Benadryl and Orange Fanta Make a Bitter Pill

By Christy Corp-Minamiji, DVM

I shouldn’t have answered the phone.

“Can you kill a horse with Benadryl and orange Fanta?”

This is the point where I should mention that my sister is highly educated, intelligent, and largely a competent human. However, sometimes she does things that are, well...quirky. This wasn’t the weirdest conversation starter we have ever shared, but it was probably in the top five.

First things first: “Why are you giving your horse Benadryl and what dose?” A few twists and turns down the Family Circus maze of a conversation established that her horse’s veterinarian had suggested that Benadryl might help the horse’s itchy eyes. A couple more questions verified that Sis was, in fact, giving the recommended dose of it.

“Okay,” I asked. “So, why do you think you poisoned your horse?”

“She took a sip, made a weird face, and kicked over a bucket for no reason.”

“Took a sip? You were expecting her to drink her meds?”

“Just tell me! Is the combination of grape Benadryl and orange Fanta toxic to horses??”

“Ummm...if you tried to make me drink that, I’m pretty sure I would kick something, too.”

This surreal phone call reminded me of something veterinarians often forget. While it may be clear to owners that their animal NEEDS the prescribed medication, the means of getting said drug INTO the animal isn’t always self-evident.

I’m going to go out on a shaky limb of my family tree and guess that for most people, the first solution to giving a horse allergy meds doesn’t involve orange soda, grape-flavored children’s medicine, and a gift bag from the trunk of the car. (Don’t ask why the horse was being asked to drink out of the gift bag rather than the aforementioned bucket. I guess she needed something to kick.) That said, it is important to have a clear plan for and understanding of the following:

  • HOW to get the medicine into the animal: different tricks work for different species
  • WHERE the medicine is supposed to go: is it to be swallowed, injected, applied to the skin, or even given rectally?
  • WHAT are you giving: make sure you understand how the medication is to be dosed and measured.
  • WHEN do you give the medication: how many times per day (24-hour period) should you be giving it and how many hours apart should each dose be.
  • HOW LONG does the medication need to be given: certain skin creams may only need to be applied until the lesion clears up; antibiotics need to be given through the full course even if your dog is bouncing off the ceiling; medications for chronic diseases such as diabetes are a lifelong commitment; certain drugs, such as anti-seizure medications, require regular bloodwork to make sure the drug levels are safe for the animal. Since these medications are given for the life of your animal, occasionally you may have to change the dose.
  • WHAT is the expected outcome from giving the medication: I’ve often been surprised by clients bringing a horse back for the exact same condition MONTHS after I had treated him and hearing them say, “Well, he never really did get any better.” As a rule, if there isn’t improvement within a few days, CALL your veterinarian. Your pet may need to be re-examined and the therapy may need tweaking.
  • Before you leave the veterinary clinic, or before your horse vet gets in her truck, make sure you have crystalline answers to all of these points. There is no shame in asking questions, lots of them. Most people aren’t in the animal health care business and while veterinarians may forget that, realistically, if you’ve always had healthy animals, we know there is no way you’re going to innately know the best way to get your pig to take that pill or how to get that needle into your cat without making both of you look like you were dueling with rosebushes.

    If you don’t get written instructions, ask for them. If anything in those instructions is confusing, ask for clarification. If you are worried about the practical aspects, ask if your veterinarian or an assistant can demonstrate by giving the first dose.

    Honestly, I can’t think of any circumstances in which orange soda and gift bags are reasonable solutions to the medication quandary. But if you try it, give me a call. I can always use the laugh.

    CREDIT: Reprinted with permission from Vetzinsight and The Veterinary Information Network.