Are Cough Drops Bad For Dogs? A Complete Case Study

Salbei cough drops in tin
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Seeing your pup coughing regularly can be worrying, and as a loving dog owner you can’t help but to want to help them in any way you can.

Amid another hacking fit, you look around desperately and find a packet of Halls cough drops, wondering,

“Are cough drops bad For dogs?”

Well, here’s a definite, straightforward answer: Cough drops can be bad for dogs.

Cough drops contain various ingredients that can make your dog suffer from GI issues, such as diarrhea and vomiting. The ingredients list can include eucalyptus oil, menthol, local anesthetic and sugar- all of which are fairly common components.

You should always check the ingredients on the back of the pack first as some ‘sugar-free’ formulations can contain harmful artificial sweeteners such as xylitol.

As you may already know, xylitol is extremely toxic to canines and has the potential to kill a dog if ingested in sufficiently large amounts.

In many cases, rather than slowly sucking on the cough drops, a dog will instead swallow the cough drop whole as the hard texture makes it difficult to bite upon.

This makes cough drops dangerous as they can lead to choking or intestinal blockage which will then require emergency procedures.

If you do want to feed any cough drops to your dog in a last-ditch attempt to cure that sore throat, ensure that they do not contain any toxic ingredients and consult with a veterinarian first. There may be better options out there, such as dog-friendly cough syrups and suppressants.

(Side note: I am a member of the Amazon Associates program. From time to time I like to recommend products in my posts that I feel may truly be helpful to readers and their pets. If you do end up buying something by clicking the links on my site, I may receive a tiny amount of commission from the big guys. 

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Will Cough Drops Make A Dog Sick? The Ingredients Commonly Involved

Are cough drops bad for dogs ?

Cough drops can make a dog sick, depending on the ingredients that are used. Always examine the ingredients first as they may contain harmful substances.

For example, if the cough drop contains xylitol, it can make your dog very sick. However, if the cough drop is xylitol-free but contains menthol or benzocaine instead, one or two pieces are unlikely to result in any toxicity.

Nonetheless, menthol and benzocaine have the potential to upset your dog’s stomach and can lead to diarrhea. Realistically though, the largest concern of xylitol-free cough drop consumption is the risk of choking it creates.

Other risks of cough drops depend on whether or not essential oils were used. In sufficient concentrations, essential oils can be toxic to canines and cause problems such as seizures. It may even be serious enough to lead to death.

Before providing any cough drops, consult with your veterinarian first as they will likely be able to provide options that can soothe your dog’s throat and cure its cough.

Xylitol

Xylitol is seeing increased use among human consumers as a healthy replacement for sugar. However, it is toxic to dogs and consumption commonly leads to hypoglycemia and liver damage.

Hypoglycemia is a term used to describe low blood sugar levels, though dogs can show symptoms of liver damage without hypoglycemia as well.

Some symptoms of xylitol poisoning include stomach upset, lowered blood pressure, loss of coordination and seizures.

The extent of toxicity depends on:

  • The amount of xylitol contained in the cough drops; and
  • The amount of cough drops your dog has consumed.

It only takes 50 milligrams of xylitol per pound of body weight, or 100 milligrams of xylitol per kilogram of body weight, to begin to see relatively severe consequences.

If your dog has ingested a large quantity of cough drops containing xylitol, you will need to seek medical attention immediately as it can be quickly lethal.

Contact your veterinarian or a poison control hotline such as the ASPCA to see if vomiting will need to be induced using 3% hydrogen peroxide.

Benzocaine

Benzocaine has been therapeutically used in animals as a local anesthetic, but it should not be given regularly or in large amounts.

By itself, benzocaine generally leads to slight GI issues such as a stomach pain and diarrhea.

However, when it is ingested, the internal process mixes benzocaine with hemoglobin and causes methemoglobinemia.

Methemoglobinemia is a condition where there is an elevated level of red blood cell proteins that do not carry oxygen, leading to decreased oxygen supply to various bodily organs. This can lead to brain damage and abnormal functioning of other internal organs.

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Common symptoms of benzocaine toxicity or methemoglobinemia include:

  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Hypothermia
  • Discoloration (or yellowing) of mucous membranes and skin
  • Depression

Furthermore, as benzocaine also acts as a local anesthetic, consuming benzocaine can lead to numbness in the throat or mouth. This can pose a problem with breathing and dramatically heighten the risk of choking.

Menthol

Green peppermint plant leaf

Menthol is an organic compound derived from mint or peppermint that can irritate the tissues lining your dog’s mouth and digestive system. Some symptoms of menthol irritation include vomiting, diarrhea and behaviors indicating stomach pain.

