Millions of people take ibuprofen every day to help with various aches and pains. Still, many pet parents don't know that it can be quite dangerous for pets. Ibuprofen, a nonsteroidal anti inflammatory drug (NSAID), can cause serious health problems in animals, including kidney damage and even death. Let's examine the dangers of ibuprofen for pets and how to keep your furry friends safe.

A gray cat is offered some medicine.

Why is ibuprofen toxic for pets?

Ibuprofen is a nonsteroidal anti inflammatory drug derived from propionic acid. It has anti-inflammatory, anti-analgesic, and antipyretic qualities, making it a popular form of over-the-counter pain relief for humans. Available since 1974, ibuprofen (found in Advil and Motrin), and its sister drug naproxen (found in Aleve), have become a quick and inexpensive remedy for all sorts of aches and pains. You're nearly guaranteed to find a bottle of ibuprofen in the medicine cabinet or office desk drawer of most people you know.

Unfortunately, while NSAIDs are fine as human medications, they are dangerous for our pets. If you aren't careful with your use of NSAIDS, your pet can get into them quickly. It doesn't take much for a dog to access a bottle of ibuprofen that isn't closed correctly and gobble down numerous pills. With their appealing sweet candy coating and chewable nature, pets are drawn to these drugs.

Even worse, some pet parents think that because ibuprofen is safe for people, it must also be safe for pets --- and they give their dog or cat a pill or two to make them feel better. Well-meaning humans have been known to provide pain relievers to their pets because they believe it will make the animal feel better. Sadly, the opposite is what occurs, as the pet will develop ibuprofen poisoning.

The ASPCA states that ibuprofen toxicity is the most common generic drug exposure their Poison Control Center receives calls about. It can take as little as one 200mg ibuprofen pill for a cat or small or medium-sized dog to experience NSAID toxicity. Damage to internal organs happens rapidly afterward.

A brown and white dog examines some medications.

How does NSAID toxicity occur?

Nonsteroidal anti inflammatory drug toxicity happens when a dog or cat ingests enough NSAIDs to cause a physical reaction leading to serious medical issues. Toxicity from nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs is dependent on the amount that an animal consumes. Overdosing can lead to damage and bleeding in your pet's gastrointestinal tract, which could be fatal if not treated quickly enough.

The degree of ibuprofen toxicity depends on the specific dose. Suppose a pet ingests too much poison and survives. They may damage their gastrointestinal tract lining, particularly areas including the esophagus or stomach, which can lead to blood loss and death if a large enough dose is ingested.

For example, with ibuprofen, signs of toxicity occur in dogs at doses of 50mg (22mg/lb.) and in cats at 25mg (11mg/lb.). Long-term exposure to ibuprofen leads to toxicity at levels as low as 5 - 6mg (2-3 mg/lb.). The pet's weight, along with the dosage, has a significant bearing on how quickly toxicity occurs.

Naproxen is more likely to cause toxicity in the smallest doses. Most dogs show exposure after eating amounts as low as 5mg (2 mg/lb.) of body weight.

Here are some general levels of ibuprofen toxicity for pets of different sizes:

Ibuprofen in Dogs

Extra small breeds between 1 - 10lbs: less than 22mg

Small breeds between 11 - 25 lbs: less than 249 mg

Medium breeds between 26 - 40lbs: less than 589 mg

Large breeds between 41 - 70lbs: less than 929mg

Extra-large breeds between 71 - 90 lbs: less than 1614 mg

Giant breeds between 91 - 110 lbs: less than 2069mg

Ibuprofen in Cats

Smaller cats between 1 - 10lbs: less than 11mg

Larger cats between 11 - 25 lbs: less than 124 mg

Interestingly, cats and some dog breeds, like the German Shepherd, Siberian Husky, and Poodle, are more sensitive to NSAIDs and react more strongly to exposure to NSAIDs in the body. This reaction places them at a higher risk of ibuprofen poisoning. All dogs and cats are susceptible to ibuprofen toxicity, and breeds prone to renal disease and kidney failure are especially at risk.

An orange cat looks at a pill.

What are the clinical signs of ibuprofen toxicity?

When taken orally, ibuprofen and naproxen are rapidly absorbed into a pet's bloodstream from the stomach. Toxic effects can occur within an hour of ingestion, but some signs may take days to appear. Here are the symptoms most commonly associated with NSAID toxicity:

  • weakness and lethargy
  • depression
  • vomiting (with or without blood)
  • loss of appetite
  • refusal to eat food
  • diarrhea
  • increased salivation
  • black, tarry stools (indicating digested blood)
  • dehydration
  • abdominal pain
  • pale gums (indicating anemia)
  • collapse
  • seizures
  • sudden death

If you think your pet might have ingested an over-the-counter medication, it's essential to get them checked out by a vet as soon as possible. It can take up to 12 hours after consuming one of these medicines for the signs and symptoms to occur, so if there is any doubt about toxicity, ask your vet questions right away. 

