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Springtime Hazards Over the Counter Pain Medications for Pets

By April 21, 2016 May 5th, 2016 No Comments

This is a really common scenario we see in the office.  Dog is outside playing and comes in limping on a leg.  Vet office is closed for the day or owner cannot bring Fido in for another reason.  Let’s just give a dose of ____________ (Fill in the blank with your favorite over the counter anti-inflammatory) and see what happens.

     Please do not give your pet ANY over the counter medication without talking to your veterinarian first.

     While the temptation is strong to give them something to ease the pain, most over the counter medications are toxic to dogs and cats.  The ones that are not toxic take away the ability for your veterinarian to prescribe far more effective and safe medications that will ease their pain for up to a week.

     Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications include naproxen (Aleve), ibuprofen (Advil) and aspirin.

     Aspirin was once the best anti-inflammatory available for dogs, but that was 30 years ago.  Aspirin is sold in pet stores for dogs, but given it is over the counter, there is no safety data required to sell it. I truly wish I could remove it from the shelves of the pet stores, but I have no control over what they choose to sell.   Aspirin has what we call a narrow therapeutic margin in dogs.  This means that the dose required to relieve pain and the dose that causes side effects are very close and sometimes overlapping.  There are studies in dogs showing that more than 70% of dogs receiving aspirin therapy have damage to the lining of their stomachs as a results.  In addition to stomach ulcers, aspirin also causes platelets to not work.  In humans, we use low dose aspirin to prevent blood clots and strokes because of this effect on platelets.  If 81mg a day is enough to stop platelets from forming clots in a 200lb human, you bet they cause the same effect in your dog.  So why do we care? Combine a large number of dogs developing stomach ulcers with an inability to form blood clots  Now we have the potential for internal bleeding that can be serious enough to require surgery and blood transfusions.  Bad news.

     Naproxen is toxic to both dogs and cats.  It can cause liver and kidney failure at even small doses, in addition to gastrointestinal side effects.

     Ibuprofen is also toxic to both dogs and cats.  The doses required to cause liver or kidney problems are generally a result of unintentional exposure (dog eats part of a bottle), but you can see GI side effects from regular dosages. A single 200mg tablet is enough to cause liver problems in a cat, so this medication is never recommended in cats.

     Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is not technically an anti-inflammatory.  Tylenol is lethal to cats and is not considered an effective pain medication in dogs unless combined with stronger medications like codeine.

     The biggest downfall to medicating your dog at home first is that is ties our hands when you do bring them into the vet.  There are prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatories that are far more effective with far fewer side effects available.  You cannot give 2 of these medications together, or the risk of side effects increases substantially.  We recommend waiting anywhere from 2 days to 2 weeks to wash out the system depending on the medications involved.

     So my pet is limping, what should I do?

     If you think they are painful enough, take them to your local emergency veterinarian if your primary care veterinarian is closed.  That way more appropriate medication can be dispensed, as well as a diagnosis of the injury.  If you cannot get your pet to a vet immediately, confining them to a small space helps to reduce the chances of additional injury until you can have them examined.  Ice packs are also well tolerated by some and can provide some relief in the short term.

The vets and staff at Carroll County Vet make every effort possible to accommodate sick or injured pets as same day appointments, so please call us if you have a problem.

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