It is a very natural reaction to want to help your dog when you know that he is in pain. For most of us, anytime we see pain and suffering we want to do something to alleviate it. Usually, the sooner the better.
However, reaching for over-the-counter human pain relief medications such as ibuprofen is not safe or advisable when attempting to treat your four-legged friend. It is very easy to administer toxic levels of the drug unknowingly, and toxic levels of ibuprofen in your dog’s system can cause life-threatening health conditions.
So, the short answer is no, ibuprofen should not be used as pain relief for dogs, unless you have been specifically directed to do so by your veterinarian provider.
If you have been directed to give your dog ibuprofen by your vet, make sure the medication is accompanied with very careful instructions and strict dosages to adhere to, and follow those instructions and dosages religiously.
Signs Your Dog May Be in Pain
It’s important to look out for the signs of pain in dogs. Often, dogs are quite stoic when it comes to pain, unless the pain is severe. When a dog’s pain becomes severe, one telling sign is that they may vocalize more than normal, either with whining or barking, and especially when you touch them.
A dog that suffers from chronic pain however, may present with more subtle symptoms. These symptoms can range from lethargy and listlessness, a lack of appetite, and depression, to other behavior changes such as agitation and snapping at people when they are normally friendly and loving. Dogs that are typically reserved or withdrawn may become overly affectionate and clingy, seeking your attention constantly.
Other subtle signs and behavior changes that could clue you in to your dog’s plight may be things like your dog avoiding doing activities you know he enjoys. Maybe it is playing, maybe it is going for a walk, or maybe he isn’t interested in chasing the neighborhood cat like he normally is. Perhaps your dog is reluctant to do things like jump in your car or climb the stairs, where previously he has had no problem doing so.
Sometimes dogs can experience sudden or acute onset pain. When this happens, they may present with rapid or loud breathing, like panting. In cases where they are suffering severely, they could also experience a more rapid than normal heart rate, and higher than normal blood pressure.
Obviously, there can be a wide variety of reasons your dog could be in pain, so the most prudent recourse is to take your dog to a vet before administering any medications, especially drugs such as ibuprofen. Not only is it very easy to poison your dog with ibuprofen, it also tends to interact with other medications, sometimes resulting in unhappy consequences if your dog is taking something else on a regular basis that doesn’t mix well.
What is Ibuprofen?
Ibuprofen is in over-the-counter medication intended for human consumption that is classified as an NSAID, or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug. Because the use of these types of drugs is so common, and they are readily available in every drugstore, pet toxicity due to accidental ingestion is also very common.
Ibuprofen is considered an antipyretic, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic medication. When dogs are given ibuprofen orally, it is absorbed very rapidly, usually within thirty minutes to three hours. If your dog has been given food beforehand, then it can delay absorption somewhat, although not much.
How Much Ibuprofen Can I Give My Dog?
Ibuprofen is a medication with a very narrow margin of error when it comes to dosing a dog. Even at very low doses, if you are using ibuprofen for dogs for a prolonged period, it can still cause serious health concerns.
These concerns include GI irritations and ulcerations, GI hemorrhaging, gastric perforations, as well as renal damage. Prolonged use of ibuprofen can also trigger depression of the central nervous system (CNS), cardiac arrest, hypotension, ataxia, as well as seizures in dogs. Dogs that accidentally ingest ibuprofen at toxic levels should be treated as an emergency, because high levels of ibuprofen in a dog’s system is potentially lethal.
So, while ibuprofen can be very effective for pain and fever, it is a risky drug to give to your dog, even more risky than aspirin. This is especially true when there are other medication options available (intended for animals) that are safer and may work better. It is important that you never administer ibuprofen to your dog without the input and supervision of a veterinary professional.
What Happens If I Give My Dog Ibuprofen?
Ibuprofen works like any other NSAID, by inhibiting cyclooxygenase, an enzyme that is responsible for producing prostaglandins. Prostaglandins promote things like pain, fever, and inflammation, as well as other roles in a dog’s body, such as maintaining blood flow to their kidneys, and promoting the normal clotting of blood.
Prostaglandins also help keep the inner lining of the gastrointestinal tract coated with a layer of mucus that protects it from stomach acid. So, when prostaglandins are reduced, your dog can suffer side effects related to all those bodily functions, such as:
- Intestinal problems
- A loss of appetite
- Diarrhea and vomiting
- Bleeding disorders
- Liver and kidney dysfunction
- And even death if he does not get proper treatment
When Dogs Accidentally Ingest Ibuprofen
Most of time dogs experience ibuprofen toxicity because they have accidentally ingested the medication due to carelessness. This can happen when pet owners leave bottles of ibuprofen sitting on tables and countertops, or leave the medication in bags and purses within reach of your dog.
Dogs are curious creatures and they like to chew things, so it is easy for them to happen upon a bottle of ibuprofen and start gnawing away. Unfortunately, once they have chewed through the plastic, they end up ingesting the drug as well, and accidentally poisoning themselves.
Other times, dogs can experience problems with ibuprofen because a well-meaning owner accidentally gave them a dosage that was too high for them in a kind-hearted attempt to alleviate their pain. Because there is such a narrow margin of error when it comes to proper dosage with ibuprofen, it is very easy to accidentally overdose them.
Sometimes, dogs can still be supersensitive to ibuprofen. This means that even if you give your dog a dosage that is correct, he can still experience adverse side effects.
Additionally, if your dog suffers from any other health conditions, such as liver, kidney, or gastrointestinal disease, or if your dog takes other medications such as corticosteroids, then giving a canine an NSAID like ibuprofen (even in the proper dosage) can pose serious health risks.
