Can I Give My Dog Aspirin for Pain?

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Let’s face it, watching your pet suffer from pain is difficult, if not downright impossible. It can be tempting to give your dog pain medication from your medicine cabinet because you want so badly to give him some relief. However, this is an unwise idea.

You should always see your veterinarian before administering any kind of over-the-counter medications to your four-legged friend because dosages for humans and dosages for pets are wildly different.

And, like ibuprofen, aspirin is an NSAID with a narrow margin of error when it comes to correctly dosing an animal. If you give your dog too much of the drug, it can have nasty side effects, some of them serious and even life-threatening.

Is My Dog in Pain?

Dogs can be quite stoic animals, so it can be hard to tell when they are in pain and when they are not. The signs can vary widely depending on a dog’s age, on a dog’s environment, and on a dog’s individual personality. However, just because they do so quietly doesn’t mean they do not suffer from pain.

Some signs of pain in dogs are things like:

Heavy Panting and Breathing

Do you notice your dog seems to be sitting around breathing heavily, even though he hasn’t been doing anything to warrant it? Sometimes dogs will pant and take shallow breaths because they are in pain and it hurts to inhale.

Excessive Grooming

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It is a dog’s instinct to clean and minister to a sore spot or an injury. Even if the soreness stems from something internal as opposed to a cut or scrape, they will often still lick that area to “fix” whatever is bothering them.

Behavior Changes

Sometimes dogs will exhibit behavior changes when they are in pain. Maybe you have a dog that is normally very happy-go-lucky and outgoing, that is now acting withdrawn, shy, and is perhaps even hiding from you.

Or, maybe you’re normally friendly dog is now suddenly being snappy and showing aggression to other animals and people. When dogs are in pain, they may worry that you will hurt them if you get too close. To protect themselves, they might growl and get snippy if you do something that makes them anxious.

On the flip side, sometimes dogs that are typically shy or a bit of a loner may suddenly start behaving super needy, wanting affection, and wind up all but sitting in your lap 24/7.

Changes in Eating or Drinking Habits

Just like people, dogs in pain may show zero interest in their food or water, and could even begin to lose weight or become dehydrated if the pain is serious and distracting enough.

Changes in Sleep Habits

Again, just like people, some dogs may sleep more to escape the pain. If you notice your dog appears to be napping more often or longer than normal, that could be an indicator something is wrong.

Squinty Eyes

Often, dogs that are in pain will squint their eyes and appear “heavy-lidded”. This is a clear message to you that something is off and a trip to the vet is warranted.

Difficulty Getting Comfortable

Dogs that are in pain may exhibit difficulty with resting or getting comfortable. Especially with dogs that suffer from chronic pain, it’s hard for them to find just that right spot or position that allows them to relax without hurting.

Excessive Vocalization

Some dogs may become more vocal when they are in pain, especially if you touch a sore or tender spot. They may whine, bark, whimper, yelp, or growl. Some breeds may even howl to express that something is wrong and they are hurting.

If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s time to investigate further because your dog is probably suffering. You should see your vet to determine the source of the problem and figure out the best treatment options. Do not, under any circumstances, give your dog aspirin or any other pain medication (especially medications meant for humans) without the direction and supervision of your vet.

What is Aspirin?

Aspirin is a medication classified as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. This type of drug is often called NSAID for short. NSAIDs encompass not just aspirin, but ibuprofen, naproxen, and other drugs as well. These types of medications are commonly used as a pain reliever and help reduce inflammation and fever. Aspirin is also considered a blood thinner, and is often given to humans for heart and circulation problems.

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Drugs like aspirin for dogs are thought to have less side effects than steroids, but it still doesn’t make them ideal for long-term use. There are other drugs better suited for that. This means that aspirin may be effective for short-term pain relief, but it should not be used for long periods of time.

Aspirin that is given over the long-term (such as in dogs with arthritis) can worsen joint problems by destroying the cartilage. Aspirin can also worsen blood clotting disorders due to its blood thinning capabilities. Sometimes, aspirin can even cause internal bleeding.

What is Aspirin Used for in Dogs?

Typically, aspirin is prescribed for dogs that have experienced a non-serious injury that doesn’t require long-term pain management. Aspirin is intended for short-term pain relief only, and should not be given before, during, or after any major surgery.

Sometimes vets may prescribe aspirin to help relieve the inflammation associated with musculoskeletal inflammation and osteoarthritis in dogs.

Can dogs take aspirin? And when is it safe?

When Should a Dog NOT Be Given Aspirin? Though aspirin may be recommended and prescribed for some dogs, it is not an ideal treatment option for all dogs. Sometimes, dogs have conditions that can interact with aspirin and cause serious damage, and even death.

If you have a dog with any of the following health conditions, you should avoid giving him aspirin.

