Q: My friend’s veterinarian prescribed Tylenol for her elderly Bischon. Her veterinarian claims it’s used all the time in certain dogs. I told her that it’s absolutely toxic and even Googled it to be sure. Her vet still wants her to use it, but with all the horror stories out there I’m shocked that any veterinarian would recommend it. I told her to get a new vet but she refuses. How can I convince her to stop poisoning her poor dog?
A: While it’s true that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, otherwise known as NSAIDs, are the standard drug of choice in dogs, Tylenol (acetaminophen) is sometimes used as an oral pain reliever in canines and other small animals –– but absolutely never in cats!
Cats who receive Tylenol, at any dose, will experience a severe reaction that results in toxicity to the red blood cells. Their red blood cells become so poisoned that they can’t carry oxygen to the body’s cells. Cats can die very quickly if not treated early. (Ferrets may be sensitive as well.) Which is probably why you’ve heard well-justified horror stories about this drug.
Despite its reputation as a cat killer, Tylenol can be especially useful as a pain remedy in dogs, especially for those whose kidney function precludes the use of more common pain relieving drugs. It’s particularly useful for dogs who suffer from chronic pain but whose kidneys may not tolerate the side effects of NSAIDs.
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In more severe situations, Tylenol is sometimes used in combination with other drugs such as codeine, hydrocodone, or tramadol. These drugs can increase the pain relieving properties of Tylenol.
Despite its efficacy, there are some precautions we have to observe when using it. Because dogs aren’t as good at breaking down the drug as humans, Tylenol has to be dosed very precisely and owners have to be cautious to not accidentally double the dose (it happens). It’s also not recommended as a post-operative pain reliever (not for the first 24 hours) since dogs’ livers may be more sensitive to it after receiving anesthesia.
Here’s where I get to tell you that it’s best not to rely on Dr. Google. It’s also probably not a good idea to render medical advice that contradicts a veterinary professional’s –– at least not unless you access scholarly sources. So next time, try not to butt in. The “poor dog” probably needs some relief!
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to email@example.com.