“It’s Just an Aspirin” – Over-the-Counter
Dan Taylor, DVM
Here in Colorado, we enjoy being active with our canine companions. Our dogs love these outings and can encounter some of the same injury issues that we feel after physical activity. Imagine the following common scenario. You and your nine-year-old dog jump in the car for a morning at the dog park. After your dog has had a productive session of chasing down her favorite ball, meeting new dog friends and splashing in the community dog pond, you notice that she is limping on one of her legs. You load her in the car, get her home and assess her to be painful. You want to relieve that pain, so you head to the medicine cabinet. You scan the available pain reliever options: aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen and acetaminophen. Before reaching for any other these, STOP and call your veterinarian. While these common pain relievers are great for our aching joints, they are not always right for our pets and can even be considered dangerous.
Other than acetaminophen, the previously listed human pain relievers are considered non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs. This category of drugs is widely used in humans and there are dog formulations that veterinarians use to treat many painful conditions, mainly osteoarthritis. Examples of these dog-friendly drugs are deracoxib, carprofen, meloxicam and firocoxib. However, human NSAIDs and canine NSAIDs are not created equal. Just because NSAIDs, such as aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen, are found to be relatively safe and effective in people, does not mean that they can be used for pain control in dogs. The reason for this is human NSAIDs can last longer in dogs, have a higher absorption rate in the stomach and small intestines and reach higher blood levels. These differences can lead to toxic side effects, such as gastrointestinal ulcers and perforations, liver damage and kidney failure. These conditions can lead to life-threatening situations and can require intensive care in a veterinary hospital setting. There are other side effects of giving a human-labeled NSAID that may not always lead to such gloomy scenarios, but can have other undesirable outcomes.
A very common example of a medication that pet owners tend to give their dogs is aspirin, more specifically 81mg baby aspirin. People will very commonly give an aspirin when they feel their dog is painful. While this may seem benign, the use of aspirin rarely relieves pain effectively and can prevent the future use of more effective canine-labeled NSAIDs as two different types of NSAIDs should never be given at the same time. The administration of aspirin in dogs is a double negative as it can cause unwanted side effects and can prevent the future use of a much better and more effective pain reliever.
Knowing these basic facts about human-labeled NSAID use in dogs is important, but we are still left with the issue of having a dog who is painful. Listed below are guidelines and tips to consider when you feel your dog is painful:
- Before starting any medication, talk with your veterinarian and have your dog examined. Make sure to inform them of any gastrointestinal problems, such as vomiting and diarrhea, that your pet has experienced.
- Inform your veterinarian of any medication that your pet may be on, even if it is over-the-counter. It is even more important to tell your veterinarian if your pet has been receiving steroids. When given together, steroids and NSAIDs can cause ulcers.
- Before starting an NSAID, your veterinarian may recommend blood work to ensure that your pet’s liver and kidneys are functioning properly. This is because NSAIDs can unmask hidden kidney and liver issues. If your dog is to remain on NSAIDs long-term, your veterinarian may recommend periodic blood tests to monitor for any disease.
- When on NSAIDs, monitor for side effects, such as vomiting, diarrhea, bloody/black stools, decreased appetite and activity level or yellowing of the whites of the eyes and gums.
Pain in our canine friends is a common occurrence and it is important to know what can be given to relieve that pain and what cannot. Working closely with your veterinarian will give your pet the the best possible chance for relief from pain and discomfort without the fear of doing more harm than good.
Dr. Dan Taylor is an emergency veterinarian at Aspen Meadow Veterinary Specialists. AMVS is a 24-hour veterinary facility providing specialty internal medicine, surgery, oncology, emergency and critical care, physical rehabilitation, and blood bank services for pets. They are located in Longmont at 104 S Main St. For more information, go to