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OTC Pain Meds

Chihuahuas and OTC Pain Medication

Advil, Aleve, Aspirin, Motrin, Tylenol and Other Analgesics

Overview

Owners will, undoubtedly, find themselves in situations where they question if certain over-the-counter medication can safely be given to a Chihuahua puppy or dog. Most common is in cases of fever (since many of these bring down fevers as well as help with pain) or if a Chihuahua has a slight injury. It is important to know when at-home treatment is reasonable and when it is, which analgesics can be given to a Chihuahua and which would be very harmful. 

In this section, we will cover:
  • If the following popular pain and fever medications are safe for Chihuahuas: Advil, Motrin (ibuprofen), Aleve (naproxen) and Aspirin, Tylenol (acetaminophen).
  • Of the ones that are okay to give, the correct dose for this breed
  • Why canines cannot tolerate some of these and signs of toxicity 
  • Common and tolerable pain meds for Chihuahuas
  • When to offer treatment at home and when a vet visit is in order
Advil or Motrin (brand names) ibuprofen (generic name) 

Ibuprofen is part of a category of medications that are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs for short). Sometimes the word nonsteroidal' leads owners to believe that it may be safe for dogs to have these. However, this is not the case with those meant for humans. The effects that Advil, Motrin or generic ibuprofen has on canines are very unpredictable. The properties of these medicines affect the kidneys, gastrointestinal tract and even blood clotting and are unsafe to give to a Chihuahua. 

There can be dangerous side effects including stomach upset, diarrhea, vomiting, incoordination, increased thirst, decreased appetite and stomach ulcers and bleeding. Without treatment for the toxicity, this can lead to kidney failure, liver, failure, seizures, coma and even death.
It is important to note that since the Chihuahua is very tiny, just a small amount of this can be unsafe. 

Despite this fact, there are some vets (not many) that may okay this for at-home treatment and owners need to question this since there are NSAIDS that are manufactured specifically for canines (more ahead) that are considered safe, both in regard to side effects and to prevent accidental overuse due to the smaller amount of ibuprofen that they contain. 

Keep in mind that if a dog were to be given ibuprofen, the recommended dose is a tiny 2.5 to 4 mg per pound of body weight every 12 hours. With a 5 lb. Chihuahua, this is only 12.5 to 20 mg and tablets come in much larger sizes of 100 to 800 mg. If a Chihuahua were to swallow just one human tablet of this, it would be toxic. 

Aleve (brand name) naproxen (generic name)

This drug is extremely similar to ibuprofen, in that the active ingredients in both are NSAIDs meant for humans. Both ingredients act in the same way; they stop the production of prostaglandins, which are a group of cyclic fatty acid compounds. Giving Aleve to a Chihuahua can have dangerous consequences. It can cause all of the same internal side effects as ibuprofen such as bleeding in the stomach, stomach and intestinal distress (vomiting, diarrhea) and affect both the kidneys and liver, which can lead to organ shutdown and coma. Without treatment or in the case of very high doses, giving Aleve to a small dog like the Chihuahua can be fatal. 

Note: Other less common brand names of naproxen include Naprosyn and Anaprox. 
Tylenol (brand name) acetaminophen (generic name)

Tylenol and other OTC medications including Midol and Excedrin contain acetaminophen, which is not an NSAID. It is used, in humans, only for pain and fever but not with swelling. However, this does not make this medicine completely safe for Chihuahuas. 
Before there were better choices of canine medications to offer to dogs, this was sometimes cautiously prescribed by veterinarians.

One of the reasons that you do not want to give this to a Chihuahua is that high doses can cause liver damage, sometimes so severe that it is irreversible and can even be fatal. And since the Chihuahua is the smallest toy breed dog in the word, finding the correct dosing and making sure not to offer too much would be troublesome. 

When this is given to canines (and again this is done very rarely), the dose is small, just 5 mg for each one pound of body weight. With a typical adult Chihuahua, being only 5 lbs., the recommended dose would be 25 mg every 12 hours. 
female Chihuahua dog in pink dress
Tinkerbell, 14 weeks old
Photo courtesy of Leeann
Regular strength Tylenol contains 325 mg of acetaminophen in each tablet; so dosing would be 1/13 of a pill and obviously too tiny to be properly divided at home and given to the dog. 

You may wonder if it would be better to give infant or children's strength Tylenol to a Chihuahua instead, which comes in a liquid form; however this is not recommended either. The infant strength formula, which is one of the lowest dosing available, contains 160 mg of acetaminophen in each 5 ml; an adult Chihuahua would need less than 1 ml per safe dosing instructions. There is a children's 'meltaway' formula, which is a flavored chewable tablet that contains 80 mg of acetaminophen, however it would be difficult to properly divide this due to its consistency. 