Menthol can be dangerous as the cough drop’s cooling effect relaxes your dog’s respiratory tract, leading to respiratory depression.

Symptoms of respiratory depression include:

  • Slowed breathing
  • Apnea
  • Drowsiness
  • Loss of balance

Severe symptoms of respiratory depression can include heart attack and brain damage. Generally, these severe symptoms of menthol are less common. Menthol is also unlikely to cause any long term effects.

The toxic dosage of menthol for dogs is approximately 2000mg/kg. This means that consuming menthol from a few cough drops is unlikely to pose any fatal issues.

Sugar

Sugar is a common ingredient in many cough drop formulations. Sugar consumption in dogs can cause hyperactivity, among other common symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea.

Regularly feeding cough drops and thereby maintaining a high-sugar diet will eventually lead to problems such as:

  • Tooth decay
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease

Although the sugar in cough drops may be the least of your problems, it is still one of the reasons why you should avoid giving your dog cough drops intended for humans.

Essential Oils and Plants

In sufficient quantities, many essential oils from plants such as eucalyptus oil can be toxic to dogs. These oils and plants are often included in cough drops and therefore are not suitable for your dog to consume, especially in large quantities.

Smaller quantities often lead to digestive problems, while larger quantities can lead to seizures and other fatal issues.

An example of toxicity from an essential oil is eucalyptus poisoning. Symptoms of eucalyptus poisoning include excessive vomiting and having diarrhea, depression, and seizures.

For a comprehensive list of toxic and non-toxic oils from plants, check out the ASPCA’s guide.

Choking Hazard or Intestinal Obstruction

Sick dog being examined by vet on table

A significant risk of cough drops is it can lead to choking and internal obstruction. Dogs will be at greater risk if they have ingested many cough drops at once, if the dog has also consumed the wrapper, or if the dog is smaller in size.

Cough drops can be difficult to bite into pieces due to its hard texture, causing your dog to swallow the drops whole instead and potentially choking on larger chunks.

If the wrapper is ingested, the plastic is not something that can be readily digested and therefore will be stuck in the digestive tract until the dog manages to release it in its stool.

Choking and intestinal blockage becomes a significant risk especially for smaller dogs since they have smaller throats and digestive tracts. This makes it more difficult for objects like cough drops and wrappers to pass through.

Signs of choking include:

  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Pale or Blue Skin

Signs of intestinal blockage include:

  • Severe Abdominal Pain (as indicated by whining or yelping)
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Inability to release stool or pass wind

In many cases where a dog is suffering from respiratory issues or digestive problems, surgery may be required to remove the cough drop or the wrapper.

Any time surgery is needed, further health risks become involved- not to mention the significant dent in your wallet for something that could have been prevented.

My Dog Ate Ricola Cough Drops… What’s Going To Happen?

Ricola-cough-drops
Adrian Michael, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

If your dog ate Ricola Cough Drops, they are likely to experience GI issues due to the herbs, menthol and sugar contained within.

Ricola has stated that their products do not contain any xylitol, which is good news to dog owners.

However the company does recommend that pet owners contact their vet if their pup ingests Ricola Cough Drops, just in case there are any adverse consequences. Alternatively, you can also contact a poison control hotline such as the ASPCA.

Common non-toxic herbs included in Ricola Cough Drops include:

  • Sage
  • Linden Flowers
  • Lemon Balm
  • Thyme

Other herbs in Ricola Cough Drops that can be toxic if ingested in large quantities include:

  • Mallow
  • Peppermint
  • Elderflower
  • Hyssop

Unless your dog has consumed a large packet of Ricola Cough Drops, it is not likely to suffer from any severe issues other than transient stomach problems such as diarrhea and vomiting.

The worst thing that can realistically happen to your dog after Ricola cough drop consumption is, again, obstruction of their airway or digestive tract.

Dogs that are smaller in size, or that have consumed the wrapper, or which have ingested a large amount of Ricola Cough Drops at once will be more likely to suffer from choking or intestinal blockage.

What Should I Do If My Dog Ate Cough Drops?

Hustenbonbon cough drop
Thogru, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

If you find that your dog is in the process of eating cough drops, make sure that it is not choking first. Then, examine the ingredients list to see if there are any that are harmful to dogs.

It is important to determine the amount your dog has consumed, and to see if your dog has also swallowed the wrapper or packaging too. Keep track of the time and make a note of when your dog ate the cough drops.

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If your dog has eaten many cough drops at once, swallowed the wrapper, or swallowed cough drops that contain xylitol, you should immediately contact your veterinarian to determine whether medication attention is required.

Secondary contactable sources include emergency vet clinics or the Pet Poison Control Hotline.

