Is Robitussin Safe for Cats?
Thanks to vaccines, antibiotics, and a wide range of over-the-counter drugs designed to make our illnesses less unpleasant, modern man has become rather fearless in the face of mild illnesses. Our ancestors were regularly laid low by the common cold, but modern science has given us what we need to almost totally ignore our cold symptoms and carry on as usual. Even when we should probably take a day off, we stubbornly drink half a bottle of cough syrup, double up on the caffeine, and push our way through the work day without flinching. We view each and every cold as an obstacle to our productiveness, but not a threat to our health.
When our pets get sick, on the other hand, we become terrified messes. We have to hack up a lung before we take a day off, but if our furry friends develop a dainty little cough, we panic. What are we supposed to do when our pets get sick? Can we turn to our favorite cough medicines? Can my cat have Robitussin?
The answer to this question, and to most other questions concerning cats and medication, is: yes, you can give your cat certain types of Robitussin, but only under the guidance of a veterinarian. Many of us practically live on cough syrup during cold and flu season, but we have to exercise extreme caution whenever we try to administer medications to our four-legged friends. If your cat has been coughing for a while, or if their cough is harsh and productive, it is crucial to take them to see a veterinarian before you try to give them any medications to calm their cough yourself.
Robitussin, active ingredient dextromethorphan, has not been approved by the FDA for veterinary use, but it is commonly prescribed by vets looking to treat pets struggling with bronchitis and other forms of airway irritation. Actually, dextromethorphan is considered one of the only safe cough suppressants for felines, so it is very likely that any medications your vet prescribes for feline cough relief will be quite similar to the Robitussin in your medicine cabinet.
Dextromethorphan is a pretty powerful cough suppressant that is most effective when it is used on unproductive, dry coughing like the type that comes with seasonal allergies. This drug works by helping to calm the cough signals inside your cat’s brain, which gives their respiratory a break and may help reduce the inflammation that is causing the cough. The act of coughing tends to exacerbate the irritation that causes the cough, so drugs like Robitussin can help stop the cycle of ever-worsening cough symptoms.
Some veterinarians may also suggest using Robitussin alongside other drugs to help thin mucus, making it easier to expel it from the lungs. That said, cats dealing with wet or productive cough should always be examined by a veterinarian first. Improperly used, cough suppressants like Robitussin may interfere with your cat’s ability to expel phlegm from their lungs, which can lead to complications.
Not all Robitussin is created equally—there are more than ten different varieties of this drug, so always read the label before giving any medication to your cat. Look for a brand that contains the active ingredient dextromethorphan and nothing else. Some varieties of Robitussin do not even contain this crucial ingredient, so, in addition to potentially poisoning your cat, you will do nothing to alleviate their cough symptoms! Do not administer any cold medications that contain codeine, acetaminophen, caffeine, or alcohol. Your veterinarian will give you dosing instructions, but most cats can receive up to 1 mg per pound of body weight 2-3 times a day.
Things to Consider
Robitussin is usually well tolerated by cats, but, like all drugs, it does not come without risks. A small number of cats may be allergic or extremely sensitive to dextromethorphan—these cats may develop symptoms such as muscle weakness, tremors, vomiting, irregular heartbeat, urinary problems, dizziness, anxiety, and other behavioral changes. Your cat’s chances of suffering an adverse reaction are much higher if they are taking other drugs in addition to Robitussin. Notify your veterinarian if your cat is currently taking antihistamines, narcotics, sedatives, or any other depressants.
If your cat’s symptoms worsen or do not improve, or if they develop new symptoms, stop administering Robitussin and take them to the veterinarian as soon as possible. Most coughs are mild and will pass without any complications, but some coughs are a sign of a more serious underlying problem that dextromethorphan can’t fix. This is why it is important to go to a vet for an official diagnosis any time your cat falls ill.
In closing, cats can take Robitussin if it has been prescribed by a veterinarian. Dextromethorphan is not FDA approved for cats, but it is widely used and generally considered to be safe for the treatment of dry, unproductive coughs. Follow your vet’s dosing instructions and make sure to disclose any other medications your cat is taking.