Is Cough Medicine Safe for Dogs?

Human cough medicine can be really bad for dogs!

Cuteness may earn compensation through affiliate links in this story. Learn more about our affiliate and product review process here.

Just like a human, your dog may need a bit of cough medicine to help them feel better if a persistent cough is making them miserable. While some types of human cough medications are safe to give to your dog, others aren't. If your veterinarian recommends cough medicine for your dog, they'll prescribe the proper type and dosage.


Some types of cough medication contain ingredients poisonous to dogs.
Image Credit: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Video of the Day

Why do dogs cough?

If your dog is coughing, several things could be the cause, including:


Video of the Day

  • Viral, fungal, or bacterial infection
  • Allergies
  • Tracheal collapse
  • Pneumonia
  • Kennel cough
  • A foreign body lodged in the throat

Heart disease and certain types of cancers can also cause coughing, so it is important that your veterinarian examines your dog, discusses all potential causes, and performs diagnostic tests if necessary.


Signs that you may need cough medicine for dogs

If your dog develops a cough, consult a veterinarian and discuss your dog's health history as well as the nature of the cough (honking, dry, wet). Depending on the cause of the cough, your veterinarian may prescribe medicine to either encourage or discourage the coughing.


Some illnesses cause a dry cough, while others cause a productive cough. Productive coughs result in mucus being expelled from the body and are usually caused by an infection. If your dog has a productive cough, your veterinarian may prescribe an expectorant to encourage the mucus to come out of their system. Dry coughs won't produce any mucus and can typically be quelled by a cough suppressant medication.


If your dog has additional symptoms, like sneezing, gagging, runny nose, or gastrointestinal upset, antibiotics or treatment outside of cough medicine may be necessary. Kennel cough typically runs its course without treatment.

Image Credit: TatyanaGl/iStock/GettyImages

Is there cough medicine for dogs?

Yes, there are prescription, veterinary medicine-approved medicines for dogs to provide cough relief.



In the case of a dry cough, your veterinarian may prescribe a cough suppressant called dextromethorphan. Dextromethorphan is typically prescribed to treat chronic bronchitis and dry, unproductive cough in dogs. This ingredient is found in pet-specific medications and over-the-counter human cough medications; your veterinarian will recommend one that is safe for your dog.


Another ingredient, guaifenesin, is a type of expectorant found in many cough medications, usually in combination with dextromethorphan. If your dog has a moist, productive cough, a medicine containing guaifenesin may be prescribed. This muscle relaxant helps to stimulate bronchial secretions.


Is human cough medicine safe for dogs?

No, in general human cough medicine is not safe for dogs.‌ Pet owners should know that human cough medications may contain ingredients in addition to dextromethorphan and guaifenesin that aren't safe for dogs. To prevent your dog from becoming poisoned by additives to human cough medication, give your dog canine-specific cough medicine when possible.

Always inform your veterinarian of the name and brand of cough medication you are giving your dog. It's best to seek veterinary advice and possibly a prescription before administering any type of cough medicine to your dog.

Image Credit: zamrznutitonovi/iStock/GettyImages

Ingredients to avoid for a dog’s cough

Ingredients that may be found in human cough medicine that are toxic for dogs include:


  • Acetaminophen
  • Caffeine
  • Xylitol
  • Ibuprofen

It doesn't take much of these ingredients to create a life-threatening reaction, especially in small dogs.

Cough medications for humans may also contain unsafe doses of antihistamines and decongestants for dogs. These ingredients should also be avoided:

  • Pseudoephedrine
  • Brompheniramine
  • Chlorpheniramine

Dog-safe cough medicine ingredients

  • Dextromethorphan:‌ A cough suppressant found in Delsym, Robitussin, Balminil, and more
  • Guaifenesin:‌ An expectorant that loosens mucus
Image Credit: Wirestock/iStock/GettyImages

Side effects of dog’s cough medicine

Possible side effects depend on which type of medicine is being given. Potential side effects of dextromethorphan include:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Drowsiness

Potential side effects of guaifenesin include an increase in heart rate and blood pressure.

Cough medications may not be appropriate for pregnant or nursing dogs, so consult with your veterinarian. Always administer these drugs as directed by your veterinarian to prevent an accidental overdose, which can cause more serious effects, including a decreased rate of breathing. An overdose of cough medicine can cause the following symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Tremors
  • Hypothermia
  • Lack of coordination

The bottom line

Dogs may develop a cough for a variety of reasons, from swallowing something to allergies to a collapsed trachea or heart disease. Over-the-counter cough medicines should be administered with caution. Consult your DVM, who may prescribe a cough suppressant or expectorant for cough relief depending on the cause.


Report an Issue

screenshot of the current page

Screenshot loading...