If your dog has swallowed a few cough drops without any wrapping paper or harmful ingredients, the only other potential problem to watch out for is internal obstruction.

If your dog is suffering from an internal obstruction, you should not try to induce vomiting or otherwise attempt to remove the wrapper until you have asked your veterinarian for advice. Provide the veterinarian with details of the event and any changes in your dog’s behavior.

Some changes in behavior from internal obstruction can include:

  • Gagging or Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Hyperactivity
  • Failure to pass stool
  • Stomach pain
  • Lack of appetite

It would also be a good idea to check their feces and identify any changes in their toilet routine over the next few days.

What If My Dog Ate Cough Drops With Toxic Ingredients?

Skull and crossbones on sugar cubes

If your dog ate cough drops containing toxic ingredients such as xylitol and you have been advised to induce vomiting by your veterinarian, you can do so by orally administering 3% hydrogen peroxide.

The proper dosage of 3% hydrogen peroxide for dogs is approximately 1 tablespoon per 10 pounds of body weight, up to a maximum of 3 tablespoons.

After they have ingested hydrogen peroxide, make them move around so that the hydrogen peroxide gets to work.

Once the hydrogen peroxide gets fizzing and bubbling, it should make your dog vomit within 10 minutes. However if they do not, provide another dose of hydrogen peroxide. Repeat only once.

If the dog does not vomit after repeated attempts, request further assistance from your veterinarian.

What If My Dog Ate Cough Drop Wrapper or Packaging?

If your dog ate the packaging of the cough drop, you may want to feed your dog a bland diet that is high in fiber to help the material pass. The fiber will surround the foreign material so it is able to pass more smoothly through the digestive tract.

A high fiber, bland diet may include foods such as:

  • Lean Hamburger
  • Skinless Chicken
  • White Rice
  • Canned Pumpkin

Check your dog’s stool regularly, and if there are signs of stomach pain or foreign material in the stool, consult with your veterinarian.

How Can I Soothe My Dog’s Cough?

Paw Healer Hound Honey
Click HERE or on the above image to buy from Amazon!

You can soothe your dog’s cough through methods such as using steam therapy, feeding raw honey, feeding coconut oil, and letting your dog rest in an optimal environment.

Other options, such as aromatherapy and using certain herbs, can also be helpful. However, you will need to contact your vet or look through ASPCA’s guide to know which plants and oils are toxic to dogs.

To prevent further coughing, you should also avoid letting your dog come into contact with respiratory irritants such as dust, cigarette smoke and certain household cleaners.

If your dog is coughing during exercise and walks, use a harness rather than a collar. This may be a source of the coughing, as the collar can apply pressure to the trachea, making your dog more susceptible to breathing difficulties. Remove the collar if at all possible.

Make sure you always provide plenty of water for hydration. Alternatively, dry mouths can also be sated with home-made, dog friendly liquids such as chicken and bone broths.

Herbs and Mixtures

Some herbs can also help- although they should not be given in excess quantity to your dog. A few suitable options include:

  • Goldenseal and Echinacea: Both support the immune system as they have antibacterial and antiviral benefits. Administer one drop per pound of bodyweight two times a day.
  • Dandelion: Useful for wet coughs. It helps remove excess fluids from the dog’s body, thereby lowering the formation of phlegm. Administer two drops per pound of bodyweight two times a day.

Some mixtures that are suitable for soothing coughs in dogs may include:

  • PawHealer Dog Cough Remedy: A natural herbal supplement that is very effective for all types of coughs, including honking cough, gagging cough, hacking cough, rapid breathing, and wheezing. Can be dosed 3 to 4 times a day, depending on dog body weight.
  • Tossa K Kennel Bark : A herbal supplement that supports the immune and respiratory systems by combating bacteria and viruses- especially useful for events and boarding. Administer ½ teaspoon four times a day.

While these herbal treatments can be beneficial, it is not recommended to feed these mixtures to dogs younger than 6 months, pregnant or nursing dogs, or dogs with other underlying conditions.

Steam Therapy

Spa day lettering written in steam

Steam can help to moisten your dog’s airways, and the extra heat will expand their respiratory tract- making it easier to breathe with an irritated airway.

Steam can be produced with a humidifier, or you may even create steam in your bathroom using hot water and have your dog stay inside with you for a short period of time. Keep in mind that it may become quite hot in the room so make sure that your dog doesn’t overheat!

Raw Honey

Honey has antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and antioxidant benefits which help combat viruses and bacteria. Furthermore, ingested honey helps lubricate your dog’s throat.

However, it is important to note that honey should not be given to diabetic or obese dogs due to the excess sugar content.

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A teaspoon of honey can be provided up to 3-4 times a day with or without warm water. Half a teaspoon of lemon juice can also be added to honey water for an extra vitamin C boost.

