Is aspirin safe for dogs? What are the alternatives to aspirin for dogs?

  • Aspirin is an over-the-counter or OTC medicine given to dogs that are suffering from osteoarthritis inflammation(1) and other health conditions.
  • The medicine is considered as ‘extra-label’ or ‘off-label’, and it is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration(2).
  • The side effects of aspirin use include gastrointestinal bleeding, nausea, vomiting, and decreased appetite. Severe bleeding can result in anemia or low blood protein in dogs(3). Aspirin poisoning in canines can also happen with incorrect dosing.
  • CBD oil offers therapeutic benefits that can alleviate pain and inflammation(4-5). However, as dogs metabolize drugs and supplements differently than people do, human data may not be the same in veterinary medicine.
  • Still, research studies show that CBD is safe for canines to consume, and they can also tolerate escalating doses of its oil formulations(6).

What is Aspirin?

Aspirin is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) veterinarians seldom prescribe to dogs that are suffering from musculoskeletal or osteoarthritis inflammation. It works as a fever-reducing, anti-clotting, and pain reliever medicine in pets(7)

Past studies showed aspirin as a potential treatment for dogs infected with heartworm (8-9). However, the latest accepted therapies for heartworm disease are indicated by the American Heartworm Society, and steroid is preferred over aspirin.

The use of aspirin on dogs and small animals is considered as ‘extra-label’ or ‘off-label’, which means that it is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)(10). Pet owners should consult their veterinarians first to know about the proper aspirin dosage and use of this medication.

Veterinarians recommend oral ingestion of the aspirin tablet together with the dog’s food as this leads to better absorption in canines(11).

Side Effects of Aspirin on Dogs

Despite the therapeutic properties of aspirin, it does come with serious side effects, especially when it is not taken according to the prescription.

The most common of these side effects are gastrointestinal like decreased appetite, nausea, irritation of the intestine, or vomiting. It is also possible for the digestive tract to bleed even when merely taking the approved low dose aspirin by a DVM.

Dog owners can tell the signs of gastrointestinal bleeding when their pets have tarry or black stools, blood in their vomit or blood in their feces. Severe cases of bleeding disorders can lead to low blood protein or even anemia(12)

The medication should cease to exist in a dog’s system after a few days. However, its effects can take longer to subside if a canine has liver damage or kidney disease.

Dog Aspirin Poisoning and Its Causes

Aspirin poisoning can happen when a dog overdoses in aspirin, either by accident or misuse. Poisoning can also occur if a pet is dosed frequently with the incorrect amount of the said drug.

Since aspirin treats inflammation by stopping specific enzyme processes in the body, it can also inhibit the enzymes used in controlling kidney and gastrointestinal functions.

The natural elimination of this medicine varies among species. For instance, it can take four times longer to remove aspirin in the body of dogs in comparison to human beings(13).

Certain conditions such as kidney damage, blood clotting disorders, having low blood proteins, and using other steroids or drug interactions can make dogs vulnerable to aspirin poisoning.

Alternatives to Aspirin for Dogs

A veterinarian has a good reason for prescribing a dog with a dose of aspirin from a medicine cabinet. However, there are alternatives to the drug that a vet may prescribe based on a dog’s health condition.

Carprofen for Dogs

An ideal long-term use alternative to aspirin for dogs is carprofen, which is also a common medicine in treating inflammation and pain. A study in 2007 on more than 800 dogs that had osteoarthritis joint pain proves that carprofen can effectively improve such conditions in canines(14)

Rimadyl, a popular brand name of carprofen, is considered as a much safer option for use in dogs. There are three forms of Rimadyl available: chewable tablets, caplets, and injectable.

Veterinarians usually prescribe carprofen as tablets and are then taken by mouth. The medication immediately takes effect in about one to two hours after intake, followed by notable improvements in clinical signs(15).

Potential but serious effects of carprofen to monitor for in dogs include diarrhea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. Some dogs are sensitive to NSAIDs. Taking NSAIDs may worsen the condition of dogs with liver problems(16).

Owners should discontinue a dog’s pain medications and report to a veterinarian if their pets develop stomach ulcers. It is wise to do a blood test and check liver and kidney enzymes to rule out any liver side effects that could manifest with an upset stomach.

CBD Oil for Dogs

CBD oil presents a natural alternative in treating the same conditions that aspirin and carprofen are prescribed for in dogs.

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a chemical compound from the hemp plant which is known for its numerous health benefits. Unlike marijuana, hemp contains high amounts of cannabidiol and very little tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the mind-altering active ingredient in Cannabis(17).

Several research studies show that CBD has great potential in being used as an analgesic via the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in treating chronic pain(18). The ECS, a recently discovered system that is present in nearly all life forms, contributes to vital biological processes in the body(19).

Since CBD can engage the ECS in a positive manner, it is possible for the compound to influence bodily functions that have to do with managing inflammation, pain, anxiety, immunity, and more(20). This same concept is what makes health experts believe that dogs, along with other animals, can use CBD for its therapeutic properties.

Kevin Boehnke, Ph.D., a research investigator from Michigan, states that although there are no published clinical trials yet on CBD for pain, ongoing preclinical studies have so far shown that it can reduce inflammation and work as a painkiller in animals(21).

