Having a pooch in pain is heartbreaking - pet parents will try anything to help their pup feel better. However, human painkillers can make matters much worse.
Just because medicines are safe for humans doesn’t mean they’re safe for dogs, but are there any human medicines that dogs can have? Can you give dogs ibuprofen or paracetamol, for example, or must these painkillers be kept far away from your furry friend?
No, you shouldn’t give your dog ibuprofen (also known as “Advil” for any American readers!). Ibuprofen is not safe for use in dogs and it can make them even more ill. In some cases, eating ibuprofen can be fatal for your furry friend.
Ibuprofen is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug or NSAID. There are other kinds of NSAID such as high-dose aspirin and naproxen. Although NSAIDs are commonly used painkillers and safe for human use, they can still have some side effects and an overdose can cause serious illness even in people.
Bearing in mind dogs are far smaller than us humans and more sensitive to most things they eat, they can tolerate much smaller amounts of ibuprofen and it takes far less to cause side effects and serious illness.
Just like with humans, one of the side effects of ibuprofen dogs can suffer from is stomach ulcers. However, giving dogs ibuprofen can also cause kidney or liver failure, which can be fatal.
The active ingredient in Nurofen is still ibuprofen, and it is basically just a brand of ibuprofen.
Because the active ingredients are the same, and usually in the same dosage as standard ibuprofen, it means that Nurofen is just as dangerous for dogs. So no, you cannot give your dog Nurofen.
Ibuprofen for children or Nurofen for kids might seem safer since it’s a lower dosage, but the amount of ibuprofen in these medicines is still too high to be safe for pets.
If your pooch accidentally eats some, perhaps enticed by the sweet flavours used to make it appeal to kids, you need to contact your vet.
As a general rule, dogs should not have any kind of human medicine. After all, it’s formulated for people, not pets.
The dosage of active ingredients inside human medication is usually far too high to be safely consumed by animals, and human medicine will often cause a host of side effects and illnesses if they are ingested by dogs.
Yes, ibuprofen is toxic to dogs. Similar to how humans can overdose on ibuprofen and cause serious illness, too much ibuprofen could damage your dog’s internal organs and could even lead to coma or death.
Because dogs are far smaller than us humans, and much more sensitive to medications, even a single tablet of ibuprofen can cause severe illness. A single 200mg tablet can cause signs of toxicity in dogs below 11kg in weight, and will make bigger dogs unwell.
The problem with ibuprofen is that once it’s ingested, it enters the bloodstream very quickly, so inducing vomiting to try and remove it isn’t always an option.
Once it’s in your dog’s bloodstream, ibuprofen isn’t metabolised like food and doesn’t leave the body right away. Instead, once it leaves the liver it’s absorbed back into the blood through the intestines and cycles through the body again.
This repeated cycle of the ibuprofen moving through their body prolongs the effects of poisoning and could repeatedly poison your pup before the effects eventually wear off.
Small dogs are at a higher risk of poisoning and serious illness simply because they are smaller in size, so it takes much less ibuprofen to cause poisoning. Puppies and elderly dogs are also at greater risk of serious illness. Dogs who are already using other medicines containing steroids or NSAIDs are also at greater risk of developing stomach ulcers if they eat ibuprofen.
The reason ibuprofen works is because it blocks the vasodilatory prostaglandins, which are chemical signals in the body that cause pain and inflammation. By shutting off these signals, pain and inflammation are reduced.
The problem is, these chemical signals are also very important for the function of your dog’s gut, blood flow, and clotting. If a dog eats ibuprofen it will disrupt these helpful chemical signals too as well as the ones that cause inflammation. It will also disrupt the blood flow into their liver and kidneys.
If your dog eats a lot of ibuprofen and the blood flow to their liver or kidneys stops, they’ll suffer from acute kidney failure or liver failure, which can be deadly.
However, one of the more common effects of giving dogs ibuprofen is irritation of the gastrointestinal tract and gastroduodenal ulceration. Stomach ulcers can cause haemorrhaging and abdominal infections that require surgery and blood transfusions to treat.
Many of the signs of ibuprofen toxicity in dogs are actually caused by irritation or ulceration of the gut. These cause symptoms like vomiting, abdominal pain, and dark, tarry stools.
It can take several hours for signs of toxicity to appear after a dog has eaten ibuprofen, and it can take up to four days before there are any signs of illness and complications such as liver failure.
**Vomiting **(which might contain blood)
Diarrhoea (which might contain blood)
Dark, tarry stools
Changes to their drinking habits and urination (extreme thirst, or not drinking)
Anorexia (lack of appetite)
Ataxia (lack of coordination)
Yellow tinge to the eyes or skin
If you know your dog has eaten ibuprofen, or once your vet confirms the cause of their poisoning through blood tests, they will begin treatment to try and remove the toxins from your dog’s system.
If your dog has eaten ibuprofen recently your vet might induce vomiting to try and remove it from their stomach, or feed your pooch activated charcoal to prevent the toxins from being absorbed into their bloodstream through their intestines. They might conduct a gastric lavage to clean out any ibuprofen in your pooch’s gut.
Your pooch will be given intravenous fluids to help keep them hydrated and to help flush the toxins out from the liver and kidneys.
Your dog might also be given medication to help prevent nausea, to protect their liver, or to stop seizures depending on their symptoms.
If your dog has stomach ulcers that are causing internal bleeding, they might need a blood transfusion. Blood plasma transfusions might also be administered to help treat any kidney damage your dog has suffered.
Whatever you do, don’t give your dog any human medicine to try and treat their pain. Although it is well-meaning, it can make your dog far sicker and in some cases, it can sadly prove fatal.
Instead, talk to your vet about pain relief for your dog. They’ll be happy to discuss what will be safe for your pup and what’s best to treat the condition causing their discomfort. There are many different kinds of painkillers that are formulated especially for pets.
Some of these drugs are other NSAIDs that are approved for use in animals. For example, firocoxib and deracoxib are both nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories that can be used to relieve pain in your pooch (they can appear under different brand names).
Although safe for use, these are mostly used short-term. While they are safe and effective painkillers for dogs, but they can sometimes cause side effects like vomiting or diarrhoea. In very high doses, they can cause problems with a dog’s liver and kidneys, so you must always follow the instructions and dosage advised by your vet to keep your pup safe.
There is also carprofen and meloxicam which are also NSAIDs but are designed for long-term use. You might recognise meloxicam better by the brand name, “Metacam”, and it’s the most popular painkiller used for dogs. It’s often used to treat arthritis in dogs because it reduces inflammation in their joints as well as acting as a painkiller.
Other than pet-safe and vet-approved NSAIDs, what you can do to relieve your dog’s pain will depend on what ailment they’ve got.
If they’re suffering from an issue like luxating patella or hip dysplasia, they will need surgical treatment for the underlying cause which will then treat the source of any pain or discomfort they’re feeling.
If your dog has joint problems or is arthritic, making sure they get plenty of fatty acids in their diet and glucosamine and chondroitin supplements could help to reduce inflammation and relieve their discomfort. Pet massage, hydrotherapy, and acupressure can also help to relieve pain and improve your pup’s comfort.
As simple as it might seem, one of the best things you can do to relieve pain in your dog is to let them rest. Keeping them in their crate or confined to one room for a few days, limiting their movement and stressors, can help to settle them and give their body time to heal.
Written by: Dr Andrew Miller MRCVS
Andy graduated from Bristol University in 2010 and sees nutrition as a foundation for our pet's wellbeing and takes a common-sense approach. We are what we eat, and it shouldn't be any different for our pets.