Caring dog owners often ask: “Can I give my dog Advil?” After all, when you have this affordable, everyday pain reliever on hand for yourself, it’s easy to assume it’s harmless and helpful for your senior dog too. Dr. Julie Buzby, integrative veterinarian and founder of Dr. Buzby’s ToeGrips®, shares why giving your dog human pain relievers can be a recipe for disaster. Get answers to this frequently asked question so you can have no doubt that the medications you select for your beloved senior dog only help and never harm.
From dog food to medications, you want the best for your furry friend. The path is relatively straightforward when your pup is young, healthy, and pain-free, but as your dog ages and his muzzle turns grey, it can be stressful and unnerving when you see signs your dog is in pain.
The good news is that veterinary medicine has come a long way in the last few decades. Veterinarians and owners now have new, helpful information on pain and many product options to minimize discomfort for your senior dog. One of the most popular medications veterinarians prescribed for senior dogs are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that have been developed specifically for animals. These should not be confused with human NSAIDS.
Can I Give My Dog Advil?
Medications such as ibuprofen and naproxen fall into the class of drugs called NSAIDs. You probably have a bottle or two in your cabinet right now.
So if you suspect your dog is in pain, you may wonder, “Can I give my dog Advil?” The answer is black and white. There’s not even a grey zone on this one. Giving your dog Advil is never in his or her best interest.
Before getting into why human pain relievers like Advil are never a good choice for your dog, I want to share a story with you about a sweet Papillon named Lizzy.
Lizzy: The painful Papillon
A few years ago, I saw a patient named Lizzy. She was an adult Papillon who came in for a visit due to vomiting and limping on her right leg. The limping began when she fell off her owner’s desk several days prior—she liked to sit on the desk and “read” with her owner.
It made sense that a high jump and a hard landing could cause limping in such a tiny seven-pound dog, but that didn’t explain the vomiting. Lizzy’s owner mentioned he had given her half a tablet of Aleve – an NSAID for humans – thinking it would help Lizzy’s pain. An alarm went off in my head — I was pretty sure I found the reason for Lizzy’s vomiting.
I explained that human NSAIDs (i.e. Aleve or Advil) can be dangerous for dogs and lead to gastrointestinal issues and damage to the kidneys.
I recommended blood work to check Lizzy’s kidney values.
My suspicions were confirmed when I noted elevated blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine values on her bloodwork. This elevation, known as azotemia, suggested that there was something wrong with Lizzy’s kidneys. We started treating Lizzy for NSAID toxicity right away.
What are NSAID pain medications for humans?
There are quite a few pain medications for humans available over the counter. These include NSAIDs like:
- Ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin)
- Naproxen (Aleve)
NSAIDs relieve pain, inflammation, and fever. You may be wondering about why Tylenol is not on this list. Acetaminophen, or Tylenol, is not in the same drug class and does not reduce inflammation, but it is a non-aspirin medication for pain and fever.
While we’re on the subject of acetaminophen (Tylenol), let’s set the record straight on it too. Although acetaminophen is not an NSAID, it can still be problematic for dogs. A dog’s liver has a hard time breaking it down and produces a toxic byproduct which causes anemia (i.e. low red blood cells) and liver damage.
What makes human NSAID pain medications dangerous for dogs?
In order to understand how NSAIDs work, a little background information is needed. NSAIDs affect the release of prostaglandins in the body. Prostaglandins are chemical compounds that can cause inflammation but also have beneficial effects such as maintaining the health of the lining of the digestive tract and blood flow to the kidneys.
Prostaglandins are made when an enzyme called cyclooxygenase – or COX – breaks down a substance called arachidonic acid. NSAIDs inhibit COX and therefore prevent prostaglandin production.
Most of the NSAIDs that a veterinarian prescribes for your dog’s pain are COX-selective, meaning that they will block the formation of “bad” prostaglandins to help decrease inflammation but won’t inhibit the beneficial effects of the “good” prostaglandins.
Human NSAIDs are non-selective and can therefore cause problems for dogs. Depending on the ingested dose, NSAIDs can cause gastrointestinal issues, kidney problems, seizures, and comas. Bleeding gastrointestinal ulcers may cause blood loss, and gastrointestinal perforations may result in sepsis (i.e. life-threatening organ or tissue damage due to the body’s abnormal response to infection) and death.