In 2020, a study on twenty healthy dogs revealed that the canines could tolerate escalating doses of CBD oil formulations even when taken orally. Additionally, researchers also learned that the CBD-predominant oil was safer for the dogs to consume than the product that had more THC content(22).

There are still no FDA-approved products for dogs today, so it is imperative that owners talk with their veterinarian first before deciding to introduce CBD to their pets. A recommended dosage chart for dogs is also not available at this time.

The American Kennel Club mentions that although there is no scientific proof of harmful reactions from dogs consuming CBD, there are still possible side effects based on how the chemical affects humans. Dry mouth, drowsiness, and lowered blood flow pressure are some assumptions by experts on the adverse health effects of CBD on canines(23).

Conclusion

Osteoarthritis joint health or musculoskeletal inflammation is the common cause for veterinarians to prescribe adult or baby aspirin to a doggy. 

Despite this prevalence, the medication is not the safest choice since it can lead to poisoning in dogs that have kidney failure disorders, low blood proteins, or are using other steroids or NSAIDs.

Carprofen is seen as an ideal alternative to aspirin due to its ability to provide the same effect while being a more practical choice in improving health conditions in canines. However, the medication is not suited for dogs that are suffering from certain illnesses as it can cause them to worsen.

There are many other COX-2s on the market. Gabapentin and opioid medicines are also used for dogs.

There are dog health experts that may recommend the use of CBD oil, which can provide inflammation and pain relief by natural means. This chemical compound is said to have many therapeutic properties while also being safer for canines since they tolerate even escalating doses of its oil formulations.

Owners should not use over-the-counter (OTC) human medications such as naproxen, Advil, ibuprofen, meloxicam, or Tylenol on their dogs. Consulting a veterinarian before planning to use CBD for short-term pain management, or any other product for pets, is highly recommended to avoid complications. 


  1. Burke, A. (2016, November 16). Aspirin for Dogs: Benefits and Side Effects. Retrieved from: https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/aspirin-for-dogs/.
  2. Cummings School (2017, February 1). Dear Doctor – Different vets with different views on aspirin?. Retrieved from: https://news.vet.tufts.edu/2017/02/tending-to-fatty-tumors-in-dogs/
  3. Gollakner, R. Aspirin. Retrieved from: https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/aspirin.
  4. Russo EB. Cannabinoids in the management of difficult to treat pain. Ther Clin Risk Manag. 2008;4(1):245‐259. doi:10.2147/tcrm.s1928
  5. Malcolm, K. (2019, October 30). Should You Take CBD for Pain? Retrieved from: https://healthblog.uofmhealth.org/health-management/should-you-take-cbd-for-pain.
  6. Vaughn D, Kulpa J, Paulionis L. Preliminary Investigation of the Safety of Escalating Cannabinoid Doses in Healthy Dogs. Front Vet Sci. 2020;7:51. Published 2020 Feb 11. doi:10.3389/fvets.2020.00051
  7. Burke, A. op. cit.
  8. Rawlings CA, Keith JC Jr, Losonsky JM, McCall JM. An aspirin-prednisolone combination to modify postadulticide lung disease in heartworm-infected dogs. Am J Vet Res. 1984 Nov;45(11):2371-5.
  9. Boudreaux MK, Dillon AR, Ravis WR, Sartin EA, Spano JS. Effects of treatment with aspirin or aspirin/dipyridamole combination in heartworm-negative, heartworm-infected, and embolized heartworm-infected dogs. Am J Vet Res. 1991 Dec;52(12):1992-9.
  10. Cummings School. op. cit.
  11. Morton DJ, Knottenbelt DC. Pharmacokinetics of aspirin and its application in canine veterinary medicine. J S Afr Vet Assoc. 1989 Dec;60(4):191-4.
  12. Gollakner, R. op. cit.
  13. Gollakner, R. Aspirin Poisoning in Dogs. Retrieved from: https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/aspirin-poisoning-in-dogs.
  14. Mansa S, Palmér E, Grøndahl C, Lønaas L, Nyman G. Long-term treatment with carprofen of 805 dogs with osteoarthritis. Vet Rec. 2007 Mar 31;160(13):427-30.
  15. Gollakner, Rania. Carprofen. Retrieved from: https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/carprofen.
  16. Brooks, W. (2017, June 25). Carprofen (Rimadyl). Retrieved from: https://veterinarypartner.vin.com/default.aspx?pid=19239&id=4951499.
  17. Hilderbrand RL. Hemp & Cannabidiol: What is a Medicine?. Mo Med. 2018;115(4):306‐309.
  18. Russo EB. op. cit.
  19. Silver RJ. The Endocannabinoid System of Animals. Animals (Basel). 2019;9(9):686. Published 2019 Sep 16. doi:10.3390/ani9090686
  20. Ibid.
  21. Malcolm, K. op. cit.
  22. Vaughn D. et al. op. cit.
  23. Kriss, R. (2019, October 27). CBD Oil for Dogs: What You Need to Know. Retrieved from: https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/cbd-oil-dogs/.
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