Can You Give Your Dog Tylenol for Pain Relief?

Written by Shaunice Lewis
Published: September 20, 2022
Image Credit Niloo/Shutterstock.com
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Tylenol is commonly used as a medication for pain and fever. You may wonder if it is safe to give this medication to dogs for pain relief. The simple answer to this is no, you should never give your dog Tylenol or any other over-the-counter medication. Read on to learn more about how Tylenol and other OTC medications can affect dogs and what you should do instead.

How Do Medications Like Tylenol Affect Dogs?

Acetaminophen Pill
Acetaminophen and similar drugs should never be given to your dog.

Sonis Photography/Shutterstock.com

Although Tylenol is a popular medication for humans, it should never be given to your dog. Medications like this can put your dog at great risk and cause adverse side effects like liver toxicity and inhibit your dog’s ability to carry oxygen throughout its blood. Medicines like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, aspirin, and other similar medications should not be given to your dog, unless under the strict supervision of a veterinarian.

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Tylenol by itself can be a great risk to your dog’s health, but it’s also the active ingredients in the medicine that can pose a threat. Tylenol can also be incredibly harmful to your dog’s liver. There are two main pathways that a dog’s liver uses in order to process Tylenol. If these two pathways become overwhelmed, your dog will be unable to process a metabolite in the medicine. This is dangerous.

When inactivated, the metabolite can cause liver damage and in some cases, result in death. If the metabolite is not processed, it can prevent your dog’s blood cells from carrying vital oxygen throughout its body. This is dangerous for all dogs but especially for those suffering from liver disease.

Symptoms of Tylenol Poisoning in Dogs

Border collie with a yellow tennis ball panting
If your dog has ingested Tylenol, signs of poisoning include rapid breathing and dehydration.

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There are some symptoms of Tylenol poisoning in dogs:

  • Rapid breathing/increased breathing rate
  • Vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Brown, blue, or yellow gums
  • Swelling of the face
  • Swelling of the paws

If you know for certain that your dog has ingested Tylenol and then begins to display these symptoms, you should get your dog to the animal hospital immediately as these signs can be life-threatening. Even if you are unsure if your dog has consumed Tylenol but you notice these symptoms, you should still have your dog seen right away.

Can Veterinarians Prescribe Tylenol for Pain Relief in Dogs?

Most veterinarians will not prescribe Tylenol or acetaminophen to dogs (or cats) because of its safety concerns. However, this isn’t to say veterinarians never prescribe acetaminophen to dogs. It’s just not common and only given on a case-by-case basis. Usually, when a veterinarian prescribes acetaminophen to a dog, it is part of a multidrug plan to help dogs suffering greatly from pain.

The reason that veterinarians may prescribe multiple drugs to dogs that are in great pain is that Tylenol by itself only has a small effect on pain in dogs and it does not treat inflammation. This means that by itself, it may not be the best treatment for pain management in dogs and will oftentimes be prescribed with another drug that will deal with the inflammation.

There are many other drugs prescribed to dogs that are safe and treat both pain and inflammation. Veterinarians will generally prescribe these instead of acetaminophen, such as pet-safe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

It’s also important to note that Tylenol is classified as off-label for animals, which means that it is not approved by the government for use in dogs, and there have only been minimal studies on its safety in dogs.

What Are Some Alternatives to Tylenol for Dogs in Pain?

Your veterinarian will be able to help you find the best treatment for your dog’s pain. Let’s take a look at some of the ways that pain can be treated in dogs without the use of Tylenol.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

Non-Steroidal-Anti-Inflammatory-Drug-or-NSAID
NSAIDs are safe for dogs, so long as a veterinarian prescribes them first.

dizain/Shutterstock.com

As we mentioned before, NSAIDs are a safer alternative for dogs dealing with pain. However, you want to be sure that you’re only giving your dog what was prescribed by a veterinarian. Ibuprofen and naproxen are also classified as NSAIDs but you should never give either of these to your dog, as they are not meant for animals and could cause harm.

While this type of medication is considered safe for dogs and veterinarians will prescribe it, it does not mean that you shouldn’t use caution with them. First, you should only give your dog NSAIDs that your veterinarian prescribes, as not all are considered safe for dogs. You should also be aware that these medicines can still have negative side effects that could be serious. For example, NSAIDs can block or prevent certain important bodily functions like making sure there is proper blood flow to the kidneys, protecting the lining of your dog’s stomach and intestines, and maintaining platelet functioning.

If your dog has any liver conditions or kidney issues, it may not be safe for it to take NSAIDs. Your veterinarian can determine whether or not it is safe for your dog to take these types of medications. They may do so by running tests to show how well your dog’s organs are functioning.

If your dog is able to safely take NSAIDs, they can be great for managing pain and inflammation. They relieve both short-term and long-term pain. An example of short-term use would be if your veterinarian prescribed them for use after a surgery like having your dog spayed or neutered. An example of long-term use would be if they were prescribed for a condition that results in pain like osteoarthritis or hip dysplasia.

Opioids for Pain in Dogs

Opioids work differently than NSAIDs for pain relief in dogs. They work by targeting the receptors in the brain that are responsible for pain perception. Vets prescribe these to dogs that suffer from moderate to severe pain levels. Opioids must be prescribed by your veterinarian. Since they are controlled drugs, a dispensing log will be kept. There is also a high potential for opioid abuse in humans — therefore these drugs will be regulated, monitored, and come with limitations.

It is also important to note that opioids can have some negative side effects in dogs that you should be aware of. These include:

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Salivation
  • Slowed breathing rate
  • Panting
  • Sedation
  • Lethargy
  • Vocalizing
  • Hyperexcitability

If you notice any of these symptoms after giving your dog prescribed opioids, you should contact your veterinarian immediately for further treatment.

You may also want to consider asking your veterinarian about the following complementary therapies for your dog. They are natural ways that you can help manage pain in your dog and are great alternatives for dogs that cannot tolerate pain medications well:

  • Massage
  • Chiropractic care
  • Acupuncture
  • Therapeutic ultrasound
  • Physical therapeutic exercises
  • Underwater treadmill rehabilitation
  • Passive range of motion
  • Neuromuscular stimulation

A few other ways you can help manage your dog’s pain are overall lifestyle changes. For example, you can help reduce pain in dogs by keeping them at a healthy weight. Your veterinarian can help get your dog on a diet plan that works for it and recommend light exercises that can help your dog lose weight safely over time. Examples include taking your dog for walks, swimming, or any other activity that gets your dog moving. You may also consider things like an elevated food bowl for dogs that have pain in their neck or joints when bending down to eat and drink.

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About the Author

Freelance writer specializing in natural health and wellness.

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Sources
  1. Pet MD, Available here: https://www.petmd.com/dog/care/can-you-give-dog-tylenol
  2. Animal Poison Control Center, Available here: https://www.aspcapro.org/sites/default/files/zm-vetm0306_142-148.pdf
  3. Pet MD, Available here: https://www.petmd.com/dog/general-health/what-can-i-give-my-dog-pain-relief