One of the most common calls we get after hours sounds something like this … “Jake’s just not acting right. He’s all hunched up and he cries when he stands up. Is there something I can give him to make him feel better until we bring him in to the office in the morning?”
That’s a much easier question when we’re the ones who are hurting. We have an assortment of remedies lined up in our medicine cabinet for minor aches and pains – Tylenol, Advil, Aspirin, Aleve – pick your favorite and take one or two…. maybe sometimes even three if it’s a big headache.
But I listened to a podcast a couple of days ago that really shocked me. It was one of my favorite programs, This American Life – and the episode is titled Use Only As Directed. It’s all about the steady increase in acetaminophen poisoning among adults and children around the world.
The problem is what’s called a “narrow safety margin”.
Drugs like aspirin and ibuprophen can cause gastric bleeding in some people, even at the recommended doses – but you generally don’t die.
Acetaminophen is different. Because of its “narrow safety margin”, the maximum safe adult dose is 4 gm per day (eight extra strength pills). But take just 25% more for several days and you’re in line for a liver transplant, or worse.
Most of us are pretty casual about our pain killer (pardon the pun) consumption. The fact that nothing usually goes wrong gives us a false sense of security about how safe these drugs are for us, and our pets.
When our pets give us their sad eyes look, or seem to be hurting in some way, it’s natural to want to try to relieve their pain. Many clients reach into their own medicine cabinet and give pain medication they safely take themselves.
The tricky thing about giving human medication to our pets is that ALL of these drugs have very narrow safety margins for our pets, and drugs like acetaminophen have NO safety margin and should NEVER be given to dogs or cats.
There are many variables that go into my recommendations for helping manage pain in your pets: their species (dog or cat), their weight, age, breed, prior laboratory results, symptoms… etc.
My first pick for pain control in your pets will usually be one of the drugs developed and tested for use specifically in dogs and cats.
I wish I could give you an easy reference here for what to safely give your pet in a pinch, but that’s far too complicated. What I’d like to share with you this month are a few absolute no-nos, and some safety tips when it comes to common pain medications.
First and foremost, if you ever suspect your pet has accidentally ingested any quantity of your medication – whether prescription, or over the counter, call our office immediately for advice. Even over the counter drugs like Nyquil and Midol contain ingredients that are very toxic to dogs and cats.
In a case of accidental medication ingestion —like your Labrador decided your bottle of Tylenol looked delicious and you come home to the pieces— timing can make all the difference. The sooner we start treatment, the better the prognosis.
Safer Than Aspirin? Acetaminophen containing products:
There is absolutely NO amount of acetaminophen that can be safely ingested by a cat– even the smallest dose can prove fatal and is a true medical emergency.
Like humans, acetaminophen has a very narrow margin of safety in dogs. Just one extra strength pill can cause liver damage in a dog under 20 pounds. While a larger dog can tolerate a higher dose, you should never give your dog Tylenol or acetaminophen containing products unless you are given specific instructions by a veterinarian. I almost never recommend acetaminophen containing products for dogs.
Medicine With Muscle – Motrin? Ibuprophen containing products:
Once again we have a medication that is generally safe when used as directed in humans, but has no safe dosage for our pets. Because ibuprophen so frequently causes gastric bleeding, it is not recommended for use in either dogs or cats at any dose. Cats can end up with kidney failure from consuming even a very low dose of an ibuprophen containing product.
All Day Strong- All Day Long – Aleve? Naproxen products:
This product advertises that you only need to take one pill to get the same relief as two pills of a competitive product. But just one pill containing naproxen can be fatal to a cat or dog. There is NO safe dose of naproxen that can be given to a cat or dog. It is very poisonous and even one pill can cause acute kidney failure even in a large dog.
Take two aspirin & call me in the morning? Aspirin products:
For your pampered feline, there is NO safe dose of aspirin you can give.
We do sometimes use aspirin to manage certain types of pain in dogs. If you want to get out your calculators, the safe dosage is usually 5 mg per kg of body weight no more than every 12 hours— but it’s always safest to call our office for advice.
Other considerations before giving aspirin to canines:
1. It’s fairly common for clients to tell us they’ve been giving aspirin at home. What you need to know is this– once you’ve got aspirin “on board”, it limits what medications we can now use to treat your ailing pet.
2. If we’ve advised you on a safe dose of aspirin to give your dog, always give the aspirin with a meal.
3. Never give enteric coated aspirin to dogs. It may not be broken down in the dog’s stomach, and it can collect in the intestines and cause problems. It’s fine to give buffered aspirin, but again, only at the recommended dosage.
4. There are many situations where it is inappropriate to give dogs aspirin, including when your dog is taking prednisone for another problem. That’s why it’s always best to contact our office for advice.
Remember, the best advice for helping your pet relieve pain is a visit to our office. Not only do we have medications developed specifically for dogs and cats, we also use therapies like acupuncture to relieve pain.
Finally, keep the number handy to the Pet Poison Helpline 800-213-6680. They have veterinarians available 365 days a year to give reliable advice should your pet consume your medication. They also have a great website.