dog with yellow pills

Pain Management: When Good Intentions Don’t Cut It

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Dogs get hurt. It happens, and vets understand. We also understand your desperate need to help your pet when they are hurting, but I implore you: Do not allow yourself to make the situation worse.

Avoid the temptation to reach into your own medicine cabinet. Most medications, even over the counter ones that humans can take safely, can make your pet gravely ill or even kill them. Tylenol (acetaminophen), ibuprofen, Advil, Aleve, and even aspirin can be very dangerous for your pet, even deadly. I know it’s hard to watch your animal in pain but you are better off making a rapid drive to the vet where they can get appropriate pain management than to try to make the 20-minute drive easier and poison them in the process. 

Rather than relying on your own medicine cabinet, ask your vet for a little help starting a small one for your pet. Take an emergency dose with you when you go hunting or hiking. Your vet can provide safe, appropriate pain management medications and instructions on how and when to use them. When in doubt, leave it out, or at least call your vet and ask if it’s safe first. The only thing worse than watching your pet hurting is knowing that what you have done, even with good intentions, may have hurt or killed them.

Pain Management Medications to Avoid for Animals 

Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) 

Ibuprofen, Advil, Aleve, and naproxen. These medications are great for reducing inflammation and managing pain… IN HUMANS. Dogs and especially cats are incredibly sensitive to the side effects of these medications, so much so that a single dose can cause a bleeding ulcer in their stomach or even melt a hole in it. Slightly higher doses like the 2-4 tablets you or I would take without concern can cause liver damage and kidney failure. I have encountered this many times, whether by well-meaning families or medicine cabinet-raiding pets. If the GI tract is lucky and escapes major trauma, your pet will likely need hospitalization for 1-3 days on fluids to protect their kidneys and monitoring of their renal and liver values. 

There are anti-inflammatories safe for your pet, but you will not find them on the aisle at the pharmacy, grocery store, or even the pet store. Not to sound like a broken record…but ask your vet. 


Aspirin is another NSAID (anti-inflammatory) but this one has earned its own category because you can actually find it at the pet store, and it has been used by vets in the past. A single dose will not kill your pet, and they will likely not require hospitalization. However, please don’t consider this an approval. Adult aspirin should not be used ever. Even baby aspirin is dangerous, and I do not recommend using it. Baby aspirin still runs the risk of causing damage to the stomach and can also result in clotting problems because it causes platelets to function improperly. If you use so much as a single dose, your pet cannot have any other anti-inflammatories for a week, and their pain will have to be managed with other medications. Just because it’s on the shelf at the pet store doesn’t mean it’s safe for your pet. 

Acetaminophen (Tylenol)

Tylenol is liver toxic, especially to cats. It doesn’t take much, and your pet’s liver may be permanently damaged. At best, they will spend days in the hospital with a very expensive bill to save their liver. At worst, they will go into liver failure, and the organ will shut down, leading to death. There are a lot of great options for pain management in animals. Tylenol should not be on your list or in your pet cabinet. 

Medicine Cabinet Cocktail

Finally, if you have your own store of “left-over” meds at home please avoid the temptation to use them on your pet. Many medications overlap between human and animal medicine but the doses and effects are very different. Your pain meds can cause blood pressure problems or even seizures in your pets. 

Remember: Don’t Use Human Medications for Pain Management in Animals

The only thing worse than your pet getting hurt is them getting worse or dying because you were trying to help. Please ask your vet for help or instructions for pain management for your animals; we really are here to help. We can’t give you advice without a relationship with you and your pet, but there are a lot of benefits to yearly exams with your vet, including advice on pain management in an emergency.

Tier 1 Veterinary Medical Center in Palmer is Alaska’s only comprehensive animal hospital. We are available by appointment, in addition to accepting emergencies and walk-ins. With CT, MRI, and Ultrasound available on-site, our facility provides advanced treatment options for your pet. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.

Dr. Paige Wallace

Dr. Paige Wallace is the Urgent Care Coordinator at Tier 1 Veterinary Medical Center. Born and raised right here in the Mat-Su Valley, Dr. Wallace received her education and veterinary training through her service in the United States Army. She served as a Captain with the 218th Medical Detachment Veterinary Service Support, under the 62nd Medical Brigade. Dr. Wallace has extensive experience treating trauma cases in remote areas and with limited resources, bringing a wealth of knowledge and think-on-your-feet experience to the Tier 1 VMC team.