Is Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen Safe for My Pets?

It’s Sunday evening, Fido comes in from romping through the yard with the family and seems to be limping. He is acting painful and you just want to make him feel better! Of course, since it’s Sunday night, your local vet isn’t open and you are not crazy about taking him to the emergency hospital because this isn’t a life threatening injury, he just seems to be painful. If you could get him comfortable tonight, you could call the vet first thing in the morning to have him seen. You go to your medicine cabinet and pull out an NSAID, Ibuprofen. They use NSAIDs in humans so this must be safe right? Wrong! The NSAIDs used for dogs and cats are much different than the NSAIDs used for humans.

When an injury occurs, the body releases prostaglandins which stimulate pain, fever and inflammation. Essentially, NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) act as a blocker to prevent the production of prostaglandins and the resulting pain, fever, and inflammation. Not all prostaglandins are bad. Some are essential in the daily function of kidney blood flow, platelet clumping, and normal protecting of the stomach lining. The dosage of NSAIDs used in humans is much different than the dosage used in cats and dogs, and the medications are very different as well. The most common NSAIDs used for humans are Motrin (ibuprofen), Tylenol (acetaminophen), and Aleve (naproxen). There are dog-specific NSAIDs that are safely used for short-term and long-term pain control: Rimadyl, Metacam, Previcox, Deramaxx. When used long-term, monitoring their vital organ values is important and recommended. NSAIDs are not commonly used in felines for long-term use and are used as sparingly as possible due to the way their bodies metabolize them. There are other options for pain control in cats that are easier on their bodies and safer.

For cats, acetaminophen is even more dangerous than ibuprofen. Even tiny doses can cause poisoning. Acetaminophen toxicity in cats causes damage to the liver and the red blood cells. When the red blood cells are damaged, the ability to carry oxygen to other cells in the body decreases. This can cause the color of the blood to change from red to brown. The liver is where acetaminophen is metabolized by the body. A cat’s liver can’t handle the substances produced in this process, and causes liver failure. Ibuprofen toxicity in cats causes damage to the stomach which will lead to further organ damage, especially to the kidneys.

For dogs, both acetaminophen and ibuprofen can cause toxicity and be deadly. Ibuprofen is extremely harmful to the stomach. Damage can consist of tearing the stomach lining which will allow abdominal fluid to seep into the abdomen, stomach ulcers, and can do permanent damage to other vital organs.

Visible side effects of toxicity for either species includes:

  • Vomiting (possibly bloody)
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Black/tarry stools
  • Painful abdomen
  • Halitosis
  • Pale gums
  • Seizures
  • Death

NEVER give your cat or dog any type of human NSAID without consulting with your veterinarian first. Talk to your veterinarian about what to do in an emergency situation and what medications are safe to give your four-legged friend as well as the dosage for their body weight. Having a well-stocked first aid kit is important as well (see our First Aid section for more information). If your pet ingests any type of NSAID, contact your veterinarian or emergency clinic immediately. If you have any further questions, talk to your veterinarian at your next appointment or give us a call.