Hopefully, New Year or Hogmanay hangovers are dissipating now. But have you ever wondered if aspirin might also be used in pets? Or whether it’s a safe and cheap alternative to prescription-only meds? If so – now read on!

What is aspirin?

Aspirin, also known as acetylsalicylic acid, is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug commonly used by people for pain relief and as a blood thinner. It can be used for similar reasons in dogs; but it is not often used as there are more effective and safer options. The use of aspirin is “off-licence” which means it is not authorised for veterinary use. But it can be prescribed by a veterinarian if they think it is the best choice of medication. If given at too high a dose there can be serious side effects and signs of aspirin poisoning can be seen. It may also preclude your vet from using a medication they would like to prescribe as giving it with other common drugs can be dangerous.   

What are the signs of aspirin poisoning?

Signs of aspirin poisoning can be seen in as little as four to six hours after ingestion of a large dose or can take a few days with smaller doses. Even with normal therapeutic doses some dogs do experience these side effects. 

Aspirin can cause severe irritation of the gastrointestinal tract

This can lead to signs which include depression, not wanting to eat, vomiting, diarrhoea and bleeding from the stomach and guts. Stomach ulcers can form which can be seen as either fresh blood or what looks like ‘coffee grounds’ in your dog’s vomit. It can also cause black or tarry stools as the blood is digested before being excreted. In some cases this can cause anaemia (low number of red blood cells), severe pain and in extreme cases even perforation of the stomach which can cause life-threatening inflammation and infection in the abdomen. 

The kidneys are also commonly affected which can be seen as signs of acute kidney injury

This includes vomiting, depression, drinking more water than usual and change in urination (either urinating more or less than usual). Other changes that may be seen include an increase in respiratory rate, fever, liver damage and in rare cases seizures, coma and death. 

The risk of aspirin poisoning can be increased by using it with certain other medications. For example, it cannot be used with other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like meloxicam or corticosteroids like prednisolone. This can affect what your vet can prescribe your dog if you do end up needing to visit them. Your dog will be at higher risk of having side effects if they already have any issues with their kidneys, liver, gastrointestinal disease or bleeding problems.

What is the treatment for aspirin poisoning?

Early intervention gives the best chance of full recovery as there is no specific treatment for aspirin poisoning. If you do suspect your dog has eaten aspirin or you have already given it to them, call your vet immediately.

If it is within 2 hours of ingestion your vet may give your dog an injection to make them vomit. Activated charcoal can then be started to reduce the circulating toxins and medication may be started, such as sucralfate, to protect the gut lining. 

Depending on the dose and the likelihood of more severe signs your vet may suggest hospitalising your dog and monitoring bloodwork. This would include giving intravenous fluid therapy (through a catheter into their vein) and administering medications to relieve and prevent the worsening of symptoms. Bloodwork would include monitoring for anaemia, blood clotting and checking kidney and liver enzymes.

So, can I give my dog aspirin?

No, not without your vet prescribing it. Although it can be used at lower doses the risks outweigh the benefits of giving your dog over-the-counter aspirin. If you feel your dog is in pain your vet may suggest visiting the veterinary practice for an examination. Or they may be able to recommend appropriate doses of medication that you already have at home for your dog to tide them over until they can be seen.

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