Ibuprofen and aspirin for dogs

If you have a headache or a pain anywhere in your body, you're likely to reach for a medication like ibuprofen or aspirin. They're easy to buy over-the-counter in large numbers, so you can always keep some available. But when you can see that your dog is pain, what should you do? Maybe you think that you could give your dog the same medication you have. Before you decide to give either ibuprofen or aspirin, or any other medication, to your dog, you should understand some of the risks you could be taking if you give them medication without consulting a vet first.

Understanding ibuprofen and aspirin

Ibuprofen and aspirin are both non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs. Their active ingredients help to reduce inflammation, fever and pain by targeting an enzyme that produces prostaglandins responsible for causing all of these things. However, these prostaglandins also have other roles, and upsetting their balance can cause issues ranging from vomiting and intestinal issues to impaired kidney and liver function. Even humans can be negatively affected by ibuprofen and aspirin if they take too many or have a bad reaction, so it's even more important to exercise caution when it comes to dogs.

What types are available?

There are different types of ibuprofen and aspirin available, both over-the-counter and by prescription. They are usually sold in pill form. When you buy standard strengths of these medications from your local pharmacy or drug store, or from other retail outlets, they are usually available in lower doses, and sometimes in extra-strength versions too. However, to get stronger painkillers, you can get a prescription, which might be used to manage chronic or strong pain.

Ibuprofen is also available in gels or creams, as well as sprays. You can usually find ibuprofen pills in different types too, such as tablets or caplets.

The risks of giving your dog ibuprofen or aspirin

If ibuprofen or aspirin work for you, it might seem logical that they could help your dog. Perhaps you have also read that you can give your dog baby aspirin as a mild alternative to the stronger stuff. However, you could be taking a big risk by giving your dog either aspirin or ibuprofen. One of the problems is that dogs are all so different from each other. They're different breeds, sizes and ages, and they can have individual health problems too.

Especially if given incorrectly (such as the wrong dosage), ibuprofen or aspirin could result in:

  • Vomiting and diarrhea

  • Gastrointestinal bleeding or ulcers (hole in the stomach lining)

  • Ineffective pain relief that's not worth the risk (baby aspirin)

  • Loss of appetite

  • Kidney or liver problems

  • Bleeding disorders

Giving your dog ibuprofen or aspirin could even be fatal. Without guidance from a vet, you could give your dog too much of a medication, or you might be unaware of a sensitivity your dog has to a certain drug. This is when your pet insurance comes in especially handy. For some dogs, using ibuprofen or aspirin could be more dangerous than usual, due to existing health conditions or medications that you're already giving them.

What to do if your dog has already had a pill

Sometimes, you might already have given your dog aspirin or ibuprofen before realizing that it could be bad for them. In other cases, you may have found a chewed up bottle of medication. If you gave them a pill or you think they might have eaten a single pill, you should call your veterinarian immediately. They can help you by offering advice on anything to watch out for and let you know if you need to come in for a checkup. If your dog has managed to get into a bottle or packet of pills, you should immediately call Animal Poison Control (you should have their number easily accessible or already programmed into your phone). They can help in an emergency 24/7 and will work with your emergency veterinarian to determine what treatment is best for your dog.

Safer alternatives to ibuprofen and aspirin

There are safer ways to provide pain relief to your dog. If your dog is in pain, make an appointment with your vet as soon as possible (or take to an emergency vet if the pain is severe). They can prescribe a number of medications designed just for dogs. Your vet might prescribe:

  • Carprofen

  • Deracoxib

  • Firocoxib

  • Meloxicam

  • Gabapentin

  • Tramadol

In some cases, pain management may also be achieved by making changes to your dog's diet and exercise routine. This helps them to maintain a healthy weight, which is better for their joints, so it's an especially good idea for dogs with arthritis or similar conditions.

To treat your dog's pain safely, you should consult your vet. They can make an informed decision based on your dog's health and medical history.