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Is Benadryl Safe for Dogs? What Dosage Would I Give?

When your pet is suffering, you often find yourself wondering what you can do to provide relief. When that suffering is in the form of itching and skin irritation, one of your first thoughts may be to give your pet a little Benadryl. However, before you give your dog any human medications, you need to know that some medications are harmful and even fatal to dogs, even when considered safe for humans. Remember, your dog’s physiology is much different than yours, and you need to be cautious. Here’s what you need to know about Benadryl, dogs, and how to use it safely.

What Is Benadryl?

Benadryl is actually a brand name for a medication called diphenhydramine HCL. This is an antihistamine, which helps reduce histamine reactions in people. It works by blocking the receptors in the body that receive histamines. This means the body will continue to produce histamines, but the receptors won’t register them, thus stopping the allergy reaction.

This medication can be used for everything from itchy skin to serious allergic reactions, and it’s a staple in most medicine cabinets. It’s fairly mild with few side effects other than drowsiness, and that’s why many pet owners are tempted to reach for it at the first sign of problems.

Is It Safe?

Generally speaking when given in the right amounts, Benadryl is safe for dogs, but the AKC reminds pet owners that it’s not yet FDA-approved for veterinary use. However, that doesn’t mean it’s unsafe, it just means that the process to gain FDA approval hasn’t happened.

What Does It Treat?

Benadryl treats the same thing in dogs that it treats in people. Seasonal allergies that are mild to moderate respond well to Benadryl treatment. The medication can also help reduce the reaction to insect or snake bites. The most common use of Benadryl is to treat the skin irritation that’s common with skin allergies. Many dogs are allergic to grass and some have serious reactions to flea bites, causing hair loss and hot spots, and Benadryl can help with all of these. It can also be a first-line defense against an anaphylactic reaction, buying pet owners enough time to get to the vet for more effective treatments.

As many parents of human children know, Benadryl has the effect of making those who take it a little drowsy. This is true for dogs as well. For this reason, some veterinarians will recommend using Benadryl with dogs who seem anxious. Specifically, many vets recommend using Benadryl to help dogs relax before traveling with them. As an added bonus, a dog who takes Benadryl before a trip is less likely to get motion sick.

Finally, some veterinarians recommend Benadryl as part of the protocol to treat dogs with mast cell tumors. These tumors create a huge histamine release in the body, which can cause intense symptoms for dogs. Using Benadryl can reduce these symptoms.

How Much Benadryl Is Safe?

Your veterinarian is the one you need to ask when determining how much Benadryl is safe for your dog, but if you’re in a pinch and need a fast answer, the Merck Veterinary Manual recommends 2-4 mg of the medication per kilogram of body weight, given up to 3 times per day. Of course, if you’re used to dealing in pounds, not kilograms, that can be confusing. This translates into 1 mg of Benadryl per pound of body weight. Most of the tablets you can buy are 25 mg tablets, which are good for a 25 pound dog. If your dog weighs less than 25 pounds, you will need to discuss the best dosage with your vet. Often you can use children’s tablets or liquid to get the right dose, but be careful with liquids. Some liquid medications have artificial sweeteners that are dangerous for dogs. Also, don’t give time-released medications to your dog, as they won’t work as they should and can deliver too much medication too quickly.

Can Dogs Overdose on Benadryl?

Yes. Any medication, if given in too high of an amount, is dangerous for your dog. This is of particular concern for small dogs, as it only takes a little bit too much of the medication to create a serious problem. In dogs, overdosing on Benadryl causes hyper-excitability of the central nervous system, which can kill your dog. You may notice other signs like a rapid heartbeat, agitation, seizures, constipation, dilated pupils and constipation. Any combination of these symptoms after giving your dog Benadryl warrants a call to your veterinarian or a trip to the emergency veterinary hospital.

Potential Risks of Benadryl in Dogs

Outside of the risk of overdose, using Benadryl in dogs has some other risks. Some dogs will have an allergy to the medication itself, so always watch the dog closely after giving any medication for the first time. Benadryl can cause drowsiness, dry mouth, urinary retention, and an increased heart rate. If you notice these side effects and are concerned, talk to your vet, but they are typically mild and not a cause for alarm. Finally, Benadryl may cause a change in appetite for dogs.

In most instances, giving a dog human medication is not wise, but Benadryl is one of the rare exceptions to this rule. If your dog is having an allergy problem or skin irritation, you always need to check with your vet first, but you can give Benadryl in the right dose to provide some relief.

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