It Is NOT Safe to Give Your Dog Ibuprofen — Here’s Why

There is no safe ibuprofen (Advil) dosage for dogs. It is dangerous. In fact, even Tylenol and aspirin can be unsafe. Here’s what you need to know.

emergency pain relief for dogs
For the safest emergency pain relief for dogs, contact your veterinarian now. Photo: jaminriverside

One of the questions we get asked the most goes something like this: What’s the ibuprofen dosage for dogs?

It’s easy to understand why this is such a common question. What do you do when you have an ache or pain, a headache or a sprain? You go to your medicine cabinet for an Advil or a Tylenol, right?

And you want to do the same thing for your dog when you think they are hurting, right?

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Be careful. Human painkillers are not safe to give to a dog unless specifically recommended or discussed with your veterinarian.

Advil (ibuprofen), aspirin and Tylenol (acetaminophen) are over-the-counter (OTC) meds used by humans as pain relievers, anti-inflammatories and fever reducers.

Aspirin, at a very low dose, is also used as an anticoagulant. Aspirin and ibuprofen are in the NSAID class (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug). Tylenol is not an NSAID — it has no anti-inflammatory properties, and we don’t really know how it works.

What is the ibuprofen dosage for dogs?
What is the ibuprofen dosage for dogs? Zero. Ibuprofen (Advil) is not safe for dogs. Photo: sackton

What Is the Ibuprofen Dosage for Dogs? (Answer: None.)

There are better, safer, more effective pain relievers made and formulated specifically for dogs.

In a nutshell:

  • Ibuprofen is dangerous for dogs. Don’t use it. There is no safe ibuprofen dosage for dogs.
  • Aspirin, if given at the recommended dose for a few days, can be safe but fairly ineffective.
  • Tylenol at the proper dose can be safe but is also not very effective. It works best if used with other drugs, and this should be prescribed and monitored by your vet.
  • Don’t be tempted to find a “natural” supplement.

What Can You Give a Dog for Pain Relief Over the Counter?

Most people reach for an OTC pain med if they think their dog has hurt themselves.

Usually, the dog has a limp or a perceived muscle sprain or strain.

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What about an acute swelling on your dog? What can you give a dog for pain and swelling?

  • Call your veterinarian.
  • Swellings on the face could be an allergic reaction to a bug bite. Your vet might give you a Benadryl (diphenhydramine) dose of 1 mg/lb. to be given 2–3 times a day if it sounds like a bee sting.
  • The majority of other swellings need a diagnosis, and a vet visit is recommended.

What about fever, lethargy or lack of appetite?

  • You may be wondering, “What can I give my dog for fever?”
  • Do not treat with an OTC pain reliever.
  • You need to find out why your dog has these symptoms — do not just give your dog an aspirin.

I have known worried people to give a dog aspirin for everything from dog insomnia to a quizzical look on their dog’s face.

Why mess around with these medications when they don’t do much good and they can be dangerous?

Usually, people want to use them out of convenience, to save money or to give emergency pain relief for dogs:

  • They want convenience. Many people think, “Why go to the vet when you can just reach in your medicine cabinet and get your dog some relief?” If you think your dog has a mild problem and you don’t think a vet visit is necessary, do yourself a favor and call your vet first before giving an OTC med.
  • They want to save money. People want to save money by avoiding a vet visit. The risk of OTC meds causing a bigger, more expensive problem often outweighs the benefit. Also, if you think your dog is in need of a pain medication, chances are you’re going to wind up at your vet anyway. Giving aspirin or other drugs can make the undiagnosed problem worse. Waiting several days (to see if it gets better) usually means the dog may need more veterinary care and you will spend more money in the long run.
  • They want to get emergency pain relief for dogs as soon as possible. Generally, your intentions are good when it comes to helping your dog who is in pain — but call your vet first.

NSAIDs made specifically for dogs are not as expensive as they used to be. Talk with your vet if you think prescription NSAIDs are too pricey. You might be happily surprised.

Always talk with your vet before giving your dog OTC meds from your medicine cabinet, not afterward. Photo: Lepale

Dangers of OTC Pain Relievers

If you don’t heed our advice to “call the vet first” and instead go into the medicine cabinet and give your dog a pill, then you should definitely heed the next piece of advice:

Don’t continue to give the medication for several days.

One dose of these meds often does no or little harm, but giving your dog a week of an OTC NSAID is not OK.

