When you have a dog that is hurting and in pain, it is tempting to raid the medicine cabinet, google the “correct” dosages for dogs of their size and breed, and then give your pooch some common, over-the-counter pain medication such as Tylenol.
However, you’re strongly advised to avoid doing this at all costs, as dogs can respond very differently to Tylenol than humans do, and if they are given too much, the results can be fatal.
Even if giving your dog Tylenol doesn’t kill them, it can still cause serious damage to their liver, kidneys, and surrounding tissues, even when they’ve only ingested it small doses.
It’s important that you know Tylenol should never be given to a dog without being accompanied by detailed instructions and close supervision from your veterinarian. Even then, there are usually alternative medications that can help alleviate their pain that your vet can recommend. Often, these alternative medications are much safer and far less toxic for your dog to consume.
Sadly, Tylenol (and the many other brand names acetaminophen is sold under) is a common household “poison” that kills hundreds of animals every year. These deaths are either by accidental ingestion or (possibly worse), triggered by well-meaning pet owners desperate to relieve their dog’s pain or fever.
Even low doses that are given to a dog over a long period of time can be poisonous and the damage done to your dog’s body can be cumulative. Because Tylenol is so toxic, your vet often will shy away from even prescribing it, simply because it is very difficult to administer to a dog safely while avoiding serious side effects.
What Happens If I Give My Dog Tylenol?
Tylenol is not the same as an NSAID. It is not fully understood how Tylenol works when it comes to reducing pain or fever in dogs, but what vet providers do know is that if a dog ingests too much acetaminophen, it can cause serious health damage and will often be fatal.
Because acetaminophen can be absorbed so quickly inside a dog’s tummy and small intestine, the drug can reach peak levels in the bloodstream within 30 to 60 minutes. This makes for a very small, narrow window of time for you to seek help if you find your dog has been poisoned.
Unlike NSAIDs, Tylenol has zero anti-inflammatory properties. When consumed in large enough quantities, it can destroy your dog’s liver cells and cause hepatobiliary necrosis. Hepatobiliary necrosis happens when liver cells and tissue die off.
This drug can be harmful to a dog’s kidneys, and it can cause systemic and widespread tissue and organ damage. This includes triggering gastro, cardio, and nervous system collapse. These life-threatening health conditions arise due to your dog’s body converting hemoglobin to methemoglobin.
Hemoglobin is what carries oxygen in the blood to all the necessary and vital organs. When hemoglobin is converted into methemoglobin, it hinders the body’s ability to deliver vital oxygen stores to your dog’s tissue and organs. Without that life-giving oxygen being transmitted where it is needed, the dog will experience system-wide cell and tissue damage and organ failure.
Depending on how much Tylenol your dog has ingested and how swiftly they are treated for that toxicity, it could be a matter of hours or days before death. That is why, if you suspect your dog has consumed Tylenol and may be sick, you need to seek emergency care immediately. The sooner you can get your dog to an animal hospital and let a vet begin treatment, the best chance you’ll give them at saving your dog and flushing all toxins from their system.
When Dogs Accidentally Ingest Tylenol
Most often, when a dog has been poisoned by Tylenol it is through accidental ingestion. This can occur if your dog happens to find a bottle of Tylenol lying around, either on a counter or a table top, or somewhere else easily accessible.
Being the curious beasts that dogs are known to be, when they investigate something interesting, they will use their mouth. And of course, they will often chew their findings to bits. Sadly, once a dog breaks through the plastic of a medicine container, they wind up eating the contents too. And they do not have to eat much Tylenol for the consequences to be life-threatening.
Sometimes dogs are accidentally poisoned by well-meaning owners that simply do not know what they are doing. They know their dog has a fever or they know their dog is suffering and in pain. They figure if Tylenol works for them in those instances, why wouldn’t it work for their animal?
Sometimes a well-intentioned pet owner will turn to Google and become very misinformed due to all the conflicting information that is available. Then, when they try to administer a human medication such as Tylenol to their canine, it results in a dog that is sicker than when they started.
Never give your canine medications on the recommendation of a Google search alone, and always, always check with your vet first to determine the correct dosage of any medication you are contemplating giving to your pet.
Signs of Tylenol Poisoning in Dogs
Dogs can experience non-repairable liver damage due to Tylenol poisoning. In most cases, Tylenol may be toxic at anything over 75 mgs per kilograms of body weight in a dog. If you suspect that your dog could have ingested too much Tylenol and has been poisoned, there are some clear signs to look for.
These signs include:
- Labored breathing
- A swollen neck, face, or limbs
- Gums that are a brownish-gray color
- A yellow tinge to their skin and to the whites of their eyes
A yellow tinge may indicate that he is suffering from jaundice, which is common in a dog experiencing liver damage.
