Can Dogs Take Aspirin? A Guide to Dog Pain Medication
There are safer alternatives, and you should always, always check with a vet before giving your pup anything.
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Pup parents can soothe many of their dog’s ailments with ease. You can cure hunger and thirst like a superhero. You can squash loneliness and provide much-desired cuddles. But what can you do when your pup is in pain? The answer can be frustrating: not much. While it may be tempting to share your human medications with your dog, that’s a definite no-no. In many instances, you will be doing more harm than good.
Dog Pain Medication
Dogs are prescribed pain medications for numerous reasons. Some need short-term pain relief after surgeries or while they are recovering from traumatic injuries. Others may be long-term relief for degenerative diseases like osteoarthritis. Always talk to your veterinarian to determine the safest and most effective pain relief option for your dog.
What is aspirin?
Aspirin is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) commonly used in human medicine. In fact, aspirin is the O.G. NSAID and was developed more than 100 years ago. Since then, other drugs in the same category, such as ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve) have become common pain relievers. Aspirin is used to help with pain, prevent blood clots, and reduce fever. While aspirin may have previously been given to dogs for pain, we now have much safer and more effective alternatives.
How does aspirin work?
Aspirin works by blocking the enzymes that trigger inflammation and pain. Cyclooxygenase, or COX, is an enzyme involved in many bodily functions. Cyclooxygenase comes in two forms: COX-1 and COX-2. COX-1 helps maintain the protective lining of the gut, promotes healthy blood flow to the kidneys, and plays a role in platelet function. COX-2 makes chemicals that produce pain, inflammation, and fever. It also helps start tissue repair and healing.
Aspirin works by blocking both COX-1 and COX-2. This causes decreased inflammation and pain, but it also blocks those mechanisms protecting the gut and kidneys. Blocking COX-1 can prevent platelets from sticking together and forming blood clots. Veterinary-specific NSAIDs are recommended because they more selectively inhibit COX-2.
What are the common reasons for giving dogs aspirin?
In the past, before there were better options, dogs were given aspirin for pain relief. Some dogs with specific medical conditions that had a high risk of abnormal blood clot formation were given aspirin to prevent clot formation. We now have safer options for pain and blood clot prevention.
Is aspirin safe for dogs?
No, aspirin is usually not the safest option for dogs. You should never give your dog aspirin unless given specific instructions by your veterinarian. There is a high risk of side effects for dogs who consume aspirin.
What should I do if my dog accidentally consumes aspirin?
If your dog accidentally consumes aspirin, you should seek veterinary advice immediately. This can be from your primary care veterinarian, an emergency animal hospital, or animal poison control. Collect some vital information so whoever you contact can give you accurate recommendations. This includes:
Your dog’s weight
The aspirin’s dosage (ex: extra-strength 300mg or low-dose 81mg)
The number of tablets your dog ingested
How long ago your dog ingested aspirin
Any symptoms your dog has
Anything else your dog may have ingested (packaging or other medications)
Any medications your dog is currently taking
Veterinary professionals use this information to determine if your dog ingested a toxic dose, what symptoms may develop, and the best plan of action. Don’t worry (or procrastinate) if you don’t know all of this information.
What are the potential side effects of aspirin for dogs?
Aspirin is not recommended for use for pain relief in dogs because of the high risk of side effects. While aspirin can block COX-2 and decrease inflammation, it will simultaneously decrease the gut’s ability to protect itself and the blood’s ability to clot properly.
The main side effect of aspirin in dogs is gastrointestinal ulcers. Dogs can also develop abnormal bleeding, liver disease, and neurological signs. Bleeding ulcers (or blood loss of any kind) puts dogs at risk of becoming anemic. Dogs given aspirin may develop these symptoms:
Dark, tarry stool
Lethargy and weakness
Why is it important to consult a vet before giving aspirin to a dog?
Always consult with your vet before giving your dog any new medications, especially over-the-counter drugs meant for humans. In most cases, your vet can prescribe a safer and more effective option.
Aspirin cannot be given with other NSAIDs or corticosteroids because it can increase the risk of gastrointestinal ulceration and bleeding. So, if aspirin was administered to a dog whose pain would be best addressed by a veterinary-specific NSAID, that dog would need a washout period (time for the aspirin to completely wear off) of at least a week. The dog may be on less effective pain medication during that time.
Your veterinarian will also take your dog’s medical history and recent medications into consideration. Aspirin can also interact with other medications prescribed for heart and kidney disease.
How should aspirin be administered to a dog, if recommended by a vet?
If instructed by a veterinarian, aspirin should be given orally. Never double dose to make up for a missed dose. And never give additional medication without consulting your vet.
Are there alternative pain medications for dogs?
There are many options safer than aspirin when it comes to pain medication for dogs. There are veterinary-specific NSAIDs, such as carprofen, meloxicam, or grapiprant. These medications are not without risk, especially in dogs with kidney or liver disease. Your veterinarian will determine if an NSAID is the best option for short-term or long-term pain relief.
Corticosteroids may also be used for pain control in dogs. This may be the best option for dogs with underlying kidney or liver disease. This is also an option for dogs with medical conditions that already require corticosteroids. Combining corticosteroids and NSAIDs is not recommended due to increased risk of gastrointestinal ulceration and bleeding.
Gabapentin and tramadol are human medications that have been used off-label for pain control in dogs. Both medications may be used alone or given with other pain medication depending on the severity of the dog’s pain. Some veterinary professionals question the effectiveness of tramadol for pain control in dogs and select other options if possible.
If your dog is in pain, the best course of action is to seek veterinary care to determine the cause and the best method of pain relief.
1) Can I give my dog aspirin for pain relief?
You should not give your dog aspirin, unless specifically instructed to by a veterinarian.
2) What are the common reasons for giving dogs aspirin?
In some cases, aspirin may be given to relieve pain or prevent blood-clot formation. This has become less common because safer medications for both conditions have been developed.
3) Why is it important to consult a veterinarian before giving aspirin to a dog?
Aspirin can cause dangerous side effects in dogs. It is usually not the safest or most effective option for dogs.
4) What are the potential side effects of aspirin for dogs?
Dogs given aspirin can develop anemia, gastrointestinal ulceration, liver disease, and neurological symptoms.
5) How should aspirin be administered to dogs, if recommended by a veterinarian?
Aspirin is given by mouth and cannot be combined with other NSAIDs or steroids.
6) What should I do if my dog accidentally consumes aspirin?
Seek veterinary advice immediately if your dog accidentally ingests aspirin. Be prepared to provide information about your dog’s weight and the amount of aspirin ingested.
7) Are there alternative pain medications for dogs?
Pain medications for dogs include veterinary-specific NSAIDs (such as carprofen), corticosteroids, gabapentin, and tramadol.
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Dr. Alycia Washington, DVM, MS
Alycia Washington, DVM, is a small animal emergency veterinarian based in North Carolina. She works as a relief veterinarian and provides services to numerous emergency and specialty hospitals. Dr. Washington is also a children’s book author and freelance writer with a focus on veterinary medicine. She has a special fondness for turtles, honey bees, and penguins — none of which she treats. In her free time, Dr. Washington enjoys travel, good food, and good enough coffee.