You could cause irreversible damage or, in rare cases, even death. Here’s why:

  • Pets don’t metabolize medications the same way humans do. Ibuprofen and Tylenol, for example, can do damage to a dog’s liver that would not normally occur in a human.
  • Ibuprofen causes GI ulcers in certain dogs even at a low ibuprofen dosage for dogs. At higher doses, ibuprofen causes liver damage. At toxic doses, ibuprofen causes irreversible kidney damage and death from kidney failure.
  • Aspirin, ibuprofen and even NSAIDS made for dogs and prescribed by your vet can cause gastric irritation, GI bleeding and ulcers. NSAIDS should never be given without veterinary supervision.
  • People often give the wrong amount of OTC medication to their dog. Labels give adult dosages and children’s dosages — there’s no dog dose listed. Many OTC drugs have not been studied for safe use in dogs. Well-meaning people often ask something like, “How much ibuprofen can you give a 60-pound dog?” — and what I’m trying to tell you is that it’s simply not safe to give them any.
  • If you reach for an OTC pain reliever first, realize it’s not working and then go to your vet for a more appropriate veterinary pain reliever, you have put your dog at risk and hindered the healing process. You can’t just switch from one pain reliever to another safely. There’s something called a “wash-out” period, where you should wait several days or longer before switching from one anti-inflammatory medication to another.
  • If you give a pain reliever without knowing the health status of your dog, the medication can make preexisting conditions worse. Say you haven’t done blood work in a long time or forgot your vet told you your dog has mild kidney or liver problems. It would be contraindicated to give drugs without careful monitoring by your vet.
  • If your dog is on other prescribed medications, giving an OTC pain reliever may not be safe or compatible with other meds.
Aspirin dosage for dogs
A suggested aspirin dosage for dogs is 10–20 mg/kg, once or twice a day. Discuss this with your veterinarian first, because longer-term use can cause serious problems your dog. Photo: Shane Maritch

Aspirin for Dogs

Aspirin is the most common drug that people either give at home or believe it’s safe to give at home. Vets, in fact, used to prescribe aspirin back in the dark ages, when we didn’t have safer, more effective meds or didn’t know any better.

Also, pet product companies manufacture and market aspirin for dogs, so most people assume that aspirin is safe. It’s not completely safe, and it is overused and abused.

Aspirin is not approved for use in dogs by the FDA — but because it’s not regulated as a prescription drug, companies are free to market it to dogs.

Aspirin causes GI ulceration, and your dog can be suffering from subclinical GI problems without showing symptoms for a long time.

In a recent study on healthy Beagles, 100% of the Beagles had GI ulcers after receiving a recommended dose of aspirin for 7 days. Even vets were surprised by this study. After only 1 week, every dog in the study had evidence of GI damage.

In a healthy dog, mild GI ulcers will resolve in a short period of time, but if a person continues to give the aspirin, the ulcers can become serious. Perforating ulcers can result, and the dog can become very ill.

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Serious ulceration of the GI tract will not resolve without veterinary care. Some dogs may become septic and need intensive care. It’s possible a dog could die from serious GI complications.

Aspirin Dosage for Dogs

If you still want to give aspirin to your dog, here are some published guidelines:

  • Call your vet first to get instructions on dosage and length of treatment.
  • Aspirin dosage for dogs: A suggested aspirin dosage for a healthy dog is 10–20 mg/kg, given 1–2 times a day. (A kilogram equals 2.2 pounds.)
  • I don’t think any dog should take aspirin for more than 2 days without seeing a vet. If the dog is going to need longer-term pain relief or be on an anti-inflammatory, aspirin is not the drug of choice.
If you think your dog is in pain, dosing them with over-the-counter medications could interfere with treatment recommended by your vet. Photo: Free-Photo

Aspirin vs. Baby Aspirin for Dogs

The only difference between regular aspirin and low-dose aspirin (we used to call this “baby aspirin”) is the amount of aspirin in the pill.

  • Aspirin = 325 mg
  • Baby aspirin = 81 mg

Baby aspirin is not gentler — it’s just a smaller amount.

Let’s go back to that 10 mg/kg aspirin dose for a dog. Usually, you can estimate this dose to have it work out to ¼-, ½- or 1-pill dosing. Be careful with tiny dogs, however; you don’t want to overdose and cause severe gastric irritation or ulcer.

  • A 10-pound dog weighs 4.5 kg (10 divided by 2.2)
  • 4.5 kg x 10 mg = 45 mg
  • Aspirin dose for a 10-pound dog: 45 mg

Baby aspirin is easier to dose in a small dog.

So you’re starting with an 81 mg baby aspirin and want about a 45 mg dose. You would give half of an 81 mg tablet (40.5 mg) once or twice a day for 1–2 days at the most.

Let’s do the 80-pound dosage just for kicks:

  • 80 pounds works out to be 36 kg
  • 36 kg x 10 mg = 360 mg
  • Aspirin dose for an 80-pound dog: 360 mg

I would round down for safety and give 1 adult aspirin (325 mg), although some people double this dose.