A cat receives IV fluids.

What are the effects of NSAID toxicity?

The immediate effects of ibuprofen toxicity are seen in the numerous symptoms after ingestion. However, there is potentially more damage happening within your pet's body simultaneously. Here are the most severe effects of NSAID exposure.

Stomach ulceration

Ibuprofen causes stomach ulcers by inhibiting the production of prostaglandins, which are hormones that promote blood flow and protect tissues from acidity. Without these natural protections against harsh digestive juices, there's no chance for a protective layer of mucous to form, resulting in damage to the stomach itself.

There are two levels of ibuprofen toxicity in a pet's stomach. The first and more common level involves stomach ulcers that lead to vomiting or blood-stained stools, usually accompanied by appetite loss. The second, more severe level can lead to the rupture of the stomach itself, leading to death.

Kidney failure

Once the stomach is poisoned by ibuprofen toxicity, blood flow to the kidneys reduces. This leads to the death of kidney tissue and the subsequent build-up of toxins that would usually be removed by the kidney. The result is kidney failure, a direct threat to your pet's life. Depending on the amount of ibuprofen ingested and how healthy your pet's kidneys were before the poisoning, the bodily damage may be permanent or temporary. Kidney function may be affected for the rest of the pet's life.

Kidney failure can lead to various symptoms, including nausea, further ulceration in the gastrointestinal tract, diarrhea, and low body temperature. Suppose the toxicity is severe enough to cause the pet's urine output to stop. In that case, the prognosis becomes substantially worse, and treatment must be more aggressive. Cats are particularly prone to renal failure after ingesting NSAIDs.

Neurological effects

Dogs and cats can experience neurological symptoms during ibuprofen toxicity, including tremors that progress to seizures or even coma. The central nervous system is hampered by ibuprofen poisoning. The pet will need to take medications that control the involuntary muscle contractions until the ibuprofen is out of the system. Without immediate veterinary treatment, the pet is in danger of death.

A puppy receives IV fluid therapy.

What should you do if your pet ingests NSAIDs?

Suppose you know or believe that your cat or dog ate ibuprofen or another NSAID. In that case, you should contact your family veterinarian immediately. The veterinarian can get your pet started on whatever therapy she needs. The sooner the treatment, the better the prognosis for recovery, especially if a toxic dose has been eaten.

Treatment options include induced vomiting with activated charcoal, 48-hours of intravenous fluids and fluid therapy, and close monitoring of the kidneys. Your pet's recovery from acute ingestion will depend on how much ibuprofen was ingested, when it was taken, and what kind of treatment they are receiving.

Poison control hotlines are also available through the ASPCA Animal Poison Control and the Pet Poison Helpline to answer questions and guide you in treating your pet at home before veterinary care. Some steps, such as those to induce vomiting, can sometimes be done at home before going to the veterinarian.

A dog and cat play together.

Save on emergency care with pet insurance.

The cost of ibuprofen ingestion can be high if your pet needs blood products, intensive care, or surgery. Inducing vomiting immediately post-exposure typically costs less than $300. Still, the price of drugs to protect the GI tract and follow-up tests can add up fast. Pet owners often spend around $1,000 for mild to moderate NSAID exposure. However, severe cases can cost thousands of dollars per day.

A pet insurance policy can relieve the burden of paying expensive vet bills in an emergency. With reimbursement rates between 70 - 90%, you can save thousands of dollars depending on the plan you select. At the same time, your pet gets the best treatment possible. Don't wait for an emergency to happen! Let Pet Insurance Review find you the best pet health insurance plan. Get started with a free quote now.

References:

1. Lee County Animal Services. (2022). Pet Toxins & Poisons. Retrieved from https://www.leegov.com/animalservices/safety/poisons

2. Vetstreet. (2014). Ibuprofen and Naproxen Toxicity. Retrieved from http://www.vetstreet.com/care/ibuprofen-and-naproxen-toxicity

3. American College of Veterinary Pharmacists. (2018). Ibuprofen & Naproxen. Retrieved from https://vetmeds.org/pet-poison-control-list/ibuprofen-naproxen/

4. Cannon, A. (2021). Can You Give Dogs Ibuprofen? Retrieved from https://www.dailypaws.com/dogs-puppies/health-care/dog-poisoning-toxins/can-you-give-dogs-ibuprofen

5. BluePearl Specialists. (2022). Acute Renal (Kidney) Failure in Dogs. Retrieved from https://bluepearlvet.com/medical-articles-for-pet-owners/acute-renal-failure-in-dogs/

6. Ward, E., Weir, M. (2022). Acute Kidney Failure in Cats. Retrieved from https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/kidney-failure-acute-in-cats

7. ASPCA Animal Poison Control. (2022). Animal Poison Control. Retrieved from https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control

8. Pet Poison Helpline. (2022). Ibuprofen. Retrieved from https://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/poison/ibuprofen/