Seeing your dog in pain and discomfort can be extremely distressing, especially since it isn't always easy to know what's causing them pain. Our pets are like family to most of us, and we want to do anything we can to help them out in their moment of need.
While it may be tempting to give them a medication like ibuprofen when you notice that they are in pain, this isn't the safest way to treat these symptoms in your pet. It's known to be toxic for most dogs, and overdosage is easier than you would think. Doctors are not even sure of how safe this over the counter drug is for humans anymore.
In this article, we'll cover everything you need to know before giving your dog ibuprofen, how to handle ibuprofen toxicity and some potential alternatives that are much safer and natural.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. How To Know If Your Dog Is In Pain
2. What Is Ibuprofen?
3. How Much Ibuprofen Can I Give My Dog?
4. Side Effects Of Ibuprofen For Dogs
5. What Is Ibuprofen Toxicity?
6. Signs Of Ibuprofen Toxicity In Dogs
7. How To Treat Ibuprofen Toxicity In Dogs
8. Common Treatment Options
9. Prognosis For Dogs With Toxicity
10. Accidental Ingestion Of Ibuprofen
11. Alternatives To Giving Your Dog Ibuprofen
12. Is Aspirin Safe For Dogs?
How To Know If Your Dog Is In Pain
First and foremost, how do you know if your dog is in pain? When one of us is in pain, we are either capable of dealing with it ourselves, or we know how to tell someone who is. For our dogs, however, the process isn't so simple. As a pet parent, it's up to you to make sure your dog is in good health and getting the care they need.
The most obvious sign that your dog is in discomfort is a change in behavior. This could mean that they are less active, more irritable, or aggressive. Changes in appetite, sleep, thirst, gait, and other behaviors could mean that your dog is in pain. Dogs that are in pain will typically be less mobile than usual, and, depending on where the pain is, might start moving with an awkward rhythm.
They might also exhibit a more rigid posture than normal in an effort to not disturb the affected the area. Other dogs will take on a "prayer" position, with their front legs on the ground and their butt in the air. Some might stay lying down as much as possible, while others refuse to get up. Similar to how we find the "sweet spot" when a part of our body is in pain that keeps things from hurting, dogs will do the same. You can use their positioning to determine where the affected area might be.
Another good way to tell where the pain point on your animal is to gently move your hand over their body, watching for changes in your dog's heart rate and breathing. Be careful, however, as dogs are more prone to biting when in pain. If you believe the issue is severe enough, don't hesitate to take your pet to the vet. They will be able to help you locate the issue and treat it effectively.
What Is Ibuprofen?
Ibuprofen is an over the counter drug for treating pain and inflammation in humans. It's helpful for muscular pain in situations like aching shoulders, back, and joints, PMS, and certain types of headaches. It's also prescribed by doctors to treat fevers and pain post-surgery and takes effect in under an hour. Ibuprofen is the active ingredient in other over the counter medications like Advil and Nuprin. Naproxen is a similar medication with a longer lasting effect, found in medications like Aleve and Naprosyn.
Ibuprofen is an antipyretic, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic medication, and is usually administered orally. If given to dogs, it can be absorbed into their system in as little as 30 minutes, depending on how recently they've eaten. Accidental ingestion by animals is fairly common due to how prolific this drug use. It's a common household item for most families.
Ibuprofen works by inhibiting the work of cyclooxygenase, which reduces the creation of prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are one of the compounds in our bodies that regulate inflammation, pain, fever, and swelling.
How Much Ibuprofen Can I Give My Dog?
The difference between too much ibuprofen for dogs and a safe amount is very, very small. You need to be extremely careful when giving your dog ibuprofen in order to prevent adverse effects. Even the smallest doses can have a negative impact on your pet's health if given for an extended period of time.
Giving your dog too much ibuprofen can result in gastrointestinal irritations and ulcerations, gastrointestinal hemorrhaging (internal bleeding), and gastric perforations (punctures in your dog's stomach that can cause stomach acid to leak internally). Ibuprofen and naproxen, in overdosed amounts, can also cause blood flow to the kidneys to be inhibited. This can result in kidney failure, which is extremely serious. If the amount given is high enough, brain damage could also occur, leading to seizures, extreme changes in behavior, and even a coma.
Ibuprofen is never safe to administer to a dog in any dosage without first consulting a vet. Every breed and size of dog will have a different tolerance to the drug, and you should never administer it without first speaking to your animal's health provider. Only they will be able to determine whether or not you can give a dog ibuprofen, and if so, how much.
