Over the Counter Pain Medications and Dogs

Emily Bebout, CVT
Veterinary Information Specialist
Pet Poison Helpline

One of the things family and friends like to ask me is what kind of calls have I gotten recently. Anything odd or interesting? Do I get a lot of the same type of calls? If I had to pick one type of call I get every night, it is the call regarding a dog that got into a bottle of over the counter (OTC) pain medications and ingested some or the call from an owner that gave their dog some OTC pain medication because their dog was painful and the vet was closed.

I completely understand why owner’s give dogs OTC medication. Your vet is closed, and your dog is in pain. We all hate to see our furry companions in pain and want to do whatever we can to ease their suffering. However, giving medications that are not prescribed can cause more harm than good.

Medications like Advil and Aleve are in a class of drugs called Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs or NSAIDS. Dogs do not metabolize these medications the same way people do and ingestion of them can cause mild to severe symptoms. Milder symptoms would be GI upset such as vomiting or diarrhea. Larger ingestions can cause stomach ulcers to form and cause internal bleeding.  The worst possible side effect from dogs taking these medications is kidney failure. Gastrointestinal upset, and gastric ulcers can be treated but kidney damage is often irreversible and requires expensive hospitalization treatment with aggressive IV fluid therapy to get them through.

We know that Advil and Aleve are not okay to give…what about Tylenol? This is another medication that should not be given to dogs. Ingestions of Tylenol can cause liver damage, and something called methemoglobinemia. With methemoglobinemia, hemoglobin can still carry oxygen, but it’s not able to release it into the body tissues and the dog becomes anemic due to not getting enough oxygen.

Aspirin has been around forever and must be safe to give, right? Unfortunately, Aspirin is also not safe to use in dogs. It can cause gastrointestinal distress, liver damage, and a decrease in platelets which can lead to internal bleeding.

This is why veterinary alternatives are on the market for our furry friends. It’s not that we are trying to sell you something, we just want your companions to be healthy, happy, and pain free!