Knowing that a dog is in pain is upsetting. So it's an understandable reaction to want to do something — anything — to provide the dog pain relief as soon as possible. However, as tempting as it may be to reach for an over-the-counter pain meds such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or acetaminophen and give it to the family dog, avoid them at all costs. Over-the-counter pain meds and anti-inflammatories can be very dangerous, even fatal, when used improperly in dogs.
Are NSAIDs Dangerous for Dogs?
Some of the most common over-the-counter pain relievers fall into the category of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs). Common examples include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. They all work by inhibiting an enzyme called cyclooxygenase that is responsible for the production of prostaglandins that promote inflammation, fever, and pain. But prostaglandins also play many other roles in the body, including maintaining adequate blood flow to the kidneys, the production of a layer of mucus that protects the inner lining of the gastrointestinal tract from stomach acid, and normal blood clotting. When these functions are reduced, dogs can develop vomiting and diarrhea (often bloody), loss of appetite, bleeding disorders, kidney or liver dysfunction or failure. They may even die without appropriate treatment.
Problems can arise with NSAID usage in dogs for several reasons:
- Sometimes a pet parent 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 and can develop dangerous side effects even when a correct dose is, given.
- The concurrent use of other medications (e.g., corticosteroids) and/or the presence of certain health conditions (e.g., gastrointestinal, liver, or kidney disease) can make the use of NSAIDs for dogs more risky than normal. (NOTE: 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.)
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