Since the early 1980’s, some painkillers are no longer considered a prescription and can be purchased over the counter. These include Motrin, Advil and Nuprin, which are part of the ibuprofen family. Ibuprofen has many uses; it treats aches and pains but is also used for a number of less common problems. So, when we see our furry friend in pain, we tend to try and go for the simple solutions and give what we would give ourselves. Dogs, when using ibuprofen, is not to be given without specific dosing instructions from your veterinarian. Cats are never allowed to have these types of drugs. This is, unfortunately, a very common misconception. A number of pets have been poisoned by ibuprofen when given by their owners when they are simply trying to make them feel better. There are also the playful animals who decide to grab the bottle, chew it and swallow the medication, which is very challenging because the quantity they ingest is unknown.
Ibuprofen prevents the production of an enzyme needed for normal blood circulation to the stomach. Without this blood flow, the stomach is unable to properly produce its protective layer of mucus to protect the tissue. This results in stomach ulcers. Ulceration of the stomach is the first level of toxicity. Symptoms would include vomiting (with or without blood), loss of appetite and black stools. There is always a possibility of having the stomach rupture which could lead to death. Repeated use of medication would increase the risk of toxicity.
The second level of toxicity is kidney failure. Once the drug has interfered with the blood flow to the stomach, next is the kidney. When the blood doesn’t circulate through the kidneys, the tissue dies. Kidney function then decreases, and the body begins to build up toxins that are normally removed from the kidney. This could cause permanent or temporary damage depending on the amount of ibuprofen given/ingested and how healthy the kidneys were, to begin with.
The final level of toxicity is neurological signs. Symptoms would include tremors, seizures and coma.
If your pet is seen within 1-2 hours, your veterinarian may be able to get the medication up by inducing vomiting followed by using activated charcoal which prevents any un-vomited ibuprofen from absorbing into the body. Normal protocol is 48 hours of IV fluids, which are needed to support the stomach and kidney. Kidney monitoring has to be done for at least three days after the ingestion, and your pet will be on multiple medications for the next week or so to help the stomach. The prognosis does depend on how much ibuprofen was ingested, how long since ingestion and how through the treatment is. If your pet ingested any medication, please contact your veterinarian immediately!
Animal Poison Control Center: 1-888-426-4435
Written by Holly Murphy, CCS