Sometimes dogs may experience:
- Rapid breathing
- Rapid heart rate
- A dark bluish color to their skin and mucous membranes (indicating cyanosis)
- Licking and biting at their belly (this can indicate they are in pain)
- Dark brown urine (due to abnormal blood and/or hemoglobin levels)
- In some cases, death can occur
Overall, you may only notice that your dog appears to be very sick. They may suffer from abdominal cramps and pain alongside any vomiting, as well as become lethargic and wobbly on their feet. It becomes apparent that they feel lousy, and it is impossible not to notice that something is indeed, very wrong.
Do You Suspect Your Dog May Have Tylenol Poisoning?
If you suspect your dog is suffering from toxic levels of Tylenol in their bloodstream, you should see your vet immediately and treat the situation as a critical emergency.
Often, dogs will appear to be in severe abdominal distress when they have been poisoned, but it can be a little difficult to determine the cause. They could be having a gastrointestinal upset because of something they ate, or they could be suffering from some secondary health condition that is triggering the upset.
Unfortunately, the symptoms of Tylenol poisoning tend to be non-specific, so a thorough medical history will be necessary once you arrive at your vet’s office. Your vet may ask about your dog’s vaccination history, they may ask about their overall health history, and they may ask questions on the specifics of when your dog’s current symptoms began and how severe those symptoms have been thus far.
If you suspect that your dog has gotten into a bottle of Tylenol (or any other toxic agent for that matter), you need to inform your vet of that immediately, so that they can give the dog the correct tests to make an accurate diagnosis.
A complete physical exam will be necessary from nose to tail to determine your dog’s current health status, and your vet will most likely want to order a complete blood count and urinalysis, as well as a chemical blood profile to determine how high the Tylenol levels may be in your dog’s blood.
These types of tests can be extremely helpful in providing information regarding your dog’s vital organs such as their liver, heart, and kidneys. Sometimes, x-rays or ultrasounds may be recommended for dogs that seem to be suffering from severe abdominal pain.
Unfortunately, these tests alone will not do much to confirm Tylenol poisoning in your dog, so ask your vet to do the blood and urine screenings if they don’t take the initiative to do them on their own.
Once blood and urine levels are determined, possible treatments can then be discussed and implemented.
Treating a Dog with Tylenol Poisoning
When a dog has ingested Tylenol in life-threatening amounts, the first and primary goal if it is caught early enough is to detoxify your dog.
If your dog requires emergency treatment, it most likely will include IV fluids, supplemental oxygen, and possibly additional therapies like vitamin C, N-acetylcysteine, and cimetidine via their IV line to protect and repair possible liver damage and reduce levels of toxicity in your dog’s body. The best way to protect a dog’s liver is to replenish their glutathione stores, which is achieved by converting methemoglobin back into hemoglobin.
Some treatment options will depend on how soon the situation is caught, and will only be successful if implemented early. If you take your dog to the vet within 4 to 6 hours of ingesting the Tylenol, your vet may try giving your canine activated charcoal to absorb the poison and stimulate your dog to vomit it up, or they may decide to give your dog a gastric lavage and flush their stomach to rid it of toxins.
If the poison has already progressed to the point where your dog is presenting with blood in their urine, then your vet may require blood transfusions. If your dog comes through the ordeal okay, they could still need long-term therapy, depending on how clinically affected they have been by the poisoning. During your dog’s treatment and recovery period, they will need fresh water at all times and plenty of rest.
Prognosis for Dogs That Have Been Poisoned by Tylenol
A dog’s prognosis depends entirely on how much Tylenol they have ingested, and how early the symptoms were caught. If your dog has been detoxified quickly enough with the above-mentioned measures, then their prognosis should be positive and comforting.
However, if your dog was already presenting with clinical signs of toxicity and organ damage before any treatment began, then that makes their prognosis grim. Dogs who have experienced clinical signs of Tylenol poisoning become very high risk patients – resulting in permanent damage and death. So, as with everything else health related, the sooner your dog is properly diagnosed and treatment has begun, the better their prognosis will be.
Preventing Poisoning Your Dog from Tylenol
The most critical thing you can do for the health and safety of your canine family members is to stay informed. Know that Tylenol is not safe to give to a dog, and keep all of your over-the-counter medications well out of curiosity’s reach.
Remember that a locked medicine cabinet or an elevated storage cabinet is ideal. Leaving medications sitting around on the kitchen counter or on a side table is never wise, nor is leaving medications in your purse where nosy canine friends can find them.
Never administer medications intended for humans to your dog, unless you’ve been given very strict and careful instructions by your veterinary provider. And never forget that the effects of giving your dog Tylenol without the direct supervision of an experienced professional can be heartbreaking and devastating.