Any amount over the 5 mg per 1 lb. of body weight is considered dangerous and any amount over 50 mg per pound of body weight is considered toxic. If a Chihuahua were to accidentally ingest Tylenol or another medication that contained the active ingredient of acetaminophen, signs of poisoning include: trouble breathing, discolored gums, a swelling of certain body parts (most notably the face, neck or legs), jaundice (yellowing of the eyes) and/or vomiting. This is considered an emergency and treatment is needed immediately. 

So as you can see even these lower-dose products contain too much acetaminophen to be considered safe for canines and should not be given to a Chihuahua puppy or dog unless the veterinarian has prescribed this; there are better options and we will discuss those ahead. 
Chihuahua in bike basket
Ava, 2.5 years old (4.5 lbs. long haired Chihuahua)
Photo couresty of Tina Kinney - Grimes, Iowa
Aspirin

Out of all of the possible OTC pain and fever medications for humans, this is considered the safest one to give to a Chihuahua. However, strict dosing instructions would need to be followed, since this is actually a NSAID that can cause sometimes quite severe issues. The element that makes Aspirin safer for dogs is that with Buffered Aspirin, there is a layer of protection via a coating that can help prevent the stomach lining and intestines from the harmful effects of the NSAID ingredient.   

This is sometimes given to Chihuahua for short term use only, which would be no more than 7 days. While there are better options of medications formulated just for canines, this is sometimes given for acute cases of low grade fever or mild pain that is not expected to last more than one week. 

If given over an extended period of time, it can be detrimental to the dog's body. One possible issue is damage to the dog's cartilage due to the acetylsalicylic acid in this medication. Another issue is that over time, it causes the blood to thin out and this can lead to internal bleeding. 

Dosing - How much Aspirin to give to a Chihuahua puppy or older dog is based on the dog's weight. For adult Chi, proper dosing is 5 to 10 mg for each pound of body weight, given once every 12 hours. It is best to start off of the lower side of that and only go up to 10 mg/lb. of body weight if needed. 

For Chihuahua puppies, due to slower function of both the liver and kidneys, dosing is often lower, no more than the 5 mg and sometimes less.
There are some canine Aspirin products that generally come in 60 mg pills and low-dose coated Aspirin for humans are often close to 80 mg. For example, Bayer low dose Aspirin that is coated will be labeled 'enteric coated' and contains 81 mg in each pill. Some pet suppliers offer powdered Aspirin for dogs which can be easier to both measure for proper dosing and to give since the powder can be mixed into the puppy or dog's food. Do check with your veterinarian before given any Aspirin to your Chihuahua. 

Here is a quick dosing guideline for adult Chihuahua dogs:

Weight of Chihuahua | Dose (minimum/ maximum)

1 lb. = 5 to 10 mg
2 lbs. = 10 to 20 mg
3 lbs. = 15 to 30 mg
4 lbs. = 20 to 40 mg
5 lbs.=  25 to 50 mg
6 lbs. = 30 to 60 mg
7 lbs. = 35 to 70 mg

Side Effects - Even though you can give coated Aspirin to a Chihuahua in low doses and for a short amount of time (no more than 1 week), there are some possible side effects to look out for. This includes stomach upset, diarrhea and/or vomiting. If your Chihuahua shows any signs of this, you will want to stop given the Aspirin to him/her and contact the veterinarian. 
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Treatment at Home VS the Vet

There are 3 main reasons why owners may want to give their Chihuahua pain relief medicine at-home:

1) The dog has a known issue that is flaring up. This may include a senior dog that has arthritis; perhaps he is having an unusually bad day and the owner wants to offer the dog some extra pain relief. The Chihuahua may have suffered an injury and while it is healing, there may be times that the dog shows signs of discomfort and owners do not want to see the dog in pain. In these sorts of cases, it is better to speak to the vet about increasing dosage of a current medication or adding supplements (if applicable) since you will not want to offer Aspirin or other OTC meds on top of what a dog is already taking.  

In some cases, a female Chihuahua may appear to show signs of pain during the heat cycle, so an owner may wonder if they should give the dog something to help with possible cramping. It should be noted that in many instances, offering a warm (not hot) heating pad for the dog to rest her abdomen often does the trick. 
2) It's not possible to reach the vet. In some cases of perhaps traveling with a Chihuahua, bringing him to the veterinarian is not possible. In instances of the office being closed, while most vets have after-hour phone lines that will take a message and relay it to the vet, this may not always happen with a small office. In other cases, it may not be possible to drive to the clinic (car is at the mechanics, you are snowbound during a storm, etc.)

