Most of us have aspirin or aspirin containing medication in our homes, and we may even have given our dog a small dose when he felt a bit feverish. In fact, veterinarians used to use aspirin in their patients before the development of newer, safer alternatives. However, aspirin can cause irritation of the lining of the stomach and bleeding in 10-20% of dogs given the drug.
Aspirin belongs to a group of drugs called non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs. This family of drugs also contains acetaminophen and ibuprofen. The active ingredient in aspirin is known as a salicylate. Salicylates are also found in oil of wintergreen, which is an essential oil used in aromatherapy to treat rheumatism and muscular aches.
The toxic dose of aspirin in dogs is around 45mg per kilo body weight per day.
Symptoms of acute aspirin poisoning initially relate to stomach irritation and can occur within 4-6 hours. Depression, abdominal pain, and vomiting which may be blood tinged. Your dog’s feces may also be black and tarry; when blood from a stomach ulcer is digested as it moves through the gastro intestinal tract, it becomes very dark and very sticky. An animal may die within a day or so.
Long term use of aspirin may lead to stomach ulcers, chronic blood loss, and kidney failure. It may also have an effect on the bone marrow, which leads to a reduction in blood cell production.
Diagnosing aspirin poisoning isn’t easy, and depends heavily on an owner telling the vet that the dog has been given aspirin. Treatment is basically treatment of the symptoms – there is no specific antidote to aspirin. An intravenous drip, antibiotics, antacids and medication to soothe the lining of the stomach all play a role in treating poisoning. If treatment is started early, the outcome is usually good. However, if your dog has liver or kidney disease, or the bone marrow is affected, he may not recover.
Preventing aspirin poisoning is straight forward. Don’t use it. There are many non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs which have significantly less side effects. If you feel your dog would benefit from an aspirin like drug, speak to your veterinarian and follow his advice. If you simply must give your dog aspirin, use one of the buffered products to help protect his stomach, give the aspirin with a meal, and use it in close consultation with your vet.