Benadryl For Dogs: Is It Safe?

Joanne Keenan
Benadryl For Dogs

Every day dog owners with itchy, uncomfortable pets are advised by veterinarians and social media to give Benadryl for dogs as if it’s a cure-all for allergies, hives, anxiety and other issues. First of all, it doesn’t cure anything … and secondly, it’s not a good idea.

Let’s start by understanding how Benadryl and antihistamines work. 

What Is An Antihistamine?

When the body has an allergic reaction, it releases a natural chemical called histamine that causes sneezing, runny nose or itching. It’s a signal to “back off” the food, the cleaning solutions, the environment or whatever substance caused the reaction. 

An antihistamine is a medication that’s given to block these reactions. It’s a temporary solution and doesn’t cure the underlying problem. 

When histamines are repeatedly released, they can damage capillaries that let blood plasma leak into body tissues and cause ongoing itchiness, redness and inflammation. 

What Is Benadryl?

Benadryl is a well-known over-the-counter antihistamine that also has anticholinergic (drying) and sedative effects. Many consider Benadryl a harmless solution for various problems. 

A chemical engineer invented the drug diphenhydramine hydrochloride, better known by the brand name Benadryl, when working for the company now known as Pfizer. Benadryl was approved by the FDA as the first prescription antihistamine in 1946. It’s now available under many generic brand names, and there’s even a liver-flavored version for pets.

Can You Use Benadryl For Dogs?

You shouldn’t give your dog Benadryl ... but many dog owners use it and vets often prescribe it. Dogs are given Benadryl to provide relief for …

  • Itchy or irritated skin
  • Hives
  • Hotspots
  • Ear infections
  • Digestive issues
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Motion sickness
  • Fear or anxiety
  • Reverse sneezing

These issues can be caused by food, reaction to medication, pest control products, vaccination, yeast infection, seasonal allergies, environmental toxins or autoimmune diseases … to name a few. 

But the problem is, Benadryl hides the real cause … and it’s not safe for dogs. 

Is Benadryl Safe For Dogs?

No, it’s not safe. When used too often, antihistamines can suppress the body’s natural healing response. Instead of having histamines warn the body that there’s a problem, the symptoms are suppressed and the disease continues to fester beneath the surface and become worse … often leading to seizures, chronic disease, behavior or emotional problems and even cancer.

Plus, histamines have other functions in the body:

  • They relay messages in the nervous system
  • They’re found in gastric acid in the digestive system
  • They dilate blood vessels in response to pathogens

And if antihistamines like Benadryl are given often, it prevents histamines from performing their other important roles in the body.

Can You Overdose Benadryl For Dogs?

Yes, it’s easy to overdose Benadryl and seriously harm your dog as it has a narrow safety margin. If you must give Benadryl, ask your vet for accurate dosing. 

Warnings About Benadryl For Dogs

  • Don’t use liquid Benadryl, which can have harmful ingredients and dyes.
  • Read the ingredients to make sure there’s no xylitol, which is deadly to dogs.
  • Don’t give it to pregnant or nursing dogs.

Side Effects Of Benadryl For Dogs

If you give Benadryl, watch your dog for any changes. Here are some possible reactions: 

  • Dilated pupils or red eyes
  • Intense drowsiness
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Aggression
  • Fever
  • Seizures
  • Muscle tremors
  • Lack of coordination, inability to walk
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Delirium

If your dog has these symptoms after taking Benadryl, you need to get to an emergency vet.

Long Term Side Effects

These are adverse effects stemming from long term use of Benadryl.

  • Dry mouth, nose and throat
  • Low blood pressure
  • Heart palpitations
  • Cognitive issues, confusion, dementia
  • Anxiety, moodiness and depression
  • Drowsiness
  • Trembling
  • Chemical dependence
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Change in appetite
  • Constipation
  • Can mask symptoms of digestive problems

The Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology has issued warnings about the side effects of Benadryl in a 2019 position statement about Benadryl. They said the drug leads to: “…several intolerable and potentially life-threatening adverse effects.”

They explained that antihistamine drugs cross the blood–brain barrier: “… and may lead to significant CNS suppression and toxicity resulting in psychomotor impairment, coma, and even death.”

Benadryl is a band-aid solution that can provide temporary relief for your dog’s itching or other symptoms. But it can cause deeper health problems for your dog.

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