More pet owners searching online for DIY remedies to avoid vet bills

  • Antihistamines are the most-searched home remedy but can be dangerous –
  • Online searches for paracetamol and ibuprofen are also high, despite the risk of being toxic –

A new study by pharmaceutical experts Origin has revealed online searches by pet owners seeking to give their pets human medicines are rising amid the cost-of-living crisis.

Pet ownership jumped by an estimated 2.1 million households during the pandemic as more people spent time at home. But the RSPCA has since reported a worrying rise in pet abandonment rates due to, in part, owners struggling to afford the spiralling costs of keeping a pet.

A recent YouGov survey by the Dogs Trust charity also found that 68% of dog owners in the UK feel worried about how they will care for their dog(s) in the next year.

One way owners are looking to save money is to try to treat their pets’ ailments at home using DIY remedies. But this could do more harm than good.

To understand the extent of the trend, the data analysts at Origin reviewed average monthly Google search volumes for several different types of medicines and popular brand names.

According to the study, over 16,000 people search online each month in the UK to find out if they can give their pets antihistamine tablets, including Benadryl and Clarityn.

Searches for “can my dog have antihistamine?” are up 800% year-on-year. Other search queries that are being searched more frequently include: “Can I give my dog fexofenadine?” (up 67%), “can I give my cat loratadine” (up 100%) and “pet antihistamine” (up 40%).

Allergies in pets are common and can be aggravated by many different things, from pollen and food to dust and scented candles. While some websites recommend giving pets human antihistamines, the vet charity PDSA urges owners to speak to their vet first. This is to narrow down the potential cause(s) of the allergy, ensure the right treatment and dosage, and avoid any ingredients that could be harmful.

The painkiller paracetamol is the second most searched human medicine for pets, with an average of 9,930 related questions being asked on Google every month.

Dog owners are now more likely to search for treating pain with paracetamol than this time last year, with searches for “can I give my dog paracetamol?” up 24% to 3,600 per month on average. “Can I give my dog Tylenol?” and “can my dog have Calpol?” are rising too, up 150% and 25% respectively.

Vets may prescribe paracetamol to a dog, but the dose is personalised. An excessively high dose or if a dog has underlying liver problems could be fatal. Human paracetamol formulations also contain artificial sweeteners for taste, some of which are toxic to dogs.

Under no circumstances should a cat be given paracetamol-based products – they cannot metabolise it and this could result in liver or kidney failure.

Online searches for ibuprofen-related questions are also high – 2,520 queries on average per month. And it seems dog owners are now 30% more likely to ask Google whether they can give their pets ibuprofen or Nurofen (25%) than they were three months ago.

Ibuprofen is highly toxic to pets and can cause bleeding stomach ulcers, kidney failure and in some cases, death.

Cold and flu remedies, including cough medicine, for pets are the third most-searched online in the UK, with an average of 1,180 related searches each month.  “Cat cough medicine” queries have risen by 50% in the past year, and “dog cough medicine” has over 700 searches per month on average.

There can be many reasons why a pet is coughing, and the treatment is based on the cause. For example, if an animal has pneumonia a cough suppressant may inhibit their ability to clear their lungs, or if they have heart disease it may speed up their heart rate to fatal levels.

A vet may prescribe OTC cough medicine for kennel cough, but they will provide tailored instructions that may differ significantly from the label intended for humans.

Over 1,000 pet owners search on Google each month to find out if they can self-prescribe their animals aspirin, with searches related to dogs and cats up by 22% in the past three months alone.

Aspirin can be prescribed by vets to treat excessive clotting, inflammation, fever, and pain, but it can be toxic in the wrong dose and if an animal has certain medical conditions.

Diarrhoea is another illness pet owners are seeking to treat themselves, with an average of 940 online searches being made every month. Imodium for dogs and cats is the most-searched query, up 53% and 75% in the past three months respectively.

Loperamide – an antidiarrheal found in popular brands like Imodium – can be prescribed by vets but the directions and dosage will be tailored to individual animals. Self-treating diarrhoea may also mean owners misdiagnose the underlying cause such as intestinal cancer, parasites or inflammatory bowel disease.

Rich Quelch at Origin commented on the findings:

“The study highlights a growing concern among pharmacies, veterinarians and animal charities that pet owners are turning to DIY remedies to cut bills.

“While many owners will have the best intentions, giving human medicine to a pet without seeking advice first can be fatal. For any pet owners concerned about affording vet bills and prescriptions, visit the RSPCA’s website for advice on how you can reduce costs and access financial support.”



Notes to Editors


A seed list of search queries related to pet owners seeking to give their animals human medicines was created by using the search listening tool Answer the Public.

Related search terms for each medicine, including popular brand names, were then analysed using Google Keyword Planner to identify the average number of searches per month over the past 12 months, and year-on-year growth (June ’21-’22).

About Origin

With over 50 years of experience working with many of the world’s leading brand owners, Origin offers its pharmaceutical customers a range of custom-made filling and packaging solutions developed in its state-of-the-art cleanroom in the U.K, together with supply chain management services.

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