What should I do if I accidentally give my dog Advil?
If your dog has ingested a human medication, contact your veterinarian right away. Most clinics will tell you to come in as soon as possible.
If you live far from your veterinary clinic, your veterinarian might ask you to induce vomiting at home with hydrogen peroxide. Keep in mind, hydrogen peroxide isn’t always effective at inducing vomiting. There are certain conditions where inducing vomiting at home can be dangerous, particularly if your dog is showing neurologic symptoms like a seizure, a coma, or an altered mental state.
Also, there are online poison control helplines available 24/7. The ASPCA animal poison control hotline is run by amazing board-certified veterinarian toxicologists. (Please know that a fee for their service may apply.)
How do veterinarians treat ingestion of Advil?
Depending on the amount of medication ingested, how long ago the ingestion took place, and what clinical signs your dog might be experiencing, your vet will recommend a specific course of treatment.
Here are several treatments your vet may recommend if you accidentally give your dog Advil or another NSAID:
- Hospitalization and intravenous fluid therapy to help support the kidneys (my recommendation for sweet Lizzy).
- Activated charcoal, a dark tarry liquid, administered orally to prevent further absorption of the medication into your dog’s body.
- Antacids like famotidine or pantoprazole or oral tablets like sucralfate to protect the lining of the stomach and small intestine from ulcers.
- If your dog has severe ulcers, he or she may need a blood transfusion and/or oxygen therapy.
Can I give my dog children’s Advil?
Some well-meaning dog owners believe it will be safe to use a human NSAID if administered in a lower dose. When searching online, you might even find articles that talk about how children’s Advil or aspirin are safe for dogs. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Even with lower doses of medications, some dogs have adverse reactions since human NSAIDs have a narrow margin of safety. Children’s liquid medications may also contain alcohol or xylitol (the artificial sweetener in gum and many other human consumables) which is toxic for dogs.
What are some safe pain medications for dogs?
The good news is there are many safe and effective options to keep your senior dog happy and comfortable. As with any new medication or supplement for pain, consult your veterinarian for his or her advice and recommendations.
Safe NSAIDs for dogs
There are several COX-selective NSAIDs that are safe for dogs and your veterinarian can prescribe. I’ve listed a few below along with the brand names in parentheses:
- Carprofen (Rimadyl/Quellin)
- Firocoxib (Previcox)
- Deracoxib (Deramaxx)
All of the veterinary-prescribed medications listed above work well short term for minor injuries or post-surgical pain. They are also effective when used long term for joint pain and other injuries resulting in chronic pain. However, long-term use of NSAIDs can affect kidney or liver function so your vet may recommend routine lab work every six to 12 months as a precaution.
It is also important to note that even when dog-safe NSAIDs are used, occasionally some dogs will experience side effects such as lack of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, or GI ulceration. If your dear dog develops any of these signs, promptly contact your veterinarian.
Other pain medications for dogs
Narcotic medications are also an option for pain management in dogs, although this class of medications tends to cause drowsiness and nausea. Veterinarians typically use injectable versions for hospitalized patients and oral tablets for at-home care.
Methocarbamol (a muscle relaxer) and gabapentin (a medication for nerve pain) are especially useful for treating intervertebral disc disease in dogs.
Looking back at Lizzy
Lizzy had an excellent response to her fluid therapy and supportive care. By the third day of hospitalization, her kidney values had gone back to normal, and she was no longer vomiting. As for her limping, we used a different pain medication (a narcotic called buprenorphine) until it was safe to start Lizzy on an NSAID again. Her limping improved with some rest and time. As for her owner, he made sure to keep his own medications out of sight!
What’s best for your senior dog
Even though we make use of human medications in veterinary medicine, dogs process medications very differently than humans. This may mean dogs need a higher dose for a medication to work, or that a very small dose could do harm. Consult your veterinarian to see if a medication is safe because—just like you—your veterinarian wants what’s best for your dog’s health!
How do you comfort your canine companion when he’s in pain?
Share your experience in the comments so we can support our furry friends together!