  • Liver or kidney disease
  • Von Willebrand’s disease
  • A vitamin K deficiency
  • A bleeding disorder
  • Internal ulcers or bleeding ulcers
  • Dogs that are pregnant or nursing
  • Pups eight weeks old or less
  • Dogs or puppies that take corticosteroids
  • Dogs or puppies that take any other medications
  • As well as any dogs that have had a recent or serious injury

If you do give your dog aspirin, it is highly recommended that you only give your dog brands that are specifically formulated for dogs, and in the form of buffered aspirin tablets so that the medication is not as rough on his tummy and digestive system. Try avoiding uncoated or enteric-coated aspirin. Uncoated aspirin is intended for human use only and can cause internal bleeding in dogs. Enteric-coated aspirin can help protect your dog’s stomach lining but may not be the best at providing pain relief.

However, regular over-the-counter aspirin can be used if given in the proper dosage, but ideally not for more than five days at a stretch.

What Are Some Side Effects of Giving a Dog Aspirin?

In most cases, if you are following your vet’s instructions and administering the drug in the proper doses, little to no side effects will be seen. Small, miniature, and toy dogs, as well as younger pups run the biggest risk of overdosing. This means that extra care should be taken to make sure they are receiving just what the doctor ordered.

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Some of the more minor side effects of aspirin for dogs may have on a dog include:

  • Lethargy
  • Upset stomach
  • Loose stools
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mucosal erosion
  • Ulceration
  • Black, tarry stool

These symptoms are often related to digestive upset and to the work the kidney and liver is putting in to break down and expel the drug.

If these symptoms do not resolve on their own or appear to be getting worse, or you have any other concerns about the state of your dog’s health, you should see your vet as soon as possible.

Other more serious side effects can occur if your dog’s intestines, stomach, or bowels become damaged and inflamed. Inflammation and damage can trigger pain and bleeding, and even progress to causing organ damage.

If you notice your dog is vomiting (especially vomit that appears to look like coffee grounds), internal bleeding could be a concern. Additionally, if you notice your dog’s diarrhea seems bloody or full of mucous, or if he is pooping black or tarry-looking stools, this could also indicate there is some internal bleeding going on.

Signs Your Dog Has Ingested Too Much Aspirin

Sometimes, dogs suffer side effects that are beyond the normal. When this happens, it could indicate an overdose. A dog that has ingested toxic levels of a drug like aspirin may exhibit all the symptoms already mentioned, as well as:

  • Hemorrhaging and blood loss
  • Seizures
  • Collapse
  • Weakness
  • Fast breathing (panting)
  • Dehydration
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Pale gums that indicate anemia
  • Dizziness
  • And death

It is imperative that you take your dog in for emergency treatment as soon as you notice any symptoms like these. The sooner a dog is treated for an overdose, the more optimistic the prognosis for a full recovery.

Treating an Aspirin Overdose in Dogs

As with all other cases of drug toxicity, blood panels, chemistry panels, and a urinalysis may all be ordered by your vet to determine how much poison your dog has ingested. Ideally, you want to seek treatment within twelve hours of first noticing any symptoms. That way, you can hopefully begin the process before your dog’s symptoms worsen and become too severe to recover from.

Your vet may choose to perform a gastric lavage to pump your dog’s stomach and rid it of poison, as well as administer activated charcoal to bind to the poison and absorb it.

Because aspirin tends to be rapidly assimilated in the stomach, and because aspirin that has already entered the bloodstream can’t be removed, seeking treatment as quickly as possible helps to reduce the chances of the drug hitting the bloodstream.

Once a drug has hit a dog’s blood stream, other symptoms may begin and severe damage may be done to vital organs. The more organ damage, the more difficult it will become for your dog to recover and bounce back from his ordeal.

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In most cases with a severe overdose, your vet will recommend that your dog be hospitalized and given a continuous IV fluid drip to help flush the poisonous substance from his system. If your dog appears to be anemic, he may also be given a blood transfusion.

As you can see, yes, you can give your dog aspirin for pain when necessary.

However, never do so without the recommendation and supervision of your veterinarian, and without making sure there are no contraindications to giving the dog such a drug. It’s also imperative that you make sure he is getting the proper dosage that’s right for his breed and size.  

Never just give your dog over-the-counter aspirin if it can be avoided. Instead, try to give him aspirin that has been specially formulated for dogs, and give him tablets that preferably have a coating so it doesn’t cause too much gastrointestinal upset.

Remember that aspirin is only a short-term pain relief measure, and it should not be used over the long-term. Talk to your vet about this, because there are other medications now available that may be better suited for your dog and providing long-term pain care. You won’t know unless you ask.

If you do give your dog aspirin under your vet’s recommendation, monitor your dog closely to make sure he is not exhibiting any adverse reactions, so that you can catch any warning signs of toxicity right away.  

Again, the sooner a dog that has ingested too much aspirin begins the detoxification process, the better his prognosis will be for a full recovery.

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