Side Effects Of Ibuprofen For Dogs
Ibuprofen, like most NSAIDs, works by preventing the functions of COX-2 enzymes. Stopping the functions of these enzymes reduces the production of compounds in the body that regulate pain and inflammation, so an individual suffering from pain or discomfort will have these symptoms alleviated.
The negative aspect of the prescription is that it also inhibits the functions of COX-1 enzymes as a side effect. These enzymes play a more critical and important role in the body's function, which is why the drug is beginning to be reevaluated for use in humans. While it is still relatively safe for humans to use, the effect that blocking the COX-1 enzyme in dogs has is much more severe.
In mild cases of ibuprofen overdosage, the most common side effect is vomiting. In more severe situations, it can lead to serious damage being done to your pet's stomach and gastrointestinal tract, like internal bleeding and ulcers. These issues are difficult to treat because that part of your dog's body is constantly coming into contact with digestive acids, which prevent wounds from being able to heal. Dogs experiencing these symptoms could start vomiting blood and lose function of their kidneys.
Symptoms to look out for include:
- Vomiting (sometimes with blood)
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Pale gums (due to blood loss)
What Is Ibuprofen Toxicity?
Ibuprofen toxicity is the result of an ibuprofen overdose in dogs. It's the difference between negative side effects like vomiting and serious internal damage to your pet. It, unfortunately, occurs relatively frequently in dogs due to how common the medication is. Dogs have a tendency to get into things and to chew, which can lead to accidental ingestion of ibuprofen.
Signs Of Ibuprofen Toxicity In Dogs
Ibuprofen is available for over the counter purchase in various medications, like Advil, Motrin, and Midol. Even if a medication is not specifically labeled as ibuprofen, it can still contain it as an ingredient, so always double check the label to see if a drug contains ibuprofen before administering it to your pet. There are also liquid forms of ibuprofen that are generally intended for children. Even though these may contain smaller amounts of ibuprofen than pill forms, you should still be cautious before giving it to your pet.
If you believe that your dog may have ingested ibuprofen in some form, or are worried that you administered a dosage that was too high.
These are the signs of ibuprofen toxicity to be on the lookout for:
- Irritation and agitation
- Abdominal pain
- Stomach ulcers
- Stool that is black or tar-like in appearance
- Anemia, which is indicated by pale mucous membranes
- Halitosis (unusually bad breath), which is a symptom of kidney failure
- Increased thirst and urination, another symptom of kidney failure
- Lethargy and weakness
- If your dog sustains a cut while experiencing toxicity, they could bleed uncontrollably, as ibuprofen makes it difficult for platelets to form
The following are more severe symptoms, and can indicate that your dog is facing life-threatening, emergency health issues:
- Ataxia - loss of control body movements
- Tachycardia - rapid heartbeat
- Dyspnea - difficult breathing
- Tremors and seizures
- Renal (kidney) failure
- Central nervous system depression
How To Treat Ibuprofen Toxicity In Dogs
Bring Your Dog To The Vet As Soon As Possible
If you suspect that your dog is experiencing ibuprofen toxicity, they need to be taken to the vet immediately. Even if you have given your pet ibuprofen per a vet's orders, they can still have a potentially fatal reaction to the drug. Never take these symptoms lightly. Ibuprofen toxicity requires a thorough medical examination of your dog's current state. Be prepared to provide your vet with as much information about your dog's medical history as possible so that they can properly treat your pet.
If you are able to, bring the bottle of the medication that your dog has ingested so that the vet knows exactly what they are having a reaction to. The vet will conduct a series of tests on your dog to determine the severity of the toxicity and choose a treatment for them. These tests could include a complete blood count, a urinalysis, a chemistry panel, and a renal panel.
Common Treatment Options
There is no specific cure for toxicity in dogs, only measures that can be taken to reduce the absorption of the drug into their system and slow its progress through their body.
Your vet will use the information you provide them with, as well as the tests that they take from your dog, to determine what the next steps should be to treat the toxicity. If the poisoning is especially severe, your dog may end up being hospitalized until the vet is sure they are safe from harm. IV fluids will most likely be administered to help clear the toxins from your dog's body.
If your dog is on any other medication, hold off on giving it to them until this issue is resolved. Different medications can have negative reactions when mixed, which could complicate and even endanger your pet's recovery. Make sure that your vet is aware of any other medicine that your dog is taken when you bring them to the vet.