It's recommended to speak to the vet office regarding exactly what to do in cases of the office being closed. Many vets will have another clinic cover for them. Even if you cannot physically reach the vet, do make a phone call; often times you can receive advice as to how to respond to an issue. For minor issues, you may be given the okay to offer Aspirin to your Chihuahua and other times, it will be best to seek help at the closest animal hospital or clinic. If you will be away camping with your Chi or somewhere were help is not close by, do prepare by knowing what you can give your dog if needed and packing a basic first aid kit or having needed items at home in case weather or other issues cause you to be housebound. 

3) Expense of the vet. The average cost of a vet visit is $50, and some owners may want to see if a health problem can be treated at home before reaching in their pockets for this.

If your Chihuahua has a known issue and you have already spoken to the veterinarian regarding at-home treatment involving Aspirin for either pain, swelling or fever and are already comfortable with the understanding both the dose and how your dog reacts to the drug, you should feel safe following the vet's advice. Do take care to carefully measure the dose and alert all other family members that the dog has been given his medication so that another person does not inadvertently offer it again. 
happy looking Chihuahua dog
Milo, 2 years old
Photo courtesy of Ralph Amato
It is recommended to try and put away a certain amount of money every month for vet visits and unexpected health related costs and vet. Even $10 a month saved up over time will come in handy, should you need to have your dog examined. You may want to look into pet insurance for your Chihuahua; though it does not cover wellness checks, it does cover illness and injury.   
The Importance of Vet Care Regarding Pain Meds

The reasons why you will want to contact the vet first, however, include:

1) Diagnosis - While you can treat a Chihuahua's fever with Aspirin, a fever (a temp higher than 102.5 F) is not an illness; it is a symptom of another issue. So, while you may be able to bring the dog's body temperature back to normal, this does not help at all in regard to diagnosing and treating the underlying cause of the fever. Reasons for fever can include anything from infection (bacterial, fungal or viral) and this includes tooth infection, UTIs and more, reaction to vaccinations, ingestion of toxins, heat stress in the summer and many other diseases, injury or health conditions.  

If your Chihuahua appears to be in pain, offering some OTC medication may help relieve some of the discomfort, however again, it will not bring about resolution of the problem in many cases. Minor issues such as a cutting into the quick of the nail does not necessary need to be treated with pain meds (applying septic powder and a cold compress would work better in these cases) and any issue that is causing moderate to severe pain should be properly diagnosed. For example, limping may be due to an acute injury that could conceivably be treated with Aspirin for the pain, but will not help with internal swelling and the Chihuahua should be checked for possible torn ligaments and possible luxation with the knee and hip dysplasia. 

Even with known issues, if the condition has worsened, the treatment plan may need to be changed. 
cute Chihuahua side view
Sweetpea, 6 months old 
Photo courtesy of Donald & Arla Kirby
2) Medication that works best - Even if a Chihuahua only needs pain medication for a short amount of time, there are many canine NSAIDs that work much better than the Aspirin, or in rare cases the acetaminophen that is given to dogs. They are specifically formulated to be easy on the stomach and are packaged for easy dosing. 

In addition, with the wide range of pain medication available for dogs, the vet can determine exactly which one is best for a Chihuahua's particular condition. 

Prescribed Canine Analgesics

Here is a list of the most commonly prescribed pain medications for Chihuahuas:
NSAIDs 

As we discussed earlier, there are NSAIDS manufactured for canines that are safer than what you could give to your Chihuahua with at-home treatments of products made for humans. The acronym stands for Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug. These help with pain, fever and swelling, which is common with injury. Since these are manufactured specifically for canines, correct dosing is a lot easier.  

