Over the counter pain medications

As a pet owner, you hate to see your dog or cat in pain. Therefore, many pet owners will try to help reduce their pet’s pain by giving them human, rather than veterinary, medications that they have found effective in alleviating their own pain or that of their children. After all, “if it helped me/my child, there’s no reason it won’t help my pet, right?’

WRONG! Not only may some human products not be effective, many of them can be downright harmful.

Dogs and cats are not the same as small people. Their metabolisms, and therefore their ability to metabolize drugs, can vary greatly from our own. This means that a drug which is effective for a person may not be effective for your pet and in some cases can actually be quite toxic or have negative side-effects.

We often hear clients say that “Dr. Google” or even “my friend’s vet” said that it is okay to give my dog aspirin. While it is true that most dogs can tolerate the occasional dose of aspirin, there are many instances in which it could still be harmful. Additionally, it is not the most effective pain reliever for dogs. Most non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) have 2 main effects on the body: pain relief and also gastric, or stomach irritation.  Most of the NSAIDs used in veterinary medicine have been developed to maximize pain relief while minimizing the gastric side effects. This is important because dogs, and especially cats, are more prone to developing complications such as stomach ulcers from the use of NSAIDs than people are. Another consideration when using NSAIDs for dogs and cats is that they are also more prone to kidney toxicity from their use. As owners often give these products to older pets who may be suffering from arthritic pain, these older pets may already have impaired kidney function and a decreased ability to handle these drugs.

So you might think, “OK, so I will just give my dog one dose of aspirin until I can take him to the vet”. The problem with this is that NSAIDs require what is called a “washout” period between their use. This means that if aspirin is given, it will then be several days before a different NSAID can be given. This is due to the fact that some of the drug will still be present in the dog after the time when the pain relieving properties have finished, and adding another NSAID too soon will greatly increase the chances of negative side effects such as stomach ulceration. Thus, the one dose of aspirin that you gave your dog to “tide him over” has now resulted in an inability for your vet to start the dog on a safer NSAID for several days.

The take-home message from all of this is that you should always contact us prior to giving your dog or cat any over-the-counter medication to prevent administration of products that could be harmful, toxic, wrongly dosed, or ineffective. This includes drugs such as ibuprofen (Advil), naproxen (Aleve), aspirin (Excedrin, Anacin), and acetaminophen (Tylenol). Acetaminophen, in particular, is extremely toxic to cats.

Our pets certainly feel pain in the same way we do – if something causes us pain, it will cause pain for our pets. Many options exist to help alleviate pain in pets. Make sure to work with your vet to do so safely!