What to do when your pet gets the wrong medication

It can happen to anyone.

You have multiple pets on medication. Your mind is distracted. You’re handing out pills. Maybe somebody spits one out and their buddy snatches it up. Maybe one gets dropped and you don’t know who got it. Maybe you flat out gave the wrong pill to the wrong pet. (I’ve done all of these!) How much do you panic?

Some medications are a HUGE deal if one pet gets the others meds. But there are many medications that aren’t a huge deal – huge sigh of relief! Of course, underlying health conditions or other medications can affect these generalizations, so ALWAYS check with your vet! If your vet is closed, we are lucky to have two wonderful 24/7 hotlines for situations just like this. They are not free, but you can’t put a price on your pets life – I think they are worth every penny. Here they are:

ASPCA Poison Control – $75 last I checked. 888-426-4435

Pet Poison Helpline – $59 last I checked. 855-764-7661

They may instruct you to induce vomiting in your dog (never your cat). Here’s my article on that.

In the meantime, here are some generalizations that might help you out. These are some of the more common drugs and scenarios.

Size matters!

Did your lab eat your yorkie’s pill? The vast majority of the time, the danger lies in the dose. So a big dog eating a little dog’s pill is not going to be a huge deal. More than likely, nothing will happen. Little dog eating big dog’s pill? Usually that’s a BIG deal! Two dogs about the same size…. really depends on the drug and the dog’s health. And your cat eating the dog’s pill can be a big deal…. but most cats don’t go gobbling up pills, thankfully.


Generally speaking, the amoxicillins (Clavamox), cephalexins (anything with “cef” in it), and doxycyclines of the world won’t do more than cause an upset tummy. Might get a throw-up (puke up the pill? perfect!) or some loose stool. Antibiotics in the fluroquinolone family, like enrofloxacin (Baytril), marbofloxacin (Zeniquin), or ciprofloxacin (cipro) can have some negative side effects at high doses, and worse in cats, and are not taken as lightly as the other antibiotics.

Metronidazole (Flagyl)

This is technically an antibiotic, but it’s in a class of its own. While this drug has a wide range of dosing, toxic doses can cause neurological problems and even seizures!dog got wrong pill

Pain meds that are NSAIDs

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs, like carprofen (Rimadyl), Previcoxx, Deracoxib (Deramaxx) or Meloxicam (Metacam) can be a big bad deal. High doses can cause major ulcers in the digestive tract, kidney failure, and liver failure… the kind that’s fatal.

Pain meds like gabapentin and tramadol

Gabapentin has a very wide range of safety. My 6 lb dog got the 60 lb dog dose once. I freaked out. She had best day ever. It might cause the dog or cat to be drowsy, even stoned, but wears off. Tramadol does not have nearly as wide of a range, so not quite as safe, but rarely too scary.


This one depends on dose, and if the dog is on other meds. There’s a LOT of flexibility in dosing, so if the big dog is on a teeny dose, it’s different than the dog being on an immunosuppressive dose. High doses can tear up the digestive tract big time, and can even be fatal.

Thyroid medicine

A single dose of thyroid supplementation (Thyrosin) likely won’t be life threatening, or even cause problems, unless it’s a tiny dog and big dose. Methimazole, the thyroid pill cats sometimes take, can cause major problems in small dogs.

Anti-anxiety medications

Drugs like trazodone, fluoxetine (prozac), paroxetine (paxil), amitriptyline (elavil), clonidine, and clomipramine (clomicalm) have some dosing ranges, so dogs that are similar in size will probably be just fine, especially if they are not on any other medication.

Cerenia (anti-vomiting)

This is a great drug to stop vomiting and settle tummies. Fortunately, it’s rather safe, with a very wide range of dosing. You’ll just cry because the pills are so danged expensive and you just wasted one!

Heartworm Preventative

The oral monthly heartworm preventatives like Heartgard, Interceptor, etc are super safe. Tiny dogs can eat the big dog size… or even the whole package! Also, some dogs may have a mutation making them more sensitive to ivermectin, but even these dogs can get a wrong dose and be fine, simply because the ivermectin dose in these products is so low. The only exception to this would be Trifexis, which can cause neurologic signs.

Oral flea preventatives

The new class of flea and tick killers like Bravecto, Nexgard, Simparica, and Credelio are generally safe if given the wrong dose, UNLESS your dog is prone to seizures. Then it could be bad. And you might not know your dog is prone to seizures until you find out the hard way…

Again, this list is no substitute for calling your vet or the poison center, but hopefully tells you how much (or how little ) to panic.

Posted in Pet poisons.

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