Benadryl (Diphenhydramine is the name of the drug and often the “name” you will observe on the generic brands) is an effective and safe over-the-counter medication that can be used in pets to help alleviate a wide variety of ailments. Most often, however, Benadryl is used as a light sedative and to help reduce the severity of allergies in dogs and cats. Furthermore, it is inexpensive, widely available to the general public and, most importantly, has a large “safety margin” which means that cases of toxic overdosing are extremely unlikely. In short, it is safe and effective which are two of the most important considerations when formulating a treatment plan for your pet. Benadryl comes in at least 4 different formulations making administration of the medication to your pet less of a struggle than many other drugs. You can purchase pills, capsules, liquid suspensions, and thin film strips (oral quick dissolve strips).
When should you consider giving your pet Benadryl?
I advise my clients to try Benadryl when their pet is displaying evidence of mild to moderate allergies. Clinical signs that the owner may report include excessive itching/scratching, sneezing, and red/irritated eyes. Often times, if you look between your Dog’s toes, the skin will be red, moist and have a foul odor. Saliva staining is a common finding where excessive licking of paws turns light colored hair into a brown, rusty color. Its important to note that Benadryl is used to treat the signs (ie consequences) of allergies and does NOT address or treat the actual cause of the allergy. A complete physical exam by a qualified veterinarian, and sometimes laboratory tests, are required to identify the actual cause of the problem. Sedation is a common side effect that owners may observe in their pets after they have administered a dose of Benadryl. Veterinarians often use this “side effect” to our advantage. I prescribe Benadryl quite often for pets that display mild to moderate levels of anxiety/fear. Separation anxiety and fear associated with riding in automobiles are two good examples.
As far as dosing, I always recommend that clients start at the lower end of the dose range and work their way up as needed. This is often referred to as “titrating the medication to effect”. The dosage for dogs and cats is 1-2 mg per pound of body weight administered every 8-12 hours as needed. It should be administered orally, approximately one hour prior to a potentially stressful event (a car ride for example). If you are treating allergies, then i would recommend using twice a day dosing for a full week to evaluate its efficacy (benefits for your pet). The most common form of Benadryl is probably the 25mg tablet. (So, just to give you rough guidelines, small dogs would receive 1/4 of a tablet 2-3 times a day. Medium dogs are started on a dose of at 1/2-3/4 of the 25mg tablet. And so on…). As is true of many medications, the animals individual body chemistry and genetics will determine its response to a particular drug. Some animals are very sensitive to the effects of Benadryl and the smallest amount will result in profound sedation. Other pets may require up to 4 times the starting dosage (this is still well within the safe dosing range) before any effects of the medication are observed at all. Never forget that every living creature is unique and much be approached as an individual patient rather than adopting a template or “cookie-cutter” approach to treatment.
*** Only Use plain Benadryl containing the drug diphenhydramine. Other formulations of Benadryl (such as “Benadryl Sinus”) may contain additional active ingredients that can potentially be toxic for your pet. “Benadryl Sinus”, for example, also contains Acetaminophen which is NOT safe for pets. A thank you to Dr. Bergeron for reminding us to include this critical detail.
Use Our Free benadyl dosage calculator for dogs and cats now!