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A vet's guide to aspirin for dogs

aspirin for dogs
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Asking whether there is aspirin for dogs is by no means a stupid question. We humans use it to treat a variety of aches and pains, but most commonly for things like joint pain and headaches. So it is natural to wonder whether it would be ok to give your dog as well, particularly if he seems uncomfortable. 

It can be difficult to see our pets in pain, but you should resist giving them your own medication. In this article, we are going to explore further the use of aspirin in animals, and the possible risks of dosing at home.

What is aspirin?

Aspirin is part of a group of drugs known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs). There are many other drugs in this class, including dog-safe ones like meloxicam and carprofen, but also dog-toxic ones like ibuprofen. NSAIDs are commonly used because of their pain-relieving properties, but they help with inflammation too. This can be useful when there is swelling present. NSAIDs are also anti-pyrectics, reducing fevers and making patients feel better. Aspirin has anti-coagulant properties too, meaning it can help in the treatment and prevention of blood clots.

Different NSAIDs have slightly different properties, and some are safer for long-term use in dogs than others. Aspirin is usually used as a short-term drug, as it can be more likely to cause side effects than other similar drugs.

What is aspirin used for?

Aspirin may be used to treat conditions like osteoarthritis or other musculoskeletal problems, but it is less commonly chosen for use in dogs than some of the alternative NSAIDs available. In many countries, there is no ‘doggy aspirin’. The rules on prescribing vary from country to country, and veterinarians will need to follow these to select an appropriate drug for your pet. In some places, it would be illegal to prescribe human aspirin if there was an alternative drug licensed for use in dogs available, so aspirin is often rarely used.

There may be some instances where aspirin is the most appropriate drug for your dog’s condition, however, in which case your veterinarian will be able to advise you on this.

What are the possible side effects of aspirin?

As with most medications, aspirin has the potential to cause unwanted side effects. You should only ever give aspirin as prescribed by your veterinarian, and never be tempted to dose your dog with your own medication at home. Even under veterinary advice, aspirin could cause the following side effects in some dogs: 

  • Gastrointestinal upset (vomiting and/or diarrhea)
  • Gastric ulceration (stomach ulcers)
  • Bleeding from the digestive tract, producing black tar-like feces known as melena
  • Worsening of underlying health issues like liver and kidney disease

These side effects could potentially be seen with many of the NSAIDs, but the risk is higher in aspirin compared to some of the other drugs in this group.

If your dog accidentally overdoses on aspirin, then you must contact your veterinarian for advice immediately. Possible symptoms of aspirin toxicity include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • Haemorrhage
  • Seizures
  • Collapse
  • Death

To avoid this situation from occurring, store all medications well out of reach from your pet. Dogs have been known to steal packets of tablets out of coat pockets and handbags so take care not to leave these lying within reach either.

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Should I treat my dog at home with aspirin?

No! You must never self-medicate your dog with aspirin at home; it should only ever be used if your dog has been prescribed it for a specific condition by a veterinarian. The risks of side effects are quite high in this drug and dosing, therefore, needs careful monitoring. Certain aspirin formulations are also less suitable than others, with some preparations being less easily absorbed by dogs than in people.

If you are worried that your dog is in pain and needs medication then you must speak to your vet to get appropriate treatment for your pet, rather than administering something at home.

Alternatives to aspirin

Your vet will be able to recommend suitable medications for your pet, as there are an array of licensed anti-inflammatory drugs available which may be used instead of aspirin.

If it is joint pain that your dog is struggling from, then various complementary therapies may be utilized too, often alongside an appropriate NSAID. Joint supplements can help some animals, as can hydrotherapy or physiotherapy. Keeping your dog at a healthy weight will also help their joints greatly.

If your vet has prescribed your dog aspirin, then it will be with a specific reason in mind. Make sure you use it as instructed and do not be tempted to swap his medication for something else without discussing it first. Follow your veterinarian’s advice on dosing carefully to avoid the risk of accidental overdose.

Conclusion

Aspirin is a drug commonly used by many people, but care should be taken when using it in dogs. Only ever administer it on the advice of a veterinary surgeon, as aspirin can be dangerous for dogs if given incorrectly, alongside other medications, or in an animal with certain health conditions. In many instances, alternative licensed medications may be recommended, which may be less likely to cause side effects in your pet.

Dr Rebecca MacMillan

Dr Rebecca MacMillan is a companion animal vet who has always had a passion for writing and client communication. She works in the South West and loves complex medical cases.