Reviewed for accuracy on August 9, 2019, by Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM
Knowing that your dog is in pain is upsetting. It's understandable to want to do something—anything—to provide pain relief as soon as possible.
But stop yourself if you are tempted to reach for a human pain reliever to give to your dog. Over-the-counter (OTC) pain meds and other human medications can be very dangerous and even fatal for dogs.
How Do Aspirin and Other NSAIDs Affect Dogs?
Some of the most common OTC pain relievers fall into the category of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Common examples include aspirin, baby aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen. They all work by inhibiting an enzyme called cyclooxygenase, which produces hormone-like substances called prostaglandins that promote inflammation, fever and pain.
But prostaglandins also play many other roles in the body, like maintaining adequate blood flow to the kidneys, producing a layer of mucus that protects the inner lining of the gastrointestinal tract, and allowing blood to clot normally.
When these functions are adversely affected by NSAIDS, dogs can develop issues like:
Vomiting and diarrhea (often bloody)
Loss of appetite
Liver damage (in some cases)
Dogs may die without appropriate treatment. It is not safe to give your dog any amount of aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil), naproxen or other anti-inflammatory meant for humans without first talking to your veterinarian.
Cats are especially sensitive to the adverse effects of NSAIDs, but because more dogs are exposed to these medications, a greater number of NSAID toxicity cases are reported in dogs in comparison to cats.
Less-Obvious Dangers of NSAIDs for Dogs
Other problems can arise with NSAID use in dogs for several reasons:
Sometimes an owner will give (or a dog will get into) an inappropriately high dose of one or more of these drugs.
Certain dogs are especially sensitive to NSAIDs formulated for humans and can develop dangerous side effects even when a correct dose is given.
The concurrent use of other medications (corticosteroids, for example) and/or the presence of certain health conditions like gastrointestinal, liver or kidney disease can make the use of NSAIDs for dogs more risky than normal.
What About Tylenol for Dogs?
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is not an NSAID, but it is still just as dangerous for dogs.
No one is exactly sure how it works to reduce pain and fever; it has no effect on inflammation. But when dogs ingest toxic amounts of acetaminophen, it destroys their liver cells, damages the kidneys and converts hemoglobin—the oxygen-carrying molecule in blood—to methemoglobin, resulting in poor oxygen delivery throughout the body and widespread tissue damage.
If you have a multi-pet household, you should also know that cats are so sensitive to the adverse effects of acetaminophen that ingesting just one regular-strength tablet can result in severe toxicosis, and two tablets can be fatal.
What Can I Give My Dog For Pain Relief?
For all of the above reasons, you should not give NSAIDs, like aspirin and ibuprofen, or other pain relievers, such as acetaminophen, to dogs or other pets without the supervision of a veterinarian.
Drug companies have designed specific pet pain medications that are safer and more effective for dogs than those that are designed for people. Your veterinarian can prescribe pain medicine that’s made for dogs that can safely and effectively relieve your pet’s discomfort.
With knowledge of the specifics of your dog’s health status and history, your vet can make a proper diagnosis, determine which medication and dose is most appropriate for your dog, and design a plan for monitoring that will make treatment as safe as possible.
Other Pain-Relief Measures
Prescription medicines are not the only way to provide a dog with pain relief. Chronic inflammatory conditions such as osteoarthritis often respond well to dietary modification.
Talk to your veterinarian to determine which medication or treatment is right for your dog.
For further info, check out our OTC Medication infographic.
By: Jennifer Coates, DVM
Featured Image: iStock.com/Alex Potemkin