Vets will often tell you that some human meds like Pepto Bismol are okay for your dog. But Pepto-Bismol isn’t safe for dogs. It may work well in humans for the occasional upset stomach, heartburn, nausea or diarrhea … but, for your dog, there are much safer options that are just as effective.
First, here’s some background on Pepto Bismol. Then we’ll give you 9 reasons why you should never give Pepto Bismol to your dog.
What Is Pepto Bismol?
Pepto-Bismol is the bubblegum colored liquid used around the world used to treat nausea, indigestion and gas. In the early 1900s, hygiene and sanitation weren’t as common as today. There were a lot of cases of gastrointestinal (GI) illness. One disease, called cholera, caused severe diarrhea, vomiting, and sometimes death, often in children. Then a doctor created a formula from pepsin, zinc salts, salol and oil of wintergreen. He added a pink colorant to encourage children to take it. And he called it Mixture Cholera Infantum.
Pepsin is a natural substance that aids digestion but it’s no longer in the formula. Bismuth is now one of the active ingredients that coats the stomach. The other is subsalicylate … derived from aspirin (more about this later). Today it’s also made with Red Dye #22 and #28. The FDA approved both dyes for use in drugs.
What Does Pepto Bismol Treat?
Pepto Bismol is an over the counter medication to ease digestive symptoms such as:
- Excessive gas
- Burping and belching
- A feeling of fullness from overeating
How Does Pepto Bismol Work?
Pepto Bismol relieves digestive symptoms by:
- increasing the fluid the intestines absorb
- reducing inflammation and activity of the intestines
- preventing the release of prostaglandins that cause inflammation
- blocking toxins coming from bacteria such as E. coli
- destroying bacteria that cause diarrhea
The main active ingredient of Pepto Bismol is bismuth subsalicylate … an aspirin derivative. It has anti-inflammatory properties that reduce irritation that causes diarrhea and upset stomach. It coats the stomach lining and forms a barrier between the stomach lining and irritants like stomach acid.
Pepto Bismol also has antimicrobial effects for treating H. pylori infections. This can cause acid reflux and upset stomach. H. pylori is a common type of bacteria that grows in the digestive tract and attacks the stomach lining. It is common in dogs, but can lead to ulcers in people.
Pepto Bismol is also offered as a lesser evil to proton pump inhibitors (PPI) that inhibit stomach acid. PPIs are often prescribed long term. They have side effects like swelling, hives, difficulty breathing or increased diarrhea … and can even cause kidney failure (according to more than 15,000 pending lawsuits against the manufacturers).
So you definitely want to avoid PPIs for your dog. But when your dog has diarrhea, tummy gurgling or is vomiting, is it really okay to give him Pepto Bismol?
No, Pepto Bismol is not safe for dogs! One of the main reasons for this is that it contains subsalicylate … a form of aspirin. You shouldn’t give your dog any form of aspirin, especially when there are safe and natural options.
Pepto Bismol directions advise that it’s for temporary minor upsets. So if your dog has a minor upset there are many natural ways to manage it. Later on, we’ll suggest safe methods that work.
If it’s more serious, Pepto Bismol probably won’t help. And it should only be used for a day or 2.
9 Reasons Not To Give Pepto Bismol To Your Dog
If your dog has symptoms like gas, diarrhea and bloating, here are the reasons not to turn to Pepto Bismol … or any of its generic competitors.
1. Risk of Aspirin Toxicity In Dogs
Aspirin can be toxic to dogs. Aspirin is a blood thinner so it can lead to problems with blood clotting. It can cause or worsen GI bleeding or ulcers, leading to increased respiratory rate, dehydration, seizures and coma. Aspirin can also cause liver or kidney damage, and it may increase cancer risk.
RELATED: Find out about the risks of aspirin for dogs …
2. Easy To Overuse
Even in humans, Pepto Bismol shouldn’t be used for more than 2 days. It can make the problem worse. And that goes for your dog too. If your dog’s had diarrhea for 2 days you don’t want to worsen it by over-using Pepto Bismol.
3. Clouds X-Ray Images
Pepto Bismol is opaque on an X-ray. It’s often a guessing game to know if your dog ate contraband. So maybe you give him Pepto Bismol to soothe his stomach. But if he’s still in distress, he’ll need a trip to your vet. If you’ve given him Pepto, diagnostic X-rays won’t show the problem. Pepto can cause your dog’s stomach or intestines to be cloudy … and block the real culprit. The Pepto may even look like a foreign body on the x-ray and cause unnecessary surgery! So Pepto Bismol can block the true source of your dog’s discomfort.
4. Can Disguise Disease
Black stool is a common side effect of Pepto Bismol. But black stool could also be melena, which is digested blood in the stool. If you’ve given Pepto Bismol, you won’t know why your dog’s changed color … whether it’s from a side effect or your dog’s original digestive problem.
5. Causes Other Drug Reactions
Dogs taking NSAIDs for pain or chronic conditions shouldn’t take Pepto Bismol. Many dogs are taking drugs like Rimadyl or Deramaxx for arthritis. Your dog is already at increased risk of stomach ulcers or perforation from these drugs, so don’t risk adding to the damage.
Pepto may also interact with drugs like gabapentin or prednisone, both often prescribed to dogs.
If your dog’s diabetic, Pepto Bismol shouldn’t be taken with insulin or oral diabetes drugs.
6. Damages the Microbiome
Drugs that destroy bacteria don’t distinguish between good bacteria and bad bacteria. Pepto Bismol will destroy the bacteria that caused your dog’s diarrhea. But it’s also destroying his good bacteria and lead to an imbalance in your dog’s microbiome. This imbalance can lead to long term health problems, including a weakened immune system. So Pepto Bismol will only make it worse.
