Written by Dr. Dana Koch, VMD, published on November 14, 2014
There are frequently questions in regards to which over the counter medications are safe to use in our pets at home. The majority of the medications that are commonly purchased for human use are not recommended for administration to animals. Each species of animal has different safety margins for medications and are affected differently by their consumption.
- Ibuprofen– Many pet owners want to offer pain relief to their animals by administering ibuprofen, which is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). An NSAID functions by inhibiting an enzyme called cyclooxygenase, which plays an important role in the body’s inflammatory cascade. There are various types of NSAIDs which differ based on their function. Ibuprofen is a non-selective NSAID, meaning that it inhibits all types of cyclooxygenase, not just the ones involved in producing inflammatory mediators. Studies have shown that ibuprofen can inhibit the prostaglandins associated with blood supply to the kidneys and stomach, which leads to minor risk in humans, but of a greater concern for toxicity in dogs and cats. The main clinical signs of ibuprofen toxicity in animals are vomiting, loss of appetite, lethargy, and black tarry stool. Most of these are caused by ulceration of the gastrointestinal lining of the stomach. At more serious toxic levels there is a risk of kidney failure, stomach rupture, or even seizures and coma due to neurologic compromise.
If your pet is having pain or discomfort your best solution is to discuss with your veterinarian the underlying cause for these clinical signs and to have an appropriate medication prescribed. Many times veterinarians utilize NSAIDS such as Rimadyl, Dermaxx, or Metacam. These medications, along with pain medications, such as Tramadol, are frequently used in arthritic or injured animal patients. It is important that blood testing accompanies these medications because they are metabolized through the liver and excreted through the kidneys. Ensuring that both the liver and kidneys are properly functioning is vital before use of such medications. There are also other therapeutic options that do not involve administering medication, such as physical therapy and acupuncture. They are many pets now benefiting from physical therapy exercise, including swimming or work on an underwater treadmill.
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol) – This over the counter medication is frequently used in humans for certain aches and pains and often as a fever reducer. In cats, however, it is highly toxic and should be carefully avoided. Higher dosages of acetaminophen can cause similar concerns in dogs, therefore it may be a safer option to avoid using it in dogs as well. Cats are most sensitive to acetaminiophen toxicosis because they are deficient in glucuronyl transferase, which is an enzyme that acts to remove the reactive portions of the drug from the body. These reactive portions contribute to damage in the liver and to the red blood cells in the body. These red blood cells ultimately lose their capacity to deliver proper amounts of oxygen to cells in the body (called methemoglobinemia). Clinical signs of acetaminophen toxicity include difficulty breathing, swelling of the face, neck or limbs, vomiting, muddy or brownish- colored gums, jaundice, and coma.
- Aspirin –There are many human individuals that frequently consume aspirin to alleviate a headache or joint related pain. In turn, many feel they are helping their animals by administering aspirin. In short treatment intervals at appropriate dosages there is not much evidence of life-threatening side-effects, but longer term usage has shown in clinical trials to contribute to gastric ulceration in animals. The Merck Veterinary Manual reports in a study that 43% of dogs given aspirin at a dose of 50 mg/kg twice a day showed gastric ulcers in approximately 5-6 weeks. Even after two days of receiving aspirin at half the dose (25 mg/kg ) 50% of dogs in the study had erosions on the lining of the stomach. High doses of aspirin can cause abnormal changes in your pet, including lethargy, fever, difficulty breathing, seizures, and diarrhea due to gastric irritation or ulceration.
As previously mentioned, there are other veterinary approved medications to assist in treating your pet’s pain or discomfort. Arthritis being a main cause of pain in our older pets can often be treated using medications and supplements recommended by your veterinarian, including glucosamine and chondroitin. There is also evidence to suggest that omega-3 and omega-6 supplementation can slow the progression of cartilage degeneration.
- Pepto-bismol(bismuth subsalicylate) – Pet owners often want to help alleviate gastrointestinal discomfort in their pets at home and reach for pepto-bismol. Although appropriate dosage regimens have not shown to be toxic in dogs, it does contains aspirin and can be fatal in cats. Before giving your dog or cat pepto-bismol please contact your veterinarian because there may be a more appropriate or safer treatment option for your dog’s upset stomach. One over the counter medication that is often used in place of pepto-bismol is Pepcid AC (Famotidine). This helps to reduce the amount of stomach acid, which often causes nausea or abdominal discomfort. A proper dosage can be supplied by your veterinarian.
Merck Veterinary Manual
Parrah JD, Moulvi BA, Gazi MA, Makhdoomi DM, Athar H, Dar S and Mir AQ (2013) Gastric ulceration in dog: A review,Vet World 6(7):449-454, doi:10.5455/vetworld.2013.449-454ource: The Merck Veterinary Manual
Reimer, M. E., Johnston, S. A., Leib, M. S., Duncan, R. B., Reimer, D. C., Marini, M. and Gimbert, K. (1999), The Gastroduodenal Effects of Buffered Aspirin, Carprofen, and Etodolac in Healthy Dogs. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, 13: 472–477. doi: 10.1111/j.1939-1676.1999.tb01465.x