Dog Aspirin: What to Do if Your Dog is in Pain

Sep 16, 2021

This is not medical advice. Before pursuing feeding your dog a new food, supplement, or medication it’s advised to consult with your veterinarian.

Seeing your dog in pain can be, well, painful. Your dog might be one of your closest friends and is a member of your family. One of the greatest forms of suffering is witnessing someone we care about suffer and feeling helpless. Your dog has been your faithful companion, likely for years and when they suffer, you want to do something about it. 

The first thing you need to do is talk to your dog’s veterinarian. Even though it is tempting to simply reach for puppy painkillers, like aspirin for dogs, it’s important to loop your veterinarian in on your dog’s suffering. Not only because there may be a serious underlying health condition being indicated by pain, but also because dogs don’t respond to painkillers the way we humans do. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), “Vets do prescribe aspirin for dogs, but aspirin has some serious side effects that dog owners need to be aware of.” Overdosing a dog on aspirin can not only lead to serious health problems like bleeding and seizures, but an aspirin overdose can be fatal to your dog.

What is Aspirin?

Humans have been using aspirin in some form for over 3400 years. Currently, it is the most widely used drug worldwide and is considered to be one of the most important advancements in the field of pharmacology in the 20th century.  While the pill form of aspirin we’re most familiar with was developed in 1897, the ancient Sumerians and Egyptians used willow bark, which is what aspirin was originally derived from, as a painkiller and antipyretic, or fever reducer. Modern aspirin contains salicylate, which is the active compound found in plants like the willow tree and the myrtle shrub.

Humans continued to use willow bark as medicine through the era of the Greeks and Romans, who birthed some of humanity’s greatest physicians. However, humans all over the world have been using willow bark as medicine, including Native Americans, for thousands of years. Aspirin is a potent, generally beneficial drug for humans, and is currently used for a variety of purposes beyond pain relief and reducing fevers. Aspirin is now known for its antiplatelet properties, or anti-clotting, and is used to help cardiovascular (heart) patients have healthy blood flow. (Though this should be done under the supervision of a doctor.)

Aspirin, as we know it today, is an NSAID, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug. This means that it is in the same category as the commonly known ibuprofen and is part of a long list of other NSAIDS that can be used on humans as well as animals. However, just because you can give your dog aspirin, that doesn’t mean it is 100% safe or the appropriate step to take. That’s why it is so important to talk to your vet first before giving your dog any painkillers. 

While aspirin is mainly used to treat pain and fever, its other qualities such as an anti-clotting medicine can also cause unanticipated side effects, which is why it’s important to talk to your vet first. In general, though, according to the AKC, aspirin and other NSAIDs have “fewer side effects than steroids, although certain NSAIDs like Rimadyl are better suited for long-term use than others. But all of them can cause side effects, so talk to your vet about the best painkiller for your dog’s condition.

Why do Vets Prescribe Aspirin for Dogs?

The most common reason vets will prescribe aspirin to a dog is for inflammatory-related health issues, like osteoarthritis or musculoskeletal inflammation (inflammation of the muscles or bones). Aspirin is a good drug for conditions that cause pain due to inflammation and can offer your dog some relief from symptoms. But vets also use aspirin to treat several different health concerns. Again, aspirin can cause serious side effects, and according to the AKC, it “is not a medication that owners should give their dogs without veterinary approval”. If your vet has prescribed aspirin for your dog, it is important that you carefully follow their instructions. 

Side Effects of Aspirin 

It is common for dogs to have bad reactions to aspirin, which is why it’s important to wait until your vet tells you that aspirin is the appropriate choice to help relieve your dog’s pain. If you are giving your dog aspirin, even if recommended by your vet, be sure to stop immediately and call your vet if you notice any of the following side effect symptoms:

1. Vomiting

While common in dogs and generally not a cause for concern, if you recently started your dog on aspirin and they are throwing up, this is one of aspirin’s undesirable side effects. Excessive vomiting can be hard on your dog’s teeth and potentially dehydrate them. Dehydration is a serious condition for dogs, and while this is an extreme example, prolonged dehydration can seriously injure or even kill your dog.

2. Diarrhea 

Even more unpleasant than vomiting, diarrhea can also potentially dehydrate your dog. If you are noticing diarrhea in combination with vomiting, or other symptoms like “lethargy, fever, dry, tacky or pale gums, or weakness”, it’s time to call your vet’s office.

3. Mucosal erosion

This is one of the potential side effects of aspirin that makes it so important to only use aspirin under the instruction of a veterinarian. Your dog’s stomach, like yours, is coated with a protective barrier of mucous, which allows the digestive acids to digest food without harming the stomach. NSAIDs like aspirin can cause that protective barrier to break down in places which can cause pain and lead to conditions like gastric ulceration, or ulcers. Ulcers are small wounds on the stomach from tissues coming into contact with digestive acids. Signs your dog is experiencing mucosal erosion are: abdominal pain (your dog may hunch or curl up, with their head down and hindquarters up if they’re experiencing abdominal pain), poor appetite or loss of appetite, bloody diarrhea, vomiting with or without blood, fever, weight loss, rapid heart rate (tachycardia), increased salivation, or abdominal distention (bloating).

4.Black, tarry-looking stools (poop)

This can be a sign of mucosal erosion. If you see this, discontinue the use of aspirin immediately. 

Be sure to monitor your dog closely when starting them on a new medication. According to the AKC, “Changes in appetite, activity level, urination, bowel movements, or personality could all be signs of an adverse reaction.”. Symptoms of an aspirin overdose include:

  1. Loss of appetite

  2. Vomiting

  3. Diarrhea

  4. Hemorrhage, or bleeding

  5. Seizure

  6. Coma

  7. Death

How Much and What Kind of Aspirin Can I Give my Dog?

There is a lack of definitive studies about the appropriate dosage of aspirin for dogs, and the amount of aspirin your dog needs can vary depending on your dog’s condition. According to the AKC, “You should always talk to your veterinarian before starting your dog on a drug like aspirin, as overdoses can be fatal.”.

Once you’ve spoken to your vet about how much aspirin to give your dog, and mentioned any other medications your dog is on, be sure to talk to them about what kind of aspirin you should use. Human aspirin has a coating on it that is meant to protect our stomachs, but that coating isn’t digestible by dogs and can keep their body from absorbing the drug. There are many aspirin products on the market that were designed for dogs.

Clearly you care about your pet’s health if you are reading an article about dog aspirin. Your pup is fortunate to have you taking care of them. And, chances are, after you talk to your vet, and decide on a plan of action together, your pup will be back to his or her normal, healthy self very soon. 

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