Is Acetaminophen Safe for Dogs?

Portrait of veterinary nurse with dog on table in veterinary surgery
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Acetaminophen, or Tylenol, is a common over-the-counter medication used by humans to relieve pain and fever. You may be tempted to give your dog acetaminophen for pain since it's available over-the-counter. However, this drug can be toxic to dogs. You should never give your dog acetaminophen. If you suspect your dog needs pain relief or has a fever, seek veterinary care for your dog.

What Does Acetaminophen Do?

Acetaminophen is a nonprescription medication that relieves mild to moderate pain and reduces fever. It is an anti-inflammatory that also has analgesic properties to reduce pain and lower fevers. The drug has been a popular, effective pain reliever and fever reducer for human use since the 1950s.

Acetaminophen is not available in veterinary preparations and is not a recommended form of pain relief in dogs.

Can Dogs Have Acetaminophen?

Acetaminophen can be highly toxic to dogs.

If your dog is in pain, your vet will prescribe a more effective, safer drug than acetaminophen. There are many veterinary pain medications to choose from that can help your pet depending on its specific needs. It is important to get your dog to the vet right away if it is in pain as this can be a symptom of many problems, and a pain reliever may mask these signs without helping to treat the underlying condition. Never give ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve) to dogs as these are highly toxic. Always consult with your vet before giving your dog any medication, supplement, or herbal remedy. Note: acetaminophen is never safe for cats and is highly toxic to them.

There may be rare cases where your veterinarian recommends giving a pain reliever containing a low dose of acetaminophen to your dog. This is only done in very unique cases and is based on the specific health and condition of your dog. If so, it's important that you follow your vet's recommendation for dosage and administration.

Side Effects of Acetaminophen Use in Dogs

Dogs receiving safe, low doses of acetaminophen may still experience adverse effects, such as gastrointestinal upset, liver and/or kidney issues, blood-related problems, or dry eye. The risk of potentially serious side effects makes it a poor choice for pain management in dogs, especially because there are many safe medications that can be used instead.

Acetaminophen Toxicity in Dogs

Acetaminophen is generally considered toxic to dogs at doses above 30-50 mg per kilogram (13-22 mg per pound). However, some dogs are more sensitive and will experience toxic effects at lower doses. In addition, frequent ingestion of acetaminophen may make dogs more susceptible to toxicity.

Acetaminophen toxicity causes damage to the liver and red blood cells. It may damage the kidneys as well. This damage creates many serious complications in the body and may lead to death.

Signs of acetaminophen toxicity typically appear around one to four hours after ingestion and tend to get gradually worse if untreated.

  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Excessive salivation
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Brownish colored mucous membranes
  • Blue-gray colored mucous membranes (cyanosis)
  • Rapid or labored breathing
  • Dark-colored urine (may appear brown or reddish-brown)
  • Swelling of the face and/or extremities
  • Tremors
  • Collapse
  • Sudden death

What to Do If Your Dog Gets Too Much Acetaminophen

If you know that your dog ingested a toxic amount of acetaminophen, then you should contact your veterinarian immediately. Your vet may recommend that you induce vomiting at home or bring your dog in for them to induce vomiting under veterinary supervision. Don't try to induce vomiting at home unless your veterinarian recommends it and provides detailed instructions.

If it's been 30 minutes or more since your dog ate acetaminophen, then vomiting is unlikely to be enough. Your dog will need veterinary treatment for acetaminophen toxicity. The vet may need to give your dog activated charcoal to try to decontaminate toxins from the GI tract. A drug called N-acetylcysteine is another common treatment used to protect red blood cells and the liver from further injury. Intravenous fluids and additional medications may be necessary for supportive care. In serious cases, your vet may recommend a referral to a veterinary specialty center for more intensive care.

The prognosis of acetaminophen toxicity in dogs varies from case to case and depends on the amount of drug ingested and any underlying conditions the dog may have. As is the case with most toxins, the sooner the dog is treated, the better the chance of recovery. The best way to prevent accidental ingestion is to keep medications safely locked up and out of reach.

Article Sources
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  1. Abdelgayed, Sherein & Abd El-Baky, Abeer. Diagnostic studies on acetaminophen toxicosis in Dogs. Global veterinaria. 5. 72-83, 2010

  2. Acetaminophen Toxicity in Dogs. VCA Animal Hospitals.