My excellent nine-year-old dog took ill recently. She seemed to be walking gingerly, as though in some discomfort, if not explicitly in pain. My dad announced that he was just going to crush up an Advil and toss it in the bowl along with her food. I thought I should consult with some reputable and reliable sources first. I was certain that we weren’t the first dog owners to wonder: Are human pain meds safe for dogs? Can you give a dog aspirin? Can you give a dog ibuprofen?
As dog owners, naturally, when our pets appear to be suffering, we want to do anything and everything in our power to help. In the case of aspirin and ibuprofen, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (or NSAIDs) for humans may be easily attainable and ready to hand, but they are almost universally toxic to dogs. There are veterinarian-approved and prescribed NSAIDs specifically formulated for dogs — always consult with a veterinary health care professional before attempting to treat your dog at home. So, can you give a dog aspirin? And can you give a dog ibuprofen? Let’s take a peek.
As far as your dog’s health goes, regardless of whether you have a very large dog or a very small one, the immediate answer to “Can you give a dog aspirin?” is no. The simple fact about normal, over-the-counter aspirin is that it can cause ulcers to form in a dog’s stomach, disrupting the normal operation of a dog’s digestive system. Aside from wreaking havoc on a dog’s stomach, repeated exposure to aspirin can also cause damage to a dog’s kidneys. In a large enough single dose or over time, aspirin can impair kidney function — a condition called analgesic nephropathy — or even cause kidney failure. If you want to relieve your dog’s pain, taking the simplest route by going to your medicine chest and pulling out the aspirin may end up doing just the opposite.
But can you give a dog aspirin if you consult your vet first? If you speak with your vet and consider your dog’s physique, height, weight and general health history, aspirin with a coating, also called buffered aspirin, or even baby aspirin, can be administered to dogs in carefully measured doses and over a short period of time only. We will not recommend an aspirin dosage for dogs here, simply because there are so many types, breeds, and sizes of dogs out there and too many factors to take into account before proceeding.
Now that we’ve answered, “Can you give a dog aspirin?” … Can you give a dog ibuprofen? When it comes to ibuprofen for dogs, all of the same terms and conditions for over-the-counter NSAIDs like aspirin apply. While buffered aspirin and buffered baby aspirin may be given to dogs — only with great care, and preferably after a veterinary consultation — ibuprofen has an even narrower margin of safety.
In fact, ibuprofen for dogs is even worse and more dangerous than aspirin, and should be avoided at all costs. The same issues caused by aspirin can be caused by ibuprofen, including stomach ulcers and kidney failure. If a possible side effect of a medication is death, it’s probably not worth the risk when there are canine-specific NSAIDs that your vet can prescribe.
What if the circumstances are different? What if you’re not wondering can you give a dog aspirin or ibuprofen but wondering what to do if your dog ate ibuprofen or aspirin? How do you spot accidental ingestion of these NSAIDs? Since the primary ill-effects dogs suffer from these medications are related to digestion and filtration, the symptoms of poisoning are reliably related to those systems. Things to look out for if you suspect your dog has gotten hold of human pain meds include vomiting. If the dog has enough aspirin or ibuprofen in its system, that vomit may contain blood, as may the dog’s feces, which may express itself as bloody diarrhea.
Seemingly innocuous symptoms include lack or loss of appetite, which can lead to fatigue and lethargy. In large enough amounts or given enough time, the dog may experience abdominal pain, which can lead the dog to hunch over or struggle to find a comfortable resting position. The dog may also seem confused or disoriented. In more advanced cases, a dog who has ingested aspirin or ibuprofen not meant for them can have seizures and even lapse into a coma. Basically, it’s bad news all the way around.
Can you give a dog aspirin? Technically yes, but only under certain conditions and doses. Can you give a dog ibuprofen? Best not to. The rule of thumb to follow is that if it’s human pain medication, don’t offer it to your dog, even with the purest motives and the best of intentions. After you think twice, put the bottle of ibuprofen or aspirin back in the medicine cabinet. If you cannot get to a vet, then at least give one a call — in the long run, it’s possible you’ll spare your dog further and completely unnecessary pain.
If you have dogs, especially if they have free reign of the house, make certain that all human medications are safely and securely bottled. Then see to it that your cache of aspirin, ibuprofen and all your other medications for that matter, are stored in cabinets, boxes, cupboards or other home-storage facilities well out of reach. As we all know, dogs can get into mischief around the house; knock the wrong thing over, or the wrong thing open, and trouble can follow.
How do you manage dog pain? Let us know in the comments!
This post was originally published in 2015.
Thumbnail: Photography by Anna Hoychuk / Shutterstock.
Melvin Peña is a writer, editor, and social media manager who spends most of his time in Durham, North Carolina. His interests include his dog, Baby (of course!), art, hiking, urban farming and karaoke.