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We hate to see our dogs in pain. If your dog is suffering with pain from an injury or disease, it can be tempting to treat them the way we treat ourselves — with a painkiller like aspirin. Before you reach into your medicine cabinet, talk to your vet. Vets do prescribe aspirin for dogs, but aspirin has some serious side effects that dog owners need to be aware of.

What Is Aspirin?

Aspirin is an NSAID, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug. This puts it in the same category as ibuprofen, naproxen, carprofen, and a long list of other NSAIDs primarily geared toward humans.

NSAIDs are used to treat pain, inflammation, and fever. Aspirin also acts as an anticoagulant, preventing blood from clotting. In general, 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. Talk to your vet about the best painkiller for your dog’s condition.

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Why Do Vets Prescribe Aspirin for Dogs?

Vets usually prescribe aspirin for dogs with osteoarthritis or musculoskeletal inflammation. The anti-inflammatory properties of aspirin help reduce the pain and inflammation associated with these conditions. It can also offer your dog relief from symptoms.

Veterinarians also use aspirin to treat a variety of other conditions. If you have a question about why your vet recommended administering aspirin, call their office. Thanks to some of the more serious side effects associated with the drug, aspirin isn’t a medication that owners should give their dogs without veterinary approval. Be sure to pay close attention to your veterinarian’s instructions.

Side Effects of Aspirin for Dogs

You may have heard people say that aspirin is safe to give to dogs. This is technically true, but only if you follow the advice of a veterinarian. Adverse reactions to aspirin are relatively common in dogs, which means you need to be aware of the risks and the symptoms of an adverse reaction or overdose before giving your dog the drug.

If you notice any of the following symptoms, stop giving your dog aspirin immediately and call your vet.

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The follow symptoms can be indicative of an aspirin overdose, which can be fatal:

Any time you give your dog a new medication, you should monitor their behavior closely. Changes in appetite, activity level, urination, bowel movements, or personality could all be signs of an adverse reaction. Aspirin is known to have more side effects than other NSAIDs like carprofen, sold under the brand name Rimadyl. Be sure to keep an especially close eye on your dog while they’re taking aspirin.

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How Much Aspirin Should I Give My Dog?

Aspirin isn’t something to mess around with. Since aspirin isn’t currently approved as a veterinary medication by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there is a lack of definitive studies evaluating the proper doses of aspirin for dogs. The Merck Veterinary Manual recommends administering a dosage of 10-40 mg/kg; however, this dose can vary depending on your dog’s condition. You should always talk to your veterinarian before starting your dog on a drug like aspirin, as overdoses can be fatal.

After you have confirmed the dosage with your vet, be sure to ask about what kind of aspirin to purchase. Enteric-coated aspirin tablets can protect human stomachs from potential irritation. However, they aren’t recommended for use in dogs, since they can’t always digest the coating.

Talk to your vet about any other medications your dog takes regularly to see if there are any potential drug interactions. Be sure to let your vet know if your dog is pregnant before administering aspirin.

Alternatives to Aspirin for Dogs

Your vet probably has a very good reason for prescribing aspirin for your dog. However, depending on your dog’s condition, there are alternatives to aspirin that your vet might prescribe. Rimadyl is frequently used to treat osteoarthritis and is usually better tolerated by dogs than aspirin.

If your vet doesn’t recommend an alternative, don’t take matters into your own hands. Remember that many human drugs cause different reactions in dogs. You might think you’re doing your dog a favor by popping a few Tylenols into their mouth. But it could do a lot more harm than good.

Taking the time to research aspirin for dogs can save you a lot of trouble in the long run. Make sure you administer the proper dosage and monitor your dog for any side effects.

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Related article: How to Manage the Symptoms of Canine Arthritis
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