Over-the-counter (OTC) medications are usually a great solution for what ails us, and we’re lucky that we can shuffle a few paces to the medicine cabinet when we feel the beginnings of a headache coming on. However, our canine companions have a harder time of it, I’m afraid.
Dogs rarely complain when they’re in pain, and most people have no idea where to start when it comes to making them more comfortable.
Are ‘over-the-counter’ medications safe for dogs? What can I give my dog for pain? Which medicines should I avoid? Let’s take a look at some of the more common OTC medications, and whether they might be useful for your ailing pup.
This article should serve as an overview of OTC medications for dogs, but it should not be a substitute for the diagnosis and advice of a veterinarian.
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Can You Give a Dog Aspirin?
Aspirin is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drug, known for decreasing swelling and the irritations associated with it. For humans, aspirin eases the pain of headaches, swollen joints, and fevers.
There’s a lot of conflicting information out there about giving your dog aspirin. The bottom line is that it’s okay to give your dog aspirin for short-term relief from pain, provided you’ve okayed it with a veterinarian first.
Long-term use can cause serious side-effects, including internal bleeding. Coated baby aspirin will be easier on your dog’s stomach, and you should always give aspirin to your dog with food.
Dosage: The recommended aspirin dosage for dogs is 5 mg/lb given by mouth twice daily.
Types of Aspirin
To further complicate matters, you can will find several types of aspirin available at your local pharmacy. It’s important to know the difference between them, because some types can be ineffective at best and harmful at worst.
- Uncoated – Uncoated aspirin should only be used for humans. It will irritate the lining of your dog’s stomach, causing internal bleeding.
- Enteric-coated – The coating is meant to protect the lining of the stomach in humans. Dogs do not fully digest the coating, and won’t receive the full benefit of the medication. We don’t recommend giving enteric-coated aspirin to dogs.
- Buffered – If you must use OTC aspirin to treat your dog, you should use buffered aspirin. It contains ingredients that will balance the aspirin’s acidity, which will help protect the lining of your dog’s stomach.
Caution: NEVER give aspirin to cats. It is considered highly toxic.
Can You Give a Dog Ibuprofen?
No. Ibuprofen is considered toxic for dogs and should never be used as a canine painkiller. Never give your dog Advil, Motrin, Midol or other drugs containing ibuprofen. Even small amounts can be life-threatening.
Symptoms of ibuprofen poisoning include:
- Bloody feces
- Blood in vomit
- Lack of appetite
- Weight loss
- Increased thirst
- Increased urination
- Decreased or lack of urine
If you think your dog may have ingested ibuprofen, please call your veterinarian immediately.
Can You Give a Dog Tylenol?
Tylenol and other types of acetaminophen are not NSAIDs and do not reduce inflammation.They can be used to treat pain in certain circumstances, but only under the supervision of a veterinarian, particularly because an incorrect dosage could be highly toxic, resulting in liver, kidney, and tissue damage. For more information on Tylenol poisoning, please read this article by
For more information on Tylenol poisoning, please read this article by PetMD. (And note: Cats are even more susceptible to poisoning than dogs, so please keep acetaminophen out of reach of all your pets!)
Other OTC Medications that are Safe for Dogs
- Benadryl – Treats allergies and itching, and is especially useful for bringing down the swelling after insect bites or stings. Benadryl dosage for dogs: ½ to 1 mg per pound of body weight.
- Dramamine – Used to treat motion sickness in dogs, Dramamine can be given before long car rides to make your dog comfortable. Dosage: Please consult your veterinarian.
- Diarrhea Medications – KaoPectate, Immodium AD, and PeptoBismol can all be used to treat your dog’s diarrhea. Dosage: Please consult your veterinarian
The Best Pain Medications for Dogs
So based on all the warnings and cautions in this article, there is no easy solution for treating a dog that is in pain. Consulting your veterinarian is really the best solution, and based on your dog’s unique situation, your vet will probably prescribe one of several NSAIDs that have been specially formulated to treat dogs. These include:
These non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications are FDA-approved for dogs, which means that they have been shown to be safe and effective when used according to the label. OTC pain medications for people don’t have the assurances of safety and effectiveness in pets.
These NSAIDs are only available with a prescription, and even these NSAIDs have known side effects, especially if they aren’t used properly. When treating your dog for pain, you can help reduce the risk of complications by ensuring that you:
- Provide your veterinarian with a complete medical history, including medications or herbal supplements that your dog is taking.
- Follow your veterinarian’s advice regarding the need for laboratory testing before starting them on any pain medication.
- Do not give your dog NSAIDS with any other OTC medication.
- Follow your veterinarian’s advice concerning dosage and treatment schedule.
- Give your dog NSAIDs with food if possible.
- Be sure your dog drinks plenty of fresh water every day. Dehydration will greatly increase the risk of side effects.
- Call your veterinarian immediately if your dog is vomiting, not eating, has diarrhea, or seems more lethargic than usual.
Final Thoughts on OTC Medications for Dogs
Your dog is a treasured member of your family, and you want to do all you can to ensure they live healthy, happy lives by your side. Easing their pain when they suffer is part of our job as dog parents.
While some OTC medications may be relatively safe to use for dogs in certain circumstances, the dosages on the label are not intended for pet use, and OTC drugs for people have not been tested on animals. When looking for a course of action to ease your dog’s pain, your best course of action is to 1) bring your dog to a veterinarian and 2) give your dog pain medications that have been either prescribed or recommended by that veterinarian.
Your dog’s health is important, and the risks of using any OTC medications without the approval of a veterinarian are just not worth it.
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