Acetaminophen (Paracetamol) for Dogs: Should We Really Give It to Them?
Acetaminophen, also known as paracetamol, is a popular over-the-counter medication used to treat pain and fever in dogs. In veterinary medicine, it is recommended that occasional doses of acetaminophen be given to dogs because they can cause liver damage if taken regularly. However, dogs are prone to developing acetaminophen toxicity and developing liver damage at doses that are considered safe in humans. Additionally, acetaminophen is broken down by the liver and forms a toxic metabolite, which causes liver damage. So what should we do about giving acetaminophen to dogs?
What Does Acetaminophen Do?
Acetaminophen is a drug that has a similar structure to paracetamol. In humans and dogs, acetaminophen is mostly metabolized by the liver. The process involves a reaction between the active ingredient and the medication. When you give your dog the equivalent of two regular tablets of acetaminophen per day, over time, the liver will build up a higher level of the toxic metabolite. Eventually, the liver will become unable to function properly and will have to be removed. Acetaminophen can be a very damaging drug. A study found that dogs who were given more than five milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day of acetaminophen had liver failure in about 3.2 percent of dogs, compared to less than 1 percent of dogs who were not given acetaminophen.
Can Dogs Have Acetaminophen?
Dogs do not produce acetaminophen in their bodies and so can only acquire it from their diet or drinking water. For example, if dogs eat an apple, acetaminophen will be absorbed through the teeth and if they drink water containing acetaminophen, it will be absorbed through the kidney. Most dogs will not develop liver damage from ingesting these medications, but severe toxicity can occur in dogs that are: Very young (under 1 year) Very old (over 14 years) Cats As well as these possible toxicities, dogs can suffer from the following: The liver The brain The kidneys The pancreas The heart Some dogs that are unvaccinated or have incomplete vaccination history can also be affected, which can be fatal. What About Safe Doses?
Side Effects of Acetaminophen Use in Dogs
The FDA-approved prescribing information for Paracetamol for Dogs describes several signs that indicate an overdose: Drowsiness/coma Nausea Vomiting Tremor Vomiting Blood Dogs who have been taking acetaminophen for a short time or for a normal amount have mild to mild liver toxicity. Signs of too much acetaminophen in a dog should include these symptoms: Drowsiness/coma Extreme vomiting Abnormal liver tests Vomiting Blood Signs of too much acetaminophen in a dog should include these symptoms: Nausea Extreme vomiting Liver damage Vomiting blood As the name suggests, paracetamol is an acetaminophen. Therefore, it is possible to overdose on this type of medication. In fact, this is one of the more common side effects of paracetamol.
Acetaminophen Toxicity in Dogs
The main effects of acetaminophen toxicity in dogs occur when there is a high level of the toxic metabolite. This toxicity is due to the presence of N-acetylcysteine, or NAC. NAC is a metabolite of acetaminophen that affects the ability of the liver to process it, and this, in turn, causes cell damage. If the dog takes too much acetaminophen, or has liver damage caused by acetaminophen, they can suffer a range of health problems including: Vomiting Lethargy Drowsiness Respiratory changes (such as increased breathing rate and altered heart rate) Possible loss of consciousness or death Fatigue and weakness Reduced activity levels NAC is produced when liver tissue is damaged by acetaminophen.
What to Do If Your Dog Gets Too Much Acetaminophen
Dogs are susceptible to acetaminophen toxicity because of their poorly functioning liver. But the extent of liver damage varies with the dose of acetaminophen the dog is consuming. Therefore, if your dog has gotten a little too much acetaminophen, it’s possible that he/she may not be showing symptoms yet. However, liver damage from this medicine can take place very quickly. The liver is known to absorb drugs very slowly and can take up to five hours to start feeling the effects of a drug. So if your dog has been drinking the fluids, eating the dry dog food or something else containing acetaminophen, he may not yet be showing symptoms of liver damage.