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dogs and meds
brown dog waiting for medicine

The essentials

  • Hydrocodone is a powerful prescription drug — Hydrocodone is an opiate agonist made for humans that suppresses the cough reflex in the brain and alleviates pain.
  • Hydrocodone is safe for dogs — When prescribed and monitored by a veterinarian, hydrocodone can be used to safely and effectively treat a dog’s chronic cough.
  • Use caution when giving your dog hydrocodone — Because hydrocodone is an extra-label drug and adversely interacts with other medications, it should only ever be given to dogs under strict veterinary supervision.

What is hydrocodone?

Hydrocodone bitartrate (also known under the brand names Tussigon, Hycodan, Vicodin, Norco, and Lortabs) is a powerful narcotic similar to morphine that’s prescribed to treat pain and coughing caused by respiratory conditions. Hydrocodone is used as a cough suppressant, or antitussive agent, in both human and canine medicine. It takes effect quickly, usually in about one to two hours.

Why would my dog need hydrocodone?

Veterinarians may prescribe hydrocodone for dogs that suffer from chronic coughing, which is usually caused by a respiratory condition or injury to the bronchial or tracheal tracts. It can be prescribed for conditions like:

Potential side effects of hydrocodone for dogs

Hydrocodone is a powerful opiate and can cause some dogs to experience side effects after being administered, including:

  • Sedation
  • Constipation
  • Decreased appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

When not to use hydrocodone for pets

As with any medication, there are certain cases where hydrocodone should be avoided. It shouldn’t be given to pets that are allergic to narcotics or pets suffering from diarrhea caused by a toxin. It should also be avoided if your pet has sustained a head injury or has an active bacterial infection of the lungs.

Use hydrocodone with extreme caution if your pet is suffering from heart or lung disease, kidney disease, Addison’s disease, low thyroid function, sudden abdominal conditions, or increased intracranial pressure. You should also be careful when giving hydrocodone to older, pregnant, nursing, or debilitated pets, and make sure their treatment is strictly monitored by a veterinarian.

🚨 Never give your pet hydrocodone unless directly prescribed by your veterinarian.

Hydrocodone and other drug interactions

Always tell your vet about any other medications your pet might be taking, including vitamins, supplements, or herbal therapies. A few rules of thumb when giving hydrocodone include:

  • Never give hydrocodone in combination with ibuprofen — This is extremely toxic for dogs. For cats, hydrocodone in combination with acetaminophen is also dangerous.
  • Consider alternatives if your dog is on any of these medications — Hydrocodone in combination with acepromazine, anticholinergics, antidepressants (tricyclic and MOA inhibitors), CNS depressants, escitalopram, and quinidine should be approached with caution. Serious side effects have been also reported involving interactions between hydrocodone and Anipryl (treatment for older dogs with cognitive dysfunction syndrome) and hydrocodone and meperidine, more commonly known as Demerol.
  • Avoid mixing hydrocodone with tranquilizers or antihistamines — These combinations have been shown to increase hydrocodone’s sedative side effects. Combined use with the tranquilizer acepromazine not only causes increased sedation but ​​can also lead to a serious drop in blood pressure.

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How should hydrocodone be given?

Hydrocodone is given by mouth, with or without food, in the form of a tablet or liquid solution. If your dog vomits after receiving this medication on an empty stomach, try giving them their next dose with a meal or a treat.

If you accidentally miss a dose, don’t double up on the next one. Give it when you remember, unless it’s already close to the time for the next dose, in which case you can just pick up the regular schedule from there. Always space out doses according to the instructions on the label or per your vet’s instructions.

Frequently asked questions

What hydrocodone dosage should be used for dogs?

Dogs commonly take 5 milligrams (mg) doses of hydrocodone in the form of tablets or syrup. It’s also available in 10 mg extended-release or combination form with drugs like homatropine or acetaminophen, though acetaminophen has been shown to cause anemia in dogs. It’s typically given four times a day or less, as needed, with one dose lasting between 6 and 12 hours.

What can I give my dog for pain relief?

Dogs should not be given ibuprofen (Advil), acetaminophen (Tylenol), aspirin, or any other pain reliever made for human use. Many companies make pet-specific pain medications that are safer and more effective for dogs, including carprofen (Rimadyl), Deramaxx, Previcox, and meloxicam.

While little safety or dosing data is available on using CBD to treat dogs, anecdotal evidence from owners suggests it can be used to treat pain, especially chronic pain.

Can I give hydrocodone to my cat?

Hydrocodone should never be administered to cats, as it can negatively affect their central nervous systems. Hydrocodone is also commonly mixed with drugs like acetaminophen, which is not safe for cats at any dose.

Is hydrocodone safe?

Hydrocodone is generally safe and effective when prescribed by a veterinarian, but it can still cause side effects in some pets. The veterinary use of hydrocodone isn’t explicitly approved by the FDA, but it is permitted under the Animal Medicinal Drug Use Clarification Act of 1994. Many human-labeled drugs are used “off-label” or “extra-label” in veterinary medicine because there are relatively few animal-labeled drugs out there. Always make sure to follow your vet’s instructions and warnings carefully when giving your pet off-label medicine.