7. Suppresses Symptoms
The active ingredients in Pepto Bismol suppresses a hormone that causes diarrhea. It also coats the digestive tract to reduce irritation. The problem is … suppression only temporarily relieves symptoms … but doesn’t cure the underlying problem. Whatever caused the diarrhea is still there. Once you stop the medication, the problem will resurface and the diarrhea will return.
8. Overdosing Is Dangerous
This is a problem on 2 levels. First, giving your dog too much Pepto Bismol can worsen his diarrhea and lead to more serious gastric issues.
Second, dogs can get into contraband quite easily. Pepto Bismol is pleasant tasting. A dog could easily chew through the plastic bottle and eat the contents. This is dangerous because its main ingredient is a form of aspirin. And when taken in high doses it can poison your dog and even lead to death.
9. Contains Artificial Sweeteners And Dyes
You never know where artificial sweeteners are hiding. And that includes many medications and cough syrups. Some forms of Pepto Bismol contain sucralose. But other generic brands may contain xylitol and that is deadly to dogs. Don’t take a chance.
Ever wonder about that bright pink color in Pepto Bismol? It comes from Red Dyes #22 and #28. Even though the FDA approves these dyes for use in drugs and cosmetics, they may not be safe for your dog. In a 2000 paper, the National Institutes of Health voiced concerns about long term effects of Red Dye #28 (and #27), stating that the FDA didn’t include studies of acute or chronic phototoxicity (light sensitivity). The NIH also says #28 “may be cytotoxic, mutagenic, and inhibit certain mitochondrial functions.”
Use These Natural Alternatives To Pepto Bismol
If your dog has an upset stomach or diarrhea, these are things you can do.
Fast Your Dog To Stop Diarrhea
A dog that stops eating is usually a dog that wants to heal himself. Fasting is the way to rest your dog’s digestive tract. Don’t try to entice your dog to eat if he’s reluctant. Fasting for 12-24 hours or overnight should help. But don’t fast a puppy under 6 months old. If he still wants to eat, give tiny meals spread out as much as possible. Otherwise you should contact your holistic vet when your puppy has diarrhea.
Whatever his age, make sure your dog gets lots of water. Diarrhea causes him to lose a lot of liquid and will dehydrate him. That’s when you can entice him with some bone broth or vegetable water.
Once the diarrhea has stopped or slowed, you can offer small sips of water. If you see signs of improvement after 6 hours of giving water only, you can give your dog some broth.
Feed A Bland Diet Or Soup
When the diarrhea has resolved, slowly introduce food to prevent further tummy upset. Forget about white rice and boiled chicken. Soup or broth is a better way to transition your dog back to his regular diet. Purchase a low sodium soup or bone broth at your natural supermarket. Make sure it’s low in sodium and has limited ingredients (with no onion). Or try this simple recipe you can make at home:
- Add 3-4 chicken thighs in 6 cups of water.
- Add chopped celery and carrot.
- Bring to a boil and simmer for 1½ to 2 hours.
- Remove the skin and bones and save the meat.
- Strain the broth and cool.
Give your dog small portions … a few teaspoons for very small dogs, and ½ to 1 cup for larger dogs. Wait 4 to 6 hours and watch for diarrhea or vomiting before giving more. Don’t feed if there’s still diarrhea present … wait until it resolves. And don’t worry, adult dogs can easily go days without eating, as long as they can hold water down.
This is the best thing to add to your dog’s diet even when he doesn’t have diarrhea. But when he does, it’s because his microbiome is out of sync with too much disease-causing bacteria. That’s because he’s missing beneficial bacteria … known as probiotics.
And often it’s that imbalance between good and bad bacteria that causes your dog’s diarrhea in the first place. It’s the result of not having enough probiotics in his diet.
And guess what?
Probiotics work even better than Pepto Bismol to stop diarrhea … without the risk of aspirin or killing off the gut bacteria. Probiotics do many things to stop diarrhea:
- Protect the gut lining
- Build T-cells in the immune system to fight inflammation
- Help the absorption of nutrients
Add a probiotic supplement to your dog’s food. Or you can include probiotic-rich foods to your dog’s diet. These include kefir, fermented vegetables like sauerkraut, and apple cider vinegar to improve digestion.
Add Digestive Enzymes For Gas
If your dog is gassy, you can give him digestive enzymes.
A good digestive enzyme should have lipase to break down fats, amylase to break down starches and protease to break down proteins. These enzymes will improve digestion and provide better nutrient absorption. That should reduce the amount of gas in your dog’s digestive tract.
Add Activated Charcoal For Gas
Another remedy for gas is to sprinkle some activated charcoal on his food. Activated charcoal relieves symptoms including flatulence, bloating and distention of the abdomen by eliminating gas trapped in the colon.
Give Slippery Elm
Slippery elm is a gentle herb that soothes the mucous membranes. It’s safe and effective … and is gentle on your dog’s sore digestive tract. You should give slippery elm with food. Give ¼ tsp powder for every 10 lbs of body weight.
L-Glutamine is an amino acid that heals intestinal cells. Give it to your dog on its own or with other supplements. Give 500mg per 25 lbs of body weight daily.
Add Marshmallow Root
This is another useful herb for soothing the GI tract and decreasing inflammation. Give 1/2 to 1.5 ml per 20 lbs. of body weight. Give twice a day.
Luckily, most cases of diarrhea are self-limiting and may resolve quickly on their own. But if you need to help your dog get over any digestive upset, now you know why and how to avoid Pepto Bismol.
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