Activated charcoal is a common and effective way to begin the process of detoxifying your pet. The mixture binds to and removes the toxins from your animal's system in a short timespan, which helps prevent the damage from getting any more severe. If your dog has ingested too much or has had the ibuprofen in their system for an extended period of time, your vet may decide to pump their stomach. Also known as a gastric lavage, this is a more intensive way to remove the toxins from their body.
Due to all of the blood loss and possible dehydration, your dog may end up suffering from anemia on top of everything else. Blood transfusions may be required to bring their red blood cell count back up to normal. Medications that reduce vomiting might be given to your pet to control loss of fluids.
Once your dog recovers and is released to go home, they will need to be kept on a bland, simple diet until they fully recover. Monitor them closely, and if you notice any unusual behaviors or issues with your pet, don't hesitate to have the vet check on them again. Signs to be watchful for after your dog returns home include lack of appetite, black or tar-like stool, and vomiting. Your vet will likely conduct tests during their recovery process to ensure that their liver resumes its normal functions again.
Prognosis For Dogs With Toxicity
You should take your dog to the vet as soon as you start to see signs of toxicity. The sooner they are treated, the better their chance of overcoming the situation, and the more likely they are to have a complete recovery.
Waiting too long before taking your pet to the vet can make it impossible for treatments to work, sadly. If your dog experiences complete kidney failure, causing them to be unable to urinate, the odds of them recovering from the ordeal are very narrow.
Accidental Ingestion Of Ibuprofen
Not only can it be frustrating when dogs get into things they are not supposed to, but it can also have life-threatening consequences. Always keep medication out of your pet's reach, in cabinets and behind closed doors.
If you believe your pet may have ingested a medication they weren't supposed to, but aren't sure, pay attention to their eating habits and their stool. Medications like ibuprofen and naproxen will first affect their gastrointestinal system, so these areas are where the first symptoms will begin to show themselves.
Alternatives To Giving Your Dog Ibuprofen
If you notice that your dog is suffering from pain, discomfort, or swelling, there are alternative medications that you can give them to alleviate their symptoms. You should still never give your pet any medication without first checking with your vet, however, and always be wary of mixing medications. An alternative that your vet may prescribe is carprofen. Carprofen is a medication that works very similarly to ibuprofen for dogs but is generally better tolerated by their system. CBD botanical supplements for pets are another great way to treat your dog's pain and discomfort issues. They work by stimulating your dogs ECS system, which is responsible for controlling pain, inflammation, sleep, appetite, and mood. CBD botanical supplements for dogs are similar to giving your pet a vitamin and are a much more natural solution than most pharmaceuticals.
Is Aspirin Safe For Dogs?
Aspirin is a common alternative to ibuprofen for humans, used to treat many of the same things. But should you use aspirin for dogs instead of ibuprofen?
In short, no. While it works a little differently than ibuprofen for dogs, aspirin can have similarly harsh and severe consequences for your pet's well being. Aspirin can wreak havoc on your dog's digestive system, causing stomach ulcers and other serious issues.
Giving your pet aspirin over a long period of time, or even a singular overdose, can cause permanent damage to your pet's kidneys known as analgesic nephropathy. In the worst case scenario it can even cause complete kidney failure.
The safety of aspirin for humans is also being called into question, as it can have a negative effect on someone's health with frequent use. Giving your dog any over the counter medicine that is intended for humans is never advised. While going to the vet may seem like an inconvenience, deciding to take matters into your own hands can cause life-threatening complications in your dog's health.
While it may be tempting to give your dog ibuprofen for their pain, it's a dangerous drug that can have dire consequences for them. It is not recommended to give your pet ibuprofen under any circumstances, even with a vet's specified dosage. Always be aware of the risk, and never hesitate to contact your vet if you see any adverse reactions. The sooner you treat the issue, the better your dog's odds are of beating the toxicity.
As an alternative to ibuprofen, take your dog to the vet when you notice that they are experiencing pain, swelling, or discomfort. They will be able to prescribe you a safe medication intended for use by dogs, with proper dosages. Never give your dog any new medication without first speaking to a veterinarian.
Dr. Ivana Vukasinovic
Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, University of Belgrade
Ivana Vukasinovic grew up in Serbia and attended the University of Belgrade where she received a degree in Veterinary medicine in 2012 and later completed surgical residency working mostly with livestock. Her first year of practice was split between busy small animal practice and emergency clinic, and after two more years of treating many different species of animals, she opened her own veterinary pharmacy where an interest in canine and feline nutrition emerged with an accent on fighting animal obesity. In her free time, she acts as a foster parent for stray animals before their adoption, likes to read SF books and making salted caramel cookies.
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