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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 him 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 geared toward humans and animals.

NSAIDs are used to treat pain, inflammation, and fever. Aspirin also acts as an anti-coagulant, 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, so talk to your vet about the best painkiller for your dog’s condition.

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 and can 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 the office. Thanks to some of the more serious side effects associated with the drug, aspirin is not a medication that owners should give their dogs without veterinary approval, so 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.

Symptoms of an aspirin overdose:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Acid-based abnormalties
  • Hemorrhage
  • Seizure
  • Coma
  • Death

Any time you give your dog a new medication, you should monitor his behavior closely. Changes in appetite, activity level, urination, bowel movements, or personality could all be signs of an adverse reaction. Since aspirin is known to have more side effects than other NSAIDs like Rimadyl, keep an especially close eye on your pet while he is on aspirin.

How Much Aspirin Should I Give My Dog?

Aspirin is not something to mess around with. Since aspirin is not currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there is a lack of definitive studies evaluating the proper dosages of aspirin for dogs. The Merck Veterinary Manual recommends administering a dosage of 10-40mg/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 of aspirin 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 are designed to protect human stomachs from potential irritation, but they are not recommended for use in dogs about half the time the coating isn’t digested and the aspirin is excreted whole in the dog’s stool.

Talk to your vet about any other medications your dog takes regularly to see if there are any potential drug interactions, and 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, but depending on your dog’s condition, there are alternatives to aspirin that your vet might prescribe. Carprofen is frequently used to treat osteoarthritis and is usually better tolerated by dogs than aspirin.

If your vet does not 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 are doing your dog a favor by popping a few Tylenol into his mouth, but it could do a lot more harm than good.

Taking the time to do a little research about aspirin for dogs can save your dog a lot of trouble in the long run. Now that you are aware of the risks associated with aspirin, make sure you administer the proper dosage and monitor your dog for any side effects.

Note: This article is not intended as a substitute for veterinary advice. If you have questions about your dog’s medication, you should always speak with your vet.
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