Coconut Oil

Like honey, coconut oil also has antibacterial and antiviral properties. However, coconut oil does contain a large quantity of fat and therefore should not be given in large quantities.

A typical dosage is around one teaspoon of coconut oil per 10 pounds of body weight once a day.

To create a supercharged immunity mixture, honey and coconut oil can be combined and fed to your dog for a superior immune boost!

Rest

Sometimes, rest is the best. With sufficient rest, your dog’s body may naturally recover and counteract the cause of the cough.

To optimize recovery: Reduce daily exercise temporarily, provide plenty of water, and place a humidifier near their resting area. A warm area with a warm blanket is the best foundation for a quick and full return to health.

What Kind Of Cough Suppressant Is Safe For Dogs?

Robitussin cough suppressant

Cough suppressants are often aimed towards dry coughs- coughs that do not produce any phlegm. Wet coughs that expel mucus are preferable as it helps remove the bacteria and virus in the body.

This means that if your dog is suffering from wet coughs, it is not advised to provide cough suppressant since it is desirable for your dog to expel the phlegm. Instead, you can give your dog something called cough ‘expectorants’ such as guaifenesin to help remove the phlegm.

A relatively safe option of a cough suppressant for dogs is dextromethorphan, which helps with bronchial or tracheal irritation. It can also help with dry coughs, including kennel cough.

Dextromethorphan acts by suppressing the brain center that controls cough reflexes, thereby preventing excessive coughing.

Some side effects of dextromethorphan include:

  • Nausea
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • High blood pressure

Severe side effects of dextromethorphan overdose include:

  • Anxiety
  • Seizures
  • Nervousness
  • Weakness
  • Excitability

Before you give your dog any dextromethorphan-containing products, ask your veterinarian first and ensure your pet is not taking any other medication that may interact with medicine.

Typically, you should not provide dextromethorphan to dogs that are allergic, dogs that are very sensitive to its effects, or dogs that are pregnant or nursing. You should also not provide dextromethorphan if your dog has heart disease or suffers from chronic coughing.

Dextromethorphan is typically sold as an over-the-counter medication such as Robitussin (or Benylin Expectorant, St. Joseph Cough Suppressant for Children, Vicks Formula 44 Soothing Cough Relief).

Note that if you are going to buy Robitussin, purchase products without codeine as codeine is toxic to dogs.

You can administer dextromethorphan orally using a feeding syringe or by adding a small amount to food.

Typically, the dosage for dextromethorphan is 0.5-2 milligrams per kilogram of bodyweight every 8 hours orally.

In severe cases of coughing, prescription cough suppressants such as Torbutrol and Hycodan may be required for your dog.

What Kind Of Cough Expectorant Is Safe For Dogs?

Mucinex cough expectorant

Cough expectorants help to remove phlegm produced by bacteria or viruses. A relatively safe option for dogs is guaifenesin, which is generally sold in stores as Mucinex.

Guaifenesin is an expectorant which helps with wet coughs by thinning and loosening mucus, making it easier to remove. Guaifenesin can be administered orally using a feeding syringe, or by adding a small amount to food.

A typical dosage of guaifenesin is around 3-5 milligrams per kilogram of bodyweight every 8 hours orally.

Side effects of guaifenesin can include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure

Symptoms of guaifenesin overdose include:

  • Vomiting
  • Hypothermia
  • Tremors
  • Lack of Coordination

Dextromethorphan and guaifenesin can be given together as the combination will help to suppress excess coughing, as well as helping to thin and loosen the mucus for removal.

Remember to consult your veterinarian before providing any dextromethorphan or guaifenesin to your dog.

In Summary

So, are cough drops bad for dogs?

More often than not, they can be– especially since they are cough drops made for human consumption.

Cough drops can contain a range of toxic ingredients, such as xylitol. In sufficient concentrations, otherwise benign ingredients like menthol and eucalyptus oil can also be problematic to dogs.

Common consequences of cough drops include GI problems such as vomiting and diarrhea. There have also been cases of choking from unsuccessful cough drop consumption, as well as intestinal blockage.

There are many canine-friendly ways that may be able to soothe your dog’s coughing and throat irritation. These can include steam therapy, feeding raw honey and coconut oil, as well as simply letting your dog rest more.

Suitable options for suppressing cough include dextromethorphan, which is commonly sold as Robitussin. On the other hand, guaifenesin (Mucinex) can be beneficial for dogs with wet coughs as it will help to expel bacteria-containing mucus.

Remember: Always consult with a veterinarian first before providing any cough medication, as providing something intended for human use may ultimately harm a dog if not used properly!

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