Want me to ruin your mood? Think about your dog feeling pain.
Sorry about that. I’m not trying to make you cry, I’m just trying to point out that as dog people, we are especially sensitive to this idea.
After all, dogs look to humans to solve problems they cannot. Your pooch is depending on you to help him feel better.
So what can you do when your Dachshund has a sore back or your Rottweiler’s hips are aching? Many people consider giving their pet an ibuprofen – after all, you take a couple every day (and twice as many on Mondays). But giving your dog ibuprofen could lead have terrible, possibly lethal, consequences.
To be clear: You should NOT give your dog ibuprofen without first soliciting veterinary advice. We’re explaining why and what to do instead!
Your Dog May Be Family, but He Isn’t Human
If you or a member of your family are suffering from a headache or a sore leg, you will probably just grab an ibuprofen or two from the medicine cabinet. A half-an-hour later, the pain will probably have subsided, and life returns to normal.
But you can’t do the same thing with your dog. Your dog’s biology differs from yours in several important ways, and ibuprofen can cause serious problems for your furry friend. This doesn’t mean veterinarians don’t prescribe very low doses of ibuprofen in some cases, but they only do so after careful consideration (let’s be honest, our vets know a lot more about canine biology than most owners).
Incidentally, many other common over-the-counter medications for humans are very dangerous for dogs, so never give Fido anything from the medicine cabinet without first contacting your vet.
What Can I Give My Dog for Pain?
Never fear – ibuprofen isn’t the only game in town and there are several things you can do to help alleviate your dog’s pain:
- Contact your veterinarian and solicit his or her opinion. This sounds completely obvious, but your veterinarian should always be your first call whenever your dog is suffering from a health problem. Your veterinarian may prescribe a canine-safe painkiller or advise you that a low-dose of ibuprofen would be safe.
- Discuss joint supplements such as Glucosamine and Chondroitin with your vet. Although the data on these supplements is mixed, they appear to be safe and provide moderate pain relief in some cases.
- Crank up the comfort. When you are in pain, you probably appreciate an extra pillow under your foot or a throw blanket to keep you warm. Your dog isn’t any different, so give him these same types of creature comforts. Perhaps you let him sleep on a normally-off-limits chair, place a few extra blankets in his kennel, or spoil your dog with an orthopedic dog bed designed for arthritis dogs.
- Tweak the temperature. A heating pad set on low may help provide some relief for aches and pains (especially those associated with chronic conditions, such as arthritis). Conversely, ice packs help to reduce inflammation and speed the rate at which injuries heal. These techniques are generally safe, but it’s still suggested that you check with your veterinarian before starting heat- or cold-therapy.
- Consider alternative treatments, but do so carefully. While some dog owners are keen to apply alternative approaches and products to their pain management strategy, this can be a risky approach given the lack of thorough testing and peer-reviewed research on many such products. Hedge your bets by talking to your vet about any alternative treatments.
This video from Dr. Andrew Jones suggests some natural remedies for dog pain that may work for your pooch.
What About Other Pain Medication?
Ibuprofen is one of the most common pain medications people consider when their dog is in pain, but there are other options as well. Nevertheless, as with all medications, you must discuss their use with your veterinarian before providing them to your pooch.
- Aspirin — Aspirin is another common painkiller for people that is occasionally used in veterinary contexts. It has many of the same benefits — pain relief and a reduction in inflammation — and risks — gastrointestinal disturbance and seizures — that ibuprofen does, so you must always consult with your vet before administering it to your dog.
- Acetaminophen — Also known by the brand name Tylenol, acetaminophen is another over-the-counter medication that may provide your dog with some pain relief. However, like ibuprofen and aspirin, acetaminophen may cause serious side effects in dogs, so you must contact your vet before giving any to your dog.
- Prescription Medications — Your veterinarian can also prescribe a number of opioid-based pain medications, such as Tramadol, for your pet. These are typically much stronger pain medications than over-the-counter drugs, and their use requires extreme caution. Opioids are only available with a prescription in the United States.
What Happens If a Dog Eats Ibuprofen?
Dogs that ingest small amounts of ibuprofen may exhibit relatively mild symptoms such as gastrointestinal disturbance and stomach pain. In some cases, dogs may vomit profusely while others will refuse to eat.
At higher dosages, more serious symptoms can appear, including renal failure, heart rhythm abnormalities and seizures. At sufficiently high doses, death is possible.
Even dogs that are prescribed low-doses of ibuprofen by a veterinarian may develop health problems with long term use. In such cases, ulcers and intestinal perforations are possible (these issues can come up with humans who take ibuprofen for an extended period of time as well).
