Dogs tend to be good-natured and stoic, and often conceal their pain. Many times we find older patients who have really painful arthritis, and the owner describes the problem, as: “Well, he’s slowing down some. Just getting old.” A short round of anti-inflammatory pain medicine sometimes reveals that he wasn’t “just getting old” – he was hurting. You relieve the animal’s pain, and folks are calling me to say, “I’ve got my dog back”. Which is very cool.
The other side of the coin is when the owner is pretty sure that the dog is hurting. When your canine buddy is hurting, you want to do something for him. The thing is, you have to be safe when you are doing this. There are some really good drugs that have been tested for safety in dogs and approved for their use. It is important to consult your veterinarian before giving your dog medications. While dogs can take a lot of medicines used in people, over-the-counter pain medications are not a great choice for your dog.
The over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers give inferior pain relief, with vastly greater potential for harmful side-effects, compared to the drugs that are approved for dog use (like Rimadyl, Previcox, Deramaxx, and Metacam). Any of these drugs have the potential to create problems, and if your dog shows signs that he is feeling worse instead of better, you should stop using them and contact the veterinarian who prescribed them. Still, they typically give better relief and are much safer for your dog than the OTC medications.
Do not use Ibuprofen:
Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, Caldolor) has been known to cause bleeding stomach ulcers with a single dose. Sometimes you get by with it, but sometimes you don’t. We do not recommend ever giving Ibuprofen to dogs.
Do not use Naproxen:
Naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn, Naprelan) is similarly dangerous. I have had one client kill a dog with Aleve. The dog had numerous bleeding ulcers the size of a quarter. Not recommended.
We sometimes do use acetaminophen (Tylenol). For occasional or short-term use, it usually doesn’t cause problems. Long-term, frequent usage has a significant risk of causing liver disease. You don’t want that. If you want to use this drug, you should consult your veterinarian about an appropriate dose for your dog.
Aspirin causes two problems. With chronic administration, it inhibits platelet function, which makes you a free bleeder. That doesn't usually happen with occasional use. We used it more for inflammation many years ago before we had the much improved options that we have now. I recall one case where I was using it for an eye injury. The dog cut his ear, and it just would not quit bleeding. Even after being sutured closed and bandaged, it took a long time to stop bleeding, due to the inhibition of the platelet function.
Second, aspirin is anti-secretory, so when it hits the stomach lining, it interrupts the production of the protective mucus that coats the stomach lining. This allows the stomach acid to damage the lining. I am told that we lose 1/4 tsp to one teaspoon of blood for every regular strength aspirin tablet we take.
Buffered aspirin doesn't really protect the stomach. The stomach acid is much more powerful than the acidity of the aspirin.
This is why enteric-coated aspirin (like Ecotrin) is used by heart patients who take one every day. This inhibits platelet function, reducing the risk of clots, and the coating keeps it from dissolving until it gets past the stomach.
Cutting one in half would remove the coating, so people often use the lower strength tablet and take as many as needed (like one to two of the 81mg "baby aspirin" strength).
There was a period of time about 30 years ago when the American Heartworm Society was recommending daily aspirin during the post-treatment period, but this was later shown to be unhelpful, and the recommendation was dropped.
Again, if you wish to use aspirin, you should contact the veterinarian who knows your dog about a safe dose.
The bottom line is this:
It is important to consult your veterinarian before giving your dog medications. You can do more harm than good with some of them.