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Can You Give a Dog Tylenol? Vet-Approved Facts & Risks

Written by: Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca BVSc GPCert (Ophthal) MRCVS (Veterinarian)

Last Updated on May 21, 2024 by Dogster Team

Tylenol capsules with the bottle

Can You Give a Dog Tylenol? Vet-Approved Facts & Risks

VET APPROVED

Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca Photo

REVIEWED & FACT-CHECKED BY

Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca

Veterinarian, BVSC GPCERT (OPHTHAL) MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

Learn more »

It can be tempting to run to your first aid kit when you realize that your companion is in pain and grab what you rely on the most. One of the most common pain relievers for humans is Tylenol, but can you give it to your dog?

While veterinarians sometimes use it to relieve pain in dogs (never in cats), you should not give Tylenol to your dog, since it can have serious consequences if given incorrectly. It is extremely easy to overdose your dog, and there might even be contraindications for its use on your pup that only your vet knows. It is not approved as an animal drug by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is only registered for human use.1 Fortunately, there are a plethora of dog-friendly painkillers out there that your vet can prescribe that are much safer for your best friend.

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What Is Tylenol Used For?

Tylenol is one of the brand names given to the drug acetaminophen (paracetamol). It is an over-the-counter medication used by humans to reduce fever and relieve pain, but it is not a non-steroid anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). Therefore, it is not an anti-inflammatory, per se.

When your dog is in pain, it may be tempting to give them this common household drug, but don’t do it: Dogs do not metabolize medication the same way humans do. 

Tylenol capsules
Image Credit: James Yarema, Unsplash

Should You Give Tylenol to a Dog?

No! Unless prescribed by a vet, do not give Tylenol to your dog. Instead, give them a pain medication that is intended for use in canines, as it will have less chance of harmful side effects. Even if a particular human prescription is appropriate for dogs, the dosing is different. Human and canine metabolisms differ significantly, so some drugs that are safe for humans may be harmful or even fatal to dogs, and Tylenol is one of them.

Too much Tylenol can cause toxicity,2 internal bleeding, and kidney and liver failure. If your dog has any underlying health problems, the risk of toxicity is even higher. When well-meaning owners administer medication without their veterinarian’s consent or when medication is dropped on the ground and ingested, it can result in toxicity with extremely serious consequences.

Tylenol is rapidly absorbed from the digestive tract, and toxic effects can be seen within 1 to 4 hours from ingestion. The toxic dose for dogs has been reported at around 100 mg/kg (45 mg/lb.), but beware that cats can develop toxic effects with only 10 mg/kg.3 The liver is the organ most frequently affected by toxic effects, together with red blood cell damage.

Signs of toxicity include vomiting, diarrhea (with or without blood), lack of appetite, swelling of the face, trouble breathing, lethargy, brown or yellow gums, and even death. Tylenol has been reported to cause keratoconjunctivitis sicca, or dry eye, in dogs when taken in high dosages.

What Do I Do If My Dog Accidently Eats Tylenol?

Call the nearest veterinary emergency facility, your veterinarian, or the Pet Poison Helpline immediately if you think that your dog may have had Tylenol. It will be even more helpful to know the dose that your dog ingested and have the pill bottle with you so the medical professional has all the necessary information. If you do not know how much your dog ingested, there is no time to waste, and you should get to your vet immediately. They will act quickly to try to decontaminate your dog. It is important to begin therapy right away to stave off side effects.

If the overdose was recent, activated charcoal may be used to stop absorption, and drugs may be given to induce vomiting. Your vet will run blood tests to assess the organ damage. Supportive care measures include hospitalization, oxygen therapy, intravenous fluids, blood transfusions, and drugs like N-acetylcysteine and S-adenosyl-methionine (SAMe). Following the incident, your dog’s liver values will be monitored by your veterinarian to look for any early indications of liver damage. Blood tests and check-ups with your vet will be necessary.

West Highland White Terrier dog at home eating
Image Credit: Alejandro rodriguez, Shutterstock

How to Prevent Tylenol Exposure

If you use your medication daily, it is easy to leave it lying on the counter, next to the bed, or in other places where it generally shouldn’t be kept. Be mindful to keep your Tylenol and other medications out of your dog’s reach. A sealed box, cabinet, or somewhere high up are safe places. When taking your Tylenol, close the bottle and put it away immediately.

What Can You Give a Dog for Pain?

Several issues can cause your dog’s pain. It can be mild or sometimes, excruciating. Although many medications are licensed to be used to treat pain in dogs, ranging from injectable narcotics to anti-inflammatory drugs, physical therapy or heat or cold therapy can also be helpful. FDA-approved NSAIDs to manage pain in dogs include:

  • Carprofen
  • Robenacoxib
  • Meloxicam
  • Deracoxib
  • Firocoxib
  • Grapiprant

The medication should be appropriate for the pain level, and the dosage should be adequate for the dog’s size. Never provide these medications without first talking to your veterinarian. Your vet can develop an individualized plan for your dog depending on the type of pain they have and talk to you about a multimodal approach. Options can include:

  • Vet-prescribed NSAIDs
  • Opioids for severe pain
  • Supplements for mild pain
  • Combinations of physical therapy, acupuncture, and environmental modifications

vet examines dog
Image Credit: SeventyFour, Shutterstock

How to Comfort a Dog in Pain

When your dog is in pain, there are a few things you can do in conjunction with pain medications to help comfort them and keep them safe.

Manage Your Pet’s Weight

Extra weight can put a strain on the joints and muscles, which is especially uncomfortable for a dog with an injury or a dog that suffers from from degenerative joint pain. You can work with your vet to modify your pet’s diet appropriately and devise a light exercise plan.

fat lazy dog
Image Credit: Reifous, Pixabay

Get Your Dog Moving

Get your dog’s muscles and joints moving with low-impact exercises like swimming and walking. These can also be mentally stimulating, which will release endorphins and help manage the pain.

Modify Your Home

You can change your home environment to help your dog move around more easily. Move away any carpets your dog may slip on, and consider ramps instead of stairs. Provide your dog with non-slip booties for walks, and make sure their bowls, bed, and toys are easy to access without jumping.

You can also talk to your veterinarian about alternative therapies. When a pet cannot tolerate drugs, there are natural approaches to improve pain control. Many of these treatments have excellent outcomes and can be an enjoyable way to assist your pet.

Alternative therapies can include:
  • Massage
  • Laser therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Chiropractic care
  • Acupuncture

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Conclusion

While your veterinarian might on occasion give Tylenol to your dog to relieve pain, this is done under strict supervision, in the right dose, and to the right patient. Giving Tylenol to your dog without your vet’s authorization is not recommended under any circumstances. The risks of overdosing and toxicity are high, and the consequences can even be fatal. There are many other safe options available for pain relief that you can talk to your vet about.

If your dog accidentally had Tylenol, you should react quickly and either speak to your vet or the Pet Poison Helpline immediately or take them to the nearest emergency clinic to help them have the highest chances of survival. 


Featured Image Credit: Birch Photographer, Shutterstock

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