As is normally the case, young puppies, older dogs and those with other health issues may react more seriously to ibuprofen than healthy adult dogs will. Dogs that are taking other medications may also experience more serious side effects than those who are not taking medications.
What Should You Do if Your Dog Eats Ibuprofen Accidentally?
If you know or suspect that your pooch has consumed ibuprofen, immediately contact your veterinarian. You can also call a pet poison control hotline (note that some of these services charge fees for a consultation), if you prefer.
After discussing the issue, your veterinarian may recommend taking a wait-and-see approach or suggest that you bring your dog in for an immediate examination. If the poisoning has occurred outside of regular business hours (as is so often the case), you may need to visit an emergency animal hospital instead.
What Do Veterinarians Do to Treat Ibuprofen Poisoning?
Many dogs will begin vomiting during the early stages of ibuprofen poisoning. If your dog is not retching, your vet may try to induce vomiting — especially if he only recently consumed the ibuprofen. If your dog is experiencing neurological symptoms, the vet will likely pump your pup’s stomach (technically called gastric lavage) instead.
If your dog is experiencing neurological symptoms, the vet will likely pump your pup’s stomach (technically called gastric lavage) instead.
After emptying the stomach of as much ibuprofen as possible, your vet may administer activated charcoal to help absorb that which remains. Vets often administer charcoal every 6 to 8 hours to help absorb any dangerous substances subsequently released by the liver.
Because kidney damage is one of the primary dangers of ibuprofen poisoning, your veterinarian will likely administer fluids throughout the course of treatment. This will help dilute the toxins and potentially hasten their removal from the body.
Your dog will also be given medications to protect the stomach lining and to control vomiting if it continues. Some dogs may require additional medications and treatment to help control seizures or restore appropriate body temperatures.
How Much Is Too Much Ibuprofen For A Dog?
According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, veterinarians typically recommend ibuprofen at a rate of 5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight to treat pain. While this dosage is widely considered safe, long term use at even this low dosage can lead to ulcers and other problems with the digestive system.
Acute problems may appear at dosages of about 100 milligrams per kilogram.
At 175 milligrams per kilogram dosages, renal failure becomes a concern, while central nervous system problems are possible at dosages exceeding 400 milligrams per kilogram.
Dosages exceeding 600 milligrams per kilogram may cause death.
For those of you not familiar with metric measurements, let me give you some context.
Most ibuprofen tablets contain 200 milligrams of the drug, although “extra strength” preparations may contain twice this much per pill. That means that a regular strength tablet would be roughly equivalent to a 5 milligram per kilogram dosage for your 90-pound Lab (who weighs about 41 kilograms).
This would still warrant a call to the vet, but serious consequences are probably unlikely. By contrast, a single extra-strength tablet could ravage a 4-pound Chihuahua’s kidneys and necessitate intensive, long-term care.
Misguided Myths: Do Dogs Even Need Pain Relief?
While we are on the subject, let’s clear up a popular misconception: Dogs can and do feel pain.
Researchers and veterinarians disagree about their relative threshold for pain, but almost all veterinarians consider pain management an inextricable component of humane dog care. Some research even suggests healing time is shortened with proper pain management.
It is difficult to study the experience of pain in dogs, but because humans experience pain through a combination of physical sensations and emotions, and researchers have demonstrated that dogs probably have emotions, it is reasonable to think that pups experience pain both physically and emotionally.
While dogs certainly experience pain, they express it very differently than humans do. Dogs don’t usually cry or whine when they are in pain, instead trying their best to hide any symptoms of discomfort.
In nature, signs of weakness can be deadly, as displaying pain is an indicator to predators that you may make an easy meal.
This evolutionary safety net comes to play in our pooches, who won’t make it obvious when they are suffering. This makes our job as canine caretakers much more difficult, and it’s essential for us to read between the lines and study our dogs’ body language to interpret their comfort level.
The takeaway from all this is that ibuprofen is clearly toxic to dogs in large doses, and even small doses may have long-term consequences. However, many veterinarians do feel it has value for the right patients and circumstances.
In some cases, after consulting with your vet, they may recommend very light ibuprofen dosage – but it’s simply not safe to self-medicate your pooch without the vet’s assistance. As always, contact your vet whenever you have a health question about your dog.
Have you ever had a veterinarian prescribe ibuprofen for your dog? How did your pooch handle the medicine? Let us know your experiences and pose any questions in the comments below.