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Beattie Pet Hospital - Ancaster

Over-the-Counter Pain Medications and Pets

Girl holding dog and dog trying to play with toy

With the wealth of information seemingly available on the internet, some pet owners feel inclined to treat their ailing pets with over-the-counter (OTC) medications formulated for humans. While their hearts are in the right place, the unintended consequences of administering human medications to pets are often unknown to these well-meaning pet parents. Much information derived from the internet is often false or interpreted incorrectly. In reality, most OTC medications available that are safe and appropriate for humans are toxic to pets. This blog post hopes to clarify why most OTC drugs are not appropriate for pets, and why these drugs are toxic to our furry friends.

Tylenol (Acetominophen)

Tylenol is a common trade name for the drug acetaminophen. Acetaminophen is an drug used for mild to moderate pain that is commonly used and available for humans over-the-counter. In humans, it is used for anything from fever to arthritic pain. Tylenol should never be given to our pets, as they lack the ability to properly and safely metabolize and excrete the metabolites created by acetaminophen.

For Cats:

Under no circumstances should a cat ever be given Tylenol! Cats have difficulty metabolizing acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol. For cats, the metabolized Tylenol results in  products that are toxic to the liver and red blood cells. Damage to red blood cells can lead to a state called methemoglobinemia, meaning that the red blood cells are incapable of carrying oxygen to the various cells of your cat’s body, resulting in brown, muddy gum colour and respiratory distress. Gum colour may also appear blue to the lack of sufficient oxygen. In severe cases, Tylenol toxicity leads to liver and kidney failure, and possibly death. Just one tablet of Tylenol is enough to harm if not kill your cat.

For Dogs:

While dogs are less sensitive to Tylenol, the same consequences from toxicity exist for dogs. Dogs also tend to be less particular about what they will consume, so if they accept higher doses from well-meaning humans, there are concerns for their liver and kidney health.

Ibuprofen (includes Advil, Motrin, Children’s Advil and Children’s Motrin)

Ibuprofen is an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) that is commonly available OTC for humans. Dogs and cats are very sensitive to ibuprofen in particular and NSAIDs in general, and being that OTC concentrations of human NSAIDs like ibuprofen are very high, even in children’s formulations, ibuprofen is not recommended for use in pets. 

Why can’t I use Ibuprofen for my dog or cat? 

Pets are very sensitive to ibuprofen. Moreover, the concentration of ibuprofen in adult and children doses is too high for pets. In the available human dosing, ibuprofen can cause severe stomach ulceration, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, lethargy and loss of appetite. In high doses, ibuprofen can cause kidney and liver failure, and can lead to neurological problems such as seizures. 

How are pet-approved NSAIDs different?

Whereas ibuprofen is not well-tolerated by dogs and cats, NSAIDs used by veterinary hospitals contain active ingredients (for example, meloxicam) that are tested for an accurate margin of safety at specific doses through peer-reviewed studies. These drugs are formulated in doses that are species-appropriate. In veterinary hospitals, the safety of longterm NSAID use is monitored by bloodwork to monitor kidney and liver function, as well as platelet function. Platelets are required for clotting ability, which is responsible for stopping blood from flowing out of a wound. NSAIDS like Metacam (Meloxicam) are dosed in specific amounts based on the weight and species of your pet, as prescribed by a veterinarian. Never give NSAIDs prescribed to one pet to another pet without consulting your veterinarian, as NSAIDs can have adverse effects when administered with other classes of drugs, and are dosed differently depending on your pet’s species. In general, NSAIDs are used very sparingly in cats due to their sensitivity to this class of drug.

Why is it important to see my veterinarian before administering pain medication?

Ultimately, if your pet is displaying signs of pain and you are attempting to administer an OTC drug, you identify that there is a concern that needs to be addressed with your pet. If you do not know what you are treating your pet for, you can mistakenly cause more harm to your pet. Rather than treat symptoms that you can see at the surface with drugs that can potentially lead to internal injury due to toxicity, by bringing your pet to be examined, a veterinarian can work to diagnose the root of your pet’s issue. If the source of your pet’s pain can be adequately controlled by drugs, your veterinarian can prescribe a safe medication with proven results to help your pet be comfortable and pain-free once more, and monitor their progress and health with bloodwork, other diagnostics and a thorough hands-on exam. If you are unsure as to signs of pain in your dog or cat, read our blog post on the topic!