Signs of Ibuprofen Toxicity in Dogs
Ibuprofen is readily available by many different brand names, such as Advil, Motrin, and even Midol. Sometimes you might not realize that an over-the-counter medication contains ibuprofen, so it’s important to look at medication labels. Ibuprofen also comes in liquid form, as is the case with formulas made for children. Be warned however, that even formulas made for children can be harmful to your dog.
This means that something even more important than looking at labels, is not to leave any types of medications within doggie reach, whether it’s liquid or not. Just like children, dogs are prone to getting into just about anything and everything, and it is tragic when a dog suffers unnecessary health scares or even death because their curiosity got the best of them.
Some of the sign and symptoms of dogs who have ingested too much ibuprofen include:
- Irritation and agitation
- A lack of appetite
- Vomiting (including vomiting blood)
- Abdominal pain
- Stomach ulcers
- Black, tar-looking stools
- Pale mucous membranes indicating anemia
- Halitosis related to kidney failure
- Lethargy and weakness
Also, if your dog is experiencing kidney failure, he may display an increased level of thirst and urinate more frequently.
Other symptoms can include:
- Tremors and seizures
- Renal failure
- Depression of the central nervous system
- And even death
Some of these symptoms may occur quickly, while others may not manifest for a long period of time. Dogs seem to be particularly susceptible to stomach ulcers. The signs of a stomach ulcer can manifest anywhere between twelve hours to four days after ingestion.
Likewise, a severe impairment of kidney function can be seen anywhere from twelve hours to five days after ingestion. If you see any of these symptoms, please take them seriously and see your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Do You Suspect Your Dog May Have Ibuprofen Toxicity?
You should see your vet right away if you suspect your dog has ingested ibuprofen, or if you have given him ibuprofen for pain and he is exhibiting any adverse reactions. The vet will most likely want to examine your dog and take a thorough medical history, as well as answer any questions he may have about your dog symptoms.
Typically, a panel of tests may be ordered, such as a complete blood count, a urinalysis, a chemistry panel, and a renal panel. If you know exactly what your dog has ingested, you might also bring the bottle of medication so that your vet can see for himself exactly what your dog has eaten.
Treating a Dog with Ibuprofen Toxicity
There are a few actions your vet might choose to take if he suspects your dog has been poisoned by ibuprofen. Especially if the poisoning is acute, you can expect your dog to be hospitalized. He will most likely be given IV fluids to help speed up the elimination of toxins from his body.
Any other medications your dog may be taking will need to be discontinued for now, and if your dog has ingested the ibuprofen in the previous two hours or less, your vet may give him activated charcoal to bind to and absorb the toxins to help remove them from the body.
In some cases, your dog may need his stomach pumped, which is called a gastric lavage. If your dog has suffered from long-term toxicity, and now presents with bleeding ulcers, it’s possible he will be anemic on top of everything else.
If so, your vet may recommend blood transfusions, and your dog may need medications to help control any unwanted vomiting. If your dog does have bleeding ulcers, sometimes drugs such as Pepcid and Carafate may be administered.
In severe cases where there is gastric perforation, surgery may become necessary to repair the perforation and treat your dog for peritonitis. Additionally, if your dog is suffering from any seizures, he may need to be given anticonvulsant medications.
Sometimes blood work will be repeated to make sure your dog’s kidneys are functioning after treatment. If your dog recovers and can be taken home, he will need to be monitored closely and kept on a bland diet.
Keep an eye out for a continued lack of appetite, and whether he continues to present with tarry black stools and/or vomiting. If so, you may need to take him back to your vet for additional treatment and care.
Sadly, dogs that experience complete kidney failure and do not produce urine, most likely will not recover from their ordeal.
Prognosis for Dogs with Ibuprofen Toxicity
Obviously, the sooner ibuprofen poisoning in your dog is discovered, the sooner he can be treated. And the sooner your dog receives treatment, the better his prognosis for a full recovery will be.
Unfortunately, if you are unsure of your dog symptoms and you wait too long to take him to the vet, it’s possible all efforts at treatment after that point will fail.
At the end of the day, ibuprofen is a dangerous drug to give to your dog and should not be administered to your pooch for pain or anything else, without direct supervision from your veterinary provider.
Instead, it’s recommended that you see your vet if you feel your dog is hurting or suffering, and allow the vet to recommend possible medications to bring relief to your pet. Don’t play doctor and take the health of your pet into your own hands, because the risk of something going wrong is too great.
- “What Can I Give My Dog For Pain Relief?” PetMD, Accessed 6 Oct. 2017. www.petmd.com/dog/centers/nutrition/evr_dg_pain-medication-for-dogs.
- “Pain Medications for Dogs.” WebMD, Accessed 6 Oct. 2017. www.pets.webmd.com/dogs/guide/dog-pain-medications.
- Peña, Melvin. “Aspirin and Ibuprofen: Are Human Pain Meds Safe for Dogs?” Dogster, 29 June 2017, Accessed 6 Oct. 2017. www.dogster.com/lifestyle/aspirin-ibuprofen-for-dogs-pain-medication-meds-dog-health-tips.
- “What Can I Give My Dog For Pain?” Honest Paws, Accessed 6 Oct. 2017. www.honestpaws.com/blogs/medication/what-can-i-give-my-dog-for-pain.
- Clark, Mike. “Can Dogs Have Ibuprofen? Is Ibuprofen Safe For Dogs?” Dogtime, 24 Aug. 2018, Accessed 6 Oct. 2017. www.dogtime.com/dog-health/67541-can-dogs-have-ibuprofen-safe-for-dogs.