  • Aspirin dose for a 20-pound dog: 90 mg. A baby aspirin is recommended.
  • Aspirin dose for a 30-pound dog: 136 mg. That’s a harder dose to round off: 1½ baby aspirin or ½ adult aspirin.
  • Aspirin dose for a 40-pound dog: 180 mg. I’d round down and go with a ½ adult aspirin or 2 baby aspirin.
  • Aspirin dose for a 50-pound dog: 220 mg. Another harder dose: ¾ of an adult aspirin is 240 mg.
  • Aspirin dose for a 60-pound dog: 270 mg. Most vets prescribe 1 adult aspirin (325 mg) for a larger dog.

I have seen much higher doses published on the internet. Be careful and talk to your vet about dosing before you do it.

Enteric Coated or Buffered Aspirin

Enteric coated aspirin is not recommended for dogs.

The dog usually eliminates the pill before the enteric coating dissolves, meaning the dog gets no benefit from the aspirin. Buffered aspirin seems to have no sparing effects on possible GI ulceration.

Most of the adult low-dose aspirin products are 81 mg but are enteric-coated.

All pain relievers or anti-inflammatories should be given with food as an aided protectant against stomach irritation.

Dog Aspirin

“Dog” aspirin is not any different from or safer than regular aspirin. It comes in different tablet sizes or flavored chews that might be easier to dose. That’s the only difference.

Some of the labels are misleading when it comes to dosages — so again, be careful.

Tylenol dosage for dogs
A suggested Tylenol dosage for dogs is 10–15 mg/kg, given 2–3 times per day. But please understand that even this dose may be dangerous. Consult your veterinarian first. Photo: littledebbie11

Tylenol Dosage for Dogs

An extra-label Tylenol dosage for dogs published in Plumb’s Veterinary Drug Handbook is 10–15 mg/kg, given 2–3 times a day.

Tylenol is in a category of its own. Not an anti-inflammatory, it relieves some pain and reduces fever.

We actually don’t truly understand how Tylenol works, unlike NSAIDS. The pathways in the body that make the NSAIDS relieve pain, inflammation and fever are well understood — but not with Tylenol.

Even at suggested doses, Tylenol can still be dangerous. Some potential for kidney, liver, GI or blood disorders (red blood cell damage) exists.

The gift of Tylenol is that it does not generally cause GI damage and ulceration like the NSAIDs can. Unlike what we used to think, it is considered fairly safe in the dog if given at the recommended dose. Never give Tylenol or any of these medications to a cat.

Tylenol is definitely toxic to the liver in dogs if given at higher doses. If a dog were to be given Tylenol long term, even at a safe dose, the liver, kidneys and complete blood counts should be monitored.

That being said, Tylenol alone does not do a lot of good for pain or as an anti-inflammatory in a dog. Vets will use it along with another drug — usually Tylenol 3 (Tylenol with codeine) — for strong pain relief or in addition to an NSAID when an NSAID is simply not enough.

With multiple pharmaceuticals on board, however, and because Tylenol with codeine is a controlled substance, Tylenol should be prescribed only by a veterinarian.

See our related article “What Happens During a Tylenol Overdose in a Dog or a Cat?”

In the video below, Dr. Evan Ware, DVM, agrees that there is no safe ibuprofen dosage for dogs and explains why you should consult your veterinarian before giving your pet any over-the-counter medication:

Final Thoughts on Aspirin, Tylenol and Ibuprofen Dosage for Dogs

So that was your short course on giving over-the-counter pain meds to dogs.

Remember:

  • Aspirin: Giving a dog aspirin provides only minor pain relief and can cause ulcers within a few days.
  • Advil: This is flat-out dangerous for dogs. The safe ibuprofen dosage for dogs is 0 mg/kg — none. “I can give my dog Advil” is one of the 20 biggest myths that vet staff members hear.
  • Tylenol: This is not very effective for dogs unless given with another, more powerful drug.

Veterinary offices receive many phone calls a day asking if it’s OK to give a dog an aspirin or other drug. Many clients tell us they’ve already given their dog ibuprofen, Tylenol or aspirin. Some clients don’t bother to tell us they’re giving something at home, and that’s a really bad idea.

Your vet will ask you how much and how many times you’ve given the medication to figure out whether or not you’ve given a toxic or dangerous dose.

If you haven’t harmed your dog, we usually tell you to stop giving the medication and let us help you figure out what’s truly going on with your pet and prescribe the proper medication.

For chronic pain issues, such as hip dysplasia, or when long-term pain relief for your dog is needed for an orthopedic injury or back pain, a multimodal approach works best. A combination of rest at first, followed by a physical therapy plan in conjunction with veterinary-approved NSAIDS, other pain meds if necessary and nutraceuticals will get your dog on their paws again.

Giving aspirin to a dog for any length of time can compromise the dog’s healing and put their all-important GI tract in jeopardy.

Take it from me: It’s not worth it.

References


vet-cross60pThis pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was last updated Aug. 1, 2019.

If you have questions or concerns, call your vet, who is best equipped to ensure the health and well-being of your pet. This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. See additional information.

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