cases can be distressing, but prompt treatment is available, and initiating it as soon as possible is crucial. Your veterinarian may opt to induce vomiting in your dog if the toxin was recently ingested and your dog hasn’t yet displayed signs of toxicity.

In cases where a significant amount of cold and flu medication has been ingested, your vet might decide to insert a stomach tube to flush out your dog’s stomach with water. Additionally, they may administer activated charcoal to help prevent the medication from being absorbed into the bloodstream, thereby reducing further toxicity.

Treatment for cold and flu medication toxicity focuses on addressing symptoms and providing supportive care since there are no specific antidotes available for these medications. It’s essential to keep dogs in this condition warm, quiet, and under close monitoring to ensure they remain responsive and maintain normal breathing. This often entails the dog staying overnight in the hospital.

To maintain hydration and support kidney function, IV fluids will be administered. Your dog may also receive antinausea medications and liver protectants to aid in recovery from the toxicity. In cases where anemia develops, a blood transfusion may be necessary to address the condition effectively.


To prevent cold and flu medication toxicity in dogs, it’s essential to practice responsible medication handling. Here are some guidelines to follow:

  • Retain all original packaging of medications until they are completely consumed, as this information may be necessary for reference.
  • Exercise caution when repackaging medications, such as transferring them to a pill organizer or alternative container. While it may seem convenient to store various medications together, such as Tylenol, vitamins, and cold tablets in a plastic bag, consider the potential risks if your dog gains access to them.
  • Refrain from administering human medication to your dog without prior consultation and approval from your veterinarian. It’s crucial to seek professional guidance before giving any medication to your pet.
  • Avoid leaving pills unattended on countertops or within easy reach of your dog. If any medication is accidentally dropped, promptly retrieve it to prevent your dog from ingesting it.

By adhering to these practices, you can help minimize the risk of cold and flu medication toxicity in your dog and promote their safety and well-being.

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