Can You Give a Dog Ibuprofen?

Jennifer Coates, DVM
By Jennifer Coates, DVM on Mar. 24, 2020

When you or a family member have mild to moderate pain associated with a headache, arthritis, or a muscle strain, do you reach for ibuprofen? A lot of people do—it’s (relatively) safe, inexpensive, and available almost everywhere.

But what should you do when their dog is in pain? It’s natural to wonder if it’s safe to give dogs ibuprofen.

Here’s an explanation of ibuprofen and why you should never give it to your dog without talking with a veterinarian.

What Is Ibuprofen?

Ibuprofen is the generic name for a particular type of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID). It is an active ingredient in many different brand name medications, including Advil®, Midol®, and Motrin®.

There are many different types of NSAIDs. The NSAIDS designed for human use include aspirin, naproxen (Aleve®), and, of course, ibuprofen.

While acetaminophen (Tylenol®) is often thought of being in the same category as these other medications, it is not an NSAID and works in a different manner.

How Do NSAIDs Like Ibuprofen Work?

Ibuprofen and other NSAIDS work by blocking the activity of an enzyme called cyclooxygenase, which plays a vital role in the production of hormone-like molecules called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins serve many functions in the body, including the development of inflammation, fever, and pain.

While these symptoms are beneficial under many circumstances, we typically use NSAIDs to provide relief when they are severe or chronic.

But prostaglandins don’t just promote inflammation, fever, and pain. They also have other roles, including:

  • Maintaining adequate blood flow to the kidneys

  • Producing a layer of mucus that protects the inner lining of the digestive tract

  • Allowing blood to clot normally

When these functions are blocked by ibuprofen or another NSAID, problems can follow.

Problems With NSAIDs Like Ibuprofen in Dogs

Cyclooxygenase comes in two forms, COX-1 and COX-2, both of which are involved in the development of pain, inflammation, and fever. However, only COX-1 plays a beneficial role in blood clotting, maintenance of blood flow to the kidneys, and gastrointestinal (GI) tract protection.

Unfortunately, over-the-counter NSAIDs like ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen block the activity of both COX-1 and COX-2. Dogs appear to be more sensitive to the adverse effects of blocking COX-1.

This, combined with the fact that dogs metabolize and excrete NSAIDs differently than people, means that even relatively low doses of ibuprofen can lead to life-threatening side effects.

Alternatives to Ibuprofen for Dogs

Never (EVER!) give ibuprofen or any other over-the-counter NSAID to your dog without first talking to your veterinarian. Under rare circumstances, they might tell you to go ahead, but whether or not it can be given safely and what dose should be used will be based on your dog’s history, health status, size, age, and other medications that you are giving them—just to start.

Because over-the-counter NSAIDs are associated with serious side effects in dogs, drug companies have put a lot of effort into finding medications that block pain, inflammation, and fever while leaving the other prostaglandin functions intact. NSAIDs that do this can reduce the chances of side effects while still providing relief from pain, inflammation, and fever.

Many NSAIDs have been designed specifically for dogs, including:

These drugs are much, much safer and more effective for dogs than are over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen.

Safety First

No drug is completely without risk, however. All types of NSAIDs, including those designed for dogs, have been associated with the potential to cause side effects like:

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Poor appetite

  • Lethargy

  • GI ulceration

  • Kidney dysfunction

  • Liver damage

Here are some ways you can protect your dog:

  • Follow your veterinarian’s recommendations with regards to lab work and rechecks.

  •  Give the lowest dose as infrequently as possible that still keeps your dog comfortable. Combining NSAIDs with other forms of treatment (weight loss, physical therapy, nutritional supplements, and acupuncture, for example) will often help.

  • Don’t use two NSAIDs at the same time or an NSAID in combination with a corticosteroid like prednisone. Doing so greatly increases the risk of side effects.

  • To reduce the chances that drugs will interact badly, take 5-7 days off between NSAIDs when switching from one type to another.

Even though ibuprofen is cheap and effective for people, and you probably have some in your house right now, there are much better options available for relieving canine discomfort.

Talk to your veterinarian to determine which option would be right for your dog.

By: Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM

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Jennifer Coates, DVM


Jennifer Coates, DVM


Dr. Jennifer Coates is an accomplished veterinarian, writer, editor, and consultant with years of experience in the fields of veterinary...

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