Zyrtec is an allergy medication, purchased over-the-counter (OTC) for humans but it is used sometimes for dogs too. It is basically safe but as is the case for all over-the-counter medications, there can be side-effects.
Some common side effects of Zyrtec are vomiting and excessive salivating. In rare cases, dogs can be knocked out as if sedated. This may result in a more serious situation and you should seek the advice of your veterinarian as to whether your dog needs to be seen. Dogs have been known to fall into coma or experience seizures while heavily sedated by an OTC medication.
You should only use plain Zyrtec and never Zyrtec-D. The latter has some potentially serious side effects in dogs. The dose you use should be approximately .5 mg per pound and you can repeat this dose 1 to 2 times each day. Do not ever exceed 20 mg per day. If you need to cut a pill in half, you can purchase a pill cutter for a few dollars at any pharmacy.
The active ingredient in Zyrtec is cetirizine. Claritin is also safe to use for dogs and the active ingredient in that is loratadine. Some people also have used Benadryl but it has a very sedative effect that many don’t care for. The other allergy medications don’t have this issue for most dogs. If you have a dog that requires constant allergy meds at certain times of the year, you don’t want them sleeping through the entire season.
Don’t use any other antihistamines that aren’t mentioned here. If they have additional medications in them, they will not be safe for your dog and could potentially be fatal. Also, do not combine medications as this can cause an extreme reaction. Dogs can have seizures and fall into a coma from an overdose.
How Does It Work?
Zyrtec is an antihistamine which blocks the body from making histamine. Histamine production is elevated by the liver when the body senses an invader – the allergen. If your dog is allergic to pollen, then the body will go into overdrive in the spring and produce far more antihistamine than it needs. This causes itching and scratching that make your dog miserable. It can also lead to inflammation in the skin and secondary fungal infections in the ears or on the skin, particularly in the paws.
If you notice that your dog is itching and scratching constantly, try giving a bath every four weeks during allergy seasons and give them an OTC antihistamine such as Zyrtec, Claritin, or Benadryl. Histamine release is an allergic reaction, once triggered is difficult to get under control in any other way than to use an antihistamine.
The body is basically sabotaging itself when this happens. The OTC medication can help break the cycle and when combined with a soothing bath to remove pollen and debris from the skin, hotspots that were started from chewing and scratching can begin healing. Removing dirt and debris helps to ensure that infections don’t get started in any open sores.
It’s hard to watch dogs suffer from allergies. They can cry, chew and dig until they bleed and have scabs. They will lose hair and create huge bald spots on their back near their tail. Allergies can make them look horrible and feel just as bad. Treating them with an OTC medication is the fastest way to give them relief and if you start treatment the moment you notice the scratching, you’ll find that they never get the worst of the symptoms, like hair loss.
Causes and Symptoms of Allergies
Some dogs are allergic to flea bites. Some dogs are allergic to types of foods. Other dogs have specific seasonal allergies. Some lucky dogs have them all. Knowing the symptoms will help you begin treatment quickly.
- Itching all over and chewing on the paws excessively
- Skin rashes, with scaly and/or oily skin; pigmentation, or leathery skin
- Eye discharge or red eyes
- Hair loss from scratching and chewing
- Secondary yeast or bacterial infections of the skin or ears – the ears will smell bad
- Runny nose and breathing problems – some dogs will backward sneeze a lot
- Seizures more often in predisposed dogs
- Secondary urinary tract infections from an overgrowth of skin bacteria
- Weight loss
- Withdrawal from usual activities, lethargy
If not treated, allergies can develop into bacterial skin infections, yeast infections and can lead to more serious medical conditions, including anaphylactic shock.
If any condition doesn’t get better with OTC medications, you should see your veterinarian for diagnosis. Some dogs can have skin mites that are the source of the problem and will need a specific shampoo or treatment. Other dogs may be suffering from a specific skin issue that needs medication or antibiotics.
Side Effects of Zyrtec
Overall, this drug is very safe but occasionally you will see reactions to it. Things to be looking out for include:
- Urine retention – pay attention to their urine output
- Impulsive responses – they may irritable
- Excessive salivation or panting
Some of these can be quite serious if they are ignored. Urine output falling below normal can indicate kidney damage. This is not just detrimental to their health, it can be fatal. Please, be aware and pay attention. Vomiting can lead to extreme dehydration which is dangerous for them.
If you need to vet your dog, make sure that you provide them with a complete list of any other medications that your dog takes so they can determine if there is a drug interaction at work. They may need to administer fluids and medications. Tests will be run and samples of blood and urine will be taken.
Taking a Holistic Approach Instead
Some owners choose to treat the dog’s skin with coconut oil because it is an antimicrobial that works to kill fungal infections and soothes the skin. It will promote healing of hotspots and give your dog relief from the allergies. The only issue with using coconut oils is that it doesn’t solve the underlying issue if that issue is allergies.
Coconut oil is otherwise very good for the dog’s skin.
Some owners resort to using CBD oil to block the body’s reaction to the allergies. This isn’t treating the allergy but is basically does the same thing as the antihistamines by choosing a different route to stop the histamine production. The CBD works to block the body from alerting the brain that there is an intruder, to begin with, so that the brain doesn’t direct the liver to respond with histamine production.
This makes CBD oil a good alternative and possibly using coconut oil to revive the skin and work together with the CB oil to help revitalize the skin.
Using a good oatmeal shampoo can reduce inflammation in the skin and reduce redness and swelling. You can also use castor oil to help deter fleas and heal fungal infections in the skin. Do not use castor oil in the ears, but it is safe if the dog ingests some of it from licking it off, which is always a concern when using any sort of topical cream or oil on the dog. Likewise, coconut oil is safe should they consume a bit.
The main focus is that you give them relief from their itching and digging. They need to be able to relax. Their body is overdrive and they can’t sleep or function because all they can think about is how badly they itch. Imagine how you feel when you’ve been chewed by mosquitoes when camping.
The itch can be so bad it makes you want to cry. Have you ever gotten scabies or mites from picking blackberries? This is a horrible itching that makes your skin feel like it is crawling. If you have experienced any of these, then you have some idea of how miserable your dog is.
We love our dogs as members of our family and we don’t want them to suffer. We will typically do anything that we can to help them, but we don’t always recognize that there is a problem so we can do better to pay attention and learn how to take control of the situation as quickly as possible so they can get back to feeling themselves.
If it is as simple as an OTC medication, then you can have some on hand to make it easier to treat them immediately, before they really start digging.
Dawn Greer is a passionate blogger and animal rights activist. She is a pet lover, certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, pet nutritionist, and former veterinary technician. She continues her work while writing blogs for pet lovers around the globe.