Are OTC Medications Safe For Your Cat? [Answered]

Many of us regularly consume OTC drugs to address a spectrum of concerns, from minor aches to mood fluctuations.

Our medicine cabinets brim with familiar names like Aspirin, Tylenol, Benadryl, and even BenGay.

Promoted heavily in advertisements, these drugs promise swift relief, earning their spot in most households due to their perceived safety.

But as we confidently pop a pill or apply an ointment, an essential question arises: While these OTC solutions cater to our needs, are they equally safe for our cats?

The thought of using Tylenol to alleviate a cat's pain, Benadryl for rashes, or BenGay for sore muscles might cross our minds. But should it?

The Short Answer Is - NO!

You should never decide to medicate your cat on your own with any medication, prescription, or OTC.

A red-haired cat sitting in front of a pile of medicines and playing with a rubber medical enema. Pet treatment concept.

Vets may suggest some of these drugs, provided in the correct dosage and as part of a coordinated treatment protocol, but you should never administer them without specific instructions from a veterinarian. Here's why:

1. Some Of These Drugs Can Kill Your Cat - As Simple As That

Humans consider many medications safe for use, but even small doses can be extremely toxic to cats.

Take Tylenol, for example. It is quite safe for people, and thus a popular OTC painkiller, yet a single 500mg tablet can easily kill your cat.

In humans and dogs, the toxic effects of an overdose of acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol) are harmful to the liver.

In cats, it changes their blood composition, literally suffocating them by reducing the ability of the blood to carry vital oxygen to the body tissues.

2. It Can Stop You From Treating The Real Issue

Cats are notorious for hiding pain and disease, so if you actually see visible symptoms, you should always call your vet.

Even if you end up using a perfectly safe treatment, treating the symptoms could mean the underlying condition continues to develop, causing potentially irreversible damage.

3. What Is Commonly Considered "Safe For Pets," Is Not Necessarily Safe For Cats

Just because someone you know gave their dog a certain OTC medication does not mean you can administer the same drug to your cat without dire consequences.

Woman giving pill to cute cat at home, closeup. Vitamins for animal

Cats' digestive systems are different from those of dogs, and you should never assume that a medication that's safe for dogs is also safe to use on your cat.


4. Beware Of Ointments And Topical Treatments

Just because you apply it on your cat's coat does not make it less dangerous. Cats' delicate skin quickly absorbs many treatments.

Moreover, your cat might lick the affected area, ingesting the medication.

While many ointments may seem safe for external use, they become toxic when ingested, and therefore, you shouldn't use them on cats.

5. Dosage Issues

Most OTC drugs are manufactured for humans, with appropriate dosages being addressed.

Even if the drug itself can be used to treat cats, only your veterinarian can determine the correct dosage.

Not only will the dosage be feline-specific, but it also has to consider the cat's weight, age, and other medical conditions.

6. Interaction With Other Drugs

OTC drugs that are relatively safe to use on their own can sometimes turn into lethal agents when they interact with other drugs.

Sad orange cat and red pills closeup

This is true of all medications, prescription or OTC, and for humans as well as felines. This is why your vets need to know what medication your cat is taking or has been taking over the past few weeks.

If you're seeing a vet that doesn't have your cat's records on file, make sure you provide all relevant information about present or past drugs administered.

7. Side Effects And Reactions

Since these drugs affect cats differently than they would a dog or a human, side effects and any reactions to the drug also tend to be different.

Your vet will know what to expect and what to do if side effects arise.

This is part of the follow-up, and you should always be able to report back about any reactions at any time and receive further guidance.

8. Herbal Medicines - Are They Safe?

Herbal medicine, whether from a Chinese healer or just from the store's shelves, is medicine. Just because the source is herbal or "natural" does not mean it's safe.

Many factory-made drugs originate from herbs and plants and contain the exact same chemical compounds.

Feverfew, Wormwood, Chapparal, and even something as common as garlic can all have adverse effects on your cat's health, to the point of putting her life at risk.

That's why you should always consult your veterinarian before administering any herbal medicine.

9. Homeopathic Medicines - What About Them?

In classic homeopathy, active ingredients are diluted to the point that virtually no molecule of that substance is left behind.

Sad ginger cat and a bottle of herbal tincture or extract with dropper. Mock-up of glass vial with natural medicine for pets and animals.

The problem is most of these so-called remedies are often diluted in alcohol, making them very dangerous for cats.

Also, many remedies dubbed as "homeopathic" are really just herbal medicines in disguise.

Either way, if you decide to treat your cat with homeopathy, you should work with a veterinarian that knows how to prepare them for cats.

This is essential, also for the reason mentioned above - proper diagnosis prior to treatment.

The Bottom Line - Talk To Your Vet

Find a vet you are comfortable with and have a working relationship with her or him, as the main healthcare provider for your cat.

Your vet should be the only one to sanction any use of OTC or prescription medications.

Closely follow instructions as to dosage and follow up with any reactions or side effects. It's the only way to keep your cat safe!


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4 comments on “Are OTC Medications Safe For Your Cat? [Answered]

ntxredhead July 10, 2018
Altho there are a few human OTC meds safe for our kitties-please be mindful & take few minutes to ask a VET first--Its good to be safe than sorry
whollycat January 20, 2013
A full comment and explanation on Homeopathic Remedies (Medicines) can be found here. It was too long to fit in the comment area here. :)
hersheys mom January 10, 2013
Benadryl saved our Mainecoon's life when he got stung by a bee and went into shock. Vet also recommend Pepto (super strength) for Hershey Rose's diarrhea but never got it down her as she is feral. However, got rid of 8 weeks worth of diarrhea (which she had when I adopted her) in 24 hours - took the advice of people on this site, tossed her pet store food, put her on RAD and no more problems. It has been 5 months now, and even with mommy making her own raw food now, her problem has not returned.
melorene January 10, 2013
NOTHING goes on my cats' skin or down their throats that are made for humans. That goes for my little dog, too. The only medications, ointments, etc., that I give my babies are only used if their vet prescribes it or says it's okay to use. I only go to one vet, too. And I trust her more than I trust my own doctor. In fact, I wish she could be my primary doctor. She's young, very knowledgeable, very matter of fact, and has a wonderful bedside manner!!!

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