Can I Give My Dog Ibuprofen?

Your dog has a sprain. Or a strain. Or a broken bone. Pain relief is needed ASAP, and your bottle of Advil is in reach. Is it safe to give him a pill or two? Or will it lead to problems that make the minor injury seem like NBD?

If your dog is experiencing pain from an injury or medical condition, it might seem logical to give them a dose of ibuprofen to ease the discomfort. After all, that is your first line of defense for aches and pains. Plus, you probably already have some ibuprofen—aka Advil and Motrin—in your medicine cabinet.

Not so fast. Ibuprofen and dogs do not mix, says Jerry Klein, DVM, chief veterinary officer for the American Kennel Club, and you should never (ever) give this non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication to your canine companion. If a dog ingests it, Dr. Klein says, the consequences can be grave—so the answer to “can I give my dog ibuprofen?” is no. We’re talking vomiting, diarrhea, gastrointestinal bleeding or perforation, kidney damage, liver problems, and seizures. The worst-case scenario? Your dog could actually die. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reports 20 canine ibuprofen-related fatalities between 2016 to 2019 (we realize this is a very tiny percentage, but it is significant when it is your dog), as well as 6,052 calls to poison control about the drug in 2019 alone (that equates to an average of 16.5 calls per day). Not surprisingly, this puts it on our list of 11 hidden dangers for your pet in your home.

“Sometimes…people give it to their dogs because they think they can,” says Dr. Klein, explaining that many people mistakenly consider ibuprofen innocuous. But dogs also get a bottle and chew it, he says, which is why it’s important to store it properly. Some foods are dangerous to dogs, as well. Check out our list of 12 common foods that could be toxic to your dog.

How to keep your dog from ingesting ibuprofen

To avoid allowing your dog to become an ibuprofen-related statistic, it is imperative to keep the drug out not only out of their system but out of reach altogether. This means storing it (and other drugs) in a place a dog can’t access, like in a locked cabinet or on a very high shelf. It should not be left on a countertop or coffee table, and it should be not be stored in a plastic baggie inside of a purse. This is because dogs are curious and love to chew, Dr. Klein says, and if they find a bottle of ibuprofen it is entirely possible they’ll get into it. When they do, they won’t know to stop chewing because the drug’s sweet coating appeals to them.

“They like the flavor,” he says, explaining that a dog cannot necessarily tell the difference between a treat and a medication. “Dogs don’t know. They just put it in their mouth and the next thing you know you have a problem,” he says.

How harmful is ibuprofen to my dog?

OK, but what if your dog is a Great Dane? Will he fare better after ingesting 200 milligrams of ibuprofen than a small dog, like a Yorkie, who swallows the same amount? Initially, perhaps, because the severity of the ibuprofen toxicity depends on the size of the dog in relation to how much of the drug the dog consumes.

“The way we figure the toxicities in veterinary medicine is how many milligrams of drugs per pound or kilogram of body weight,” says Laurie S. Coger, DVM, founder of The Healthy Dog Workshop.

In either case, though, the margin of safety is very narrow, Dr. Klein says. Plus, toxicity can build over time (leading to chronic symptoms) if a dog is given ibuprofen regularly by a well-meaning owner—even if the dog doesn’t show immediate signs of acute toxicity (oh, and in case you are curious—according to Dr. Klein the reason ibuprofen is toxic to dogs is that it blocks the enzymes in their bodies that maintain the normal functioning of their gastrointestinal mucosal lining, as well as the enzymes that control blood flow to the kidneys and blood platelet aggregation).

Signs your dog swallowed ibuprofen

Normally, however, it doesn’t take long for symptoms of ibuprofen exposure to appear, says Dr. Coger. “As soon as the tablet starts to dissolve, it is getting absorbed through the stomach wall,” she explains.

Be on the lookout for gastrointestinal distress, like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea—these will likely be the first symptoms to appear. Later, the dog could experience kidney impairment (watch for excessive thirst and frequent urination), GI bleeding, liver problems, and gastric perforation. In extreme cases, neurological problems such as seizures are possible—here are 6 seizure symptoms to look out for.

Regardless of the severity of symptoms, however, it is imperative to get medical attention for the dog immediately, Dr. Coger advises. “Call your vet or emergency clinic right away,” she says.

If possible, be prepared to tell the vet how much ibuprofen your dog consumed. Did they swallow an entire bottle of 200-milligram tablets or just one or two of an 800-milligram prescription version? This, of course, can be tough if a dog breaks into a vial of pills (how many people keep close track of how many pills are in an open bottle at any given time?)—but the more information you can provide the better.

How do vets treat ibuprofen toxicity?

Fortunately, the problems that arise when a dog ingests ibuprofen are treatable if the dog receives medical attention in time, Dr. Coger says. “The scary (scenario) is the case where treatment is delayed and they didn’t realize the dog had an ingestion or the 10-pound dog that eats a really strong tablet(s),” she says.

Dr. Klein, who spent 35 years working in an emergency veterinary clinic, says when the dog arrives at the clinic the first order of business will be a blood draw to check baseline organ function. Next, they will receive intravenous or subcutaneous fluids to keep them hydrated and to help flush the toxin out of its system. Then, the dog will likely be given activated charcoal, which “helps absorb any residue of the drug in the gastrointestinal system,” Dr. Klein says.

At this point, the next steps will depend on the severity of symptoms (repeat bloodwork is typical). Some dogs will need hospitalization, and even those that get to go home will need to be monitored closely for at least a week and take a gastrointestinal protectant such as Pepcid for seven to ten days. In the rare, severe case—one involving GI perforation, for example—surgery and a blood transfusion might be required. “The treatment is related to the amount of medication they received and the effect it is showing on their body,” says Dr. Klein.

And while the number one priority is, naturally, the health and safety of your dog, Dr. Klein warns that ibuprofen toxicity in a dog can be a very costly problem—as in $1,500 or more. By the way, even if you think you know what is wrong with your dog, it is always best to consult the experts. This is what vets have to say about self-diagnosing your dog via Google.

What can I give my dog for pain?

So, now you know the answer to the question, “can I give my dog ibuprofen?” is no. How about other common pain relievers like acetaminophen (Tylenol) and aspirin? Nope! These drugs are toxic to dogs as well. If your dog needs pain relief, a pain reliever designed specifically for dogs or one deemed safe for dogs is the only answer, Dr. Coger says. Currently, there are six such NSAIDS with FDA-approval (all require a prescription). She recommends keeping one on hand, just in case. “Be proactive,” she says. “Talk to your vet about having a small quantity of a pain reliever that is safe for your dog.” You’ll also want to know the 13 warning signs your dog is in pain.

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Dawn Weinberger
Dawn Weinberger is a freelance writer in Portland, Oregon, who has contributed to numerous publications and websites over the past 20 years, including RD.com, Glamour, Women's Health, Entrepreneur, and many others. Dawn has a BA in journalism from Western Washington University and is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. She writes about everything from health and medicine to fashion, shopping, and business.