This includes:
  • Carprofen - Common brand names include Novox , Rimadyl, Rovera, Quellin and Vetprofen. In the UK, one common brand name is Zenecarp. It is used for a wide range of issues including arthritis and post-operative pain. In some instances, such as surgical recovery, it may be given via IV. Dosing for pill form is 1 to 2 mg for each pound of body weight, given once every 12 hours. 
  • Deracoxib - Brand names include Deramax and Novartis. This is most often given after surgical procedures however is sometimes prescribed for chronic pain as well. This is found in a chewable, flavored tablet. Depending on the reason that it is given, dosing ranges from .5 to 2 mg per pound of body weight, given twice in a 24 hour period. 
  • Meloxicam - The brand name for this medicine is Mobic and is often well tolerated by canines. It is used for both acute pain from injury and chronic pain for such things as osteoarthritis. Normal dosing is .05 mg per pound of body weight.  
*** Canine NSAIDs NOT Given to Chihuahuas: 
  • Etodolac- The brand names for this canine pain medicine is EtoGesic; however it is not often recommended for dogs under 10 pounds, which includes the Chihuahua and is not given to any dogs of any breed that are under the age of 1 year old. 
  • Firocoxib- The brand name for this is Previcox, though as with etodolac, this is not used for dogs that are small and is often not given to any dog that is under 12.5 pounds
  • Tepoxalin - The brand name is Zubrin. This was taken off the market in 2014 and is no longer available in the United States or in many parts of Europe. If you have Zubrin left over from before it was withdrawn for use, please do not give any of this to your Chihuahua and discard of it in a safe manner. 
Side effects - There are some possible side effects to be aware of with these canine pain medications. Do check with your veterinarian and check the packaging for a full list. Common side effects may include a decreased appetite, lethargy and a drying of the eyes. Report any stomach distress (dry heaving, vomiting, diarrhea, etc.), yellowing of the eyes, pale gums, confusion and/or excessive thirst as these may be signs of more serious side effects. 

Accidental Overdose - If your Chihuahua ever eats or swallows any sort of medicine including Advil, Tylenol or other human products or ingests an overdose of canine meds including the NSAIDs listed above, it is very important to seek treatment right away. Though a dog may not immediately show signs of poisoning, this is considered to be an emergency situation and it can be life threatening. High doses of these meds can cause quite severe damage to the kidneys and liver. There can be internal bleeding that can cause a dog to go into shock, fall into a coma and eventually succumb to the poisoning.

Remember that with human medicine just one tablet can be 100's of times more potent than the safe dose for a small Chihuahua.
two black Chihuahua dogs
Wesley and Buttercup, 4 month old brother and sister
Photo courtesy of Andee and Marcus
And with canine medications, ingesting two or more pills can be dangerous.  

Treatment will vary depending on if you know how much your Chihuahua swallowed and exactly what was ingested. Vomiting may be induced. Even so, some of the active ingredients will start to be absorbed and the following may be given:
  • Activated charcoal - This is given to stop the absorption of the drug into the system. This is given every 2 to 3 hours. 
  • n-acetyl-cysteine (Mucomyst and Acetadote)- This is given if a dog ingests too much acetaminophen, it works to counteract the effects. 
  • s-adenosyl-methionine - This is sometimes used to manage liver disease in canines and may be given to help protect the liver. 
  • Vitamin C - This may be given as part of an IV solution as it helps transport red blood cells. 
  • Blood transfusions/ oxygen therapy - If the dog shows signs of having trouble breathing and other serious clinical symptoms, this may be needed. This has been shown to work better in cases of acetaminophen poisoning; it does not help with ibuprofen overdose. 
  • Other treatment - Treatment will take hours and typically this will involve an overnight stay. An IV will be hooked up and there will be round-the-clock monitoring. Prognosis will vary depending on how much medicine a Chihuahua swallowed, the type of active ingredients and how much time lapsed between when this occurred and the puppy or dog was brought in for treatment.  
It is important that treatment begin as soon as possible after a dog eats any medicine and this is why a dog should be brought the vet immediately, even before toxic effects begin to develop. 
Chihuahua sleeping funny
Mole, 18 months old
Photo courtesy of Helane Zeiger
Non-NSAID Medications

In some cases, the vet will decide to prescribe something other than a NSAID. Other than narcotics used for serious acute injury, cancer, etc., the following are commonly given:

Tramadol (Ultram) - This works strictly for pain as it does not have any anti-inflammatory properties. It can be a good choice for some Chihuahuas for post-operative pain or with moderate chronic issues. It can be directly injected and is available in pill form to dispense at home. It can have less side effects than NSAIDS and corticosteroids (more ahead on these), but is not considered to be a narcotic.

There are several possible side effects, though rare and many of these may dissipate after the first dose. This includes stomach issues (upset stomach, constipation, loss of appetite), drowsiness and anxiety (though it is sometimes used off-label to treat anxiety). 
Gabapentin (Neurontin) - This has been shown to work best for neuropathic pain and chronic conditions. In many cases, a dog may be given this along with a canine NSAID, which allows the NSAID to be given at safe, low doses. It may cause slight incoordination and mild drowsiness. 

Alternatives
  • Methocarbamol (Robaxin)- This is actually a muscle relaxant, however it can help with pain that is associated with muscle strains or spasms such as those that may be seen with back problems like intervertebral disk disease. It may cause drowsiness and for some Chihuahuas there may be marked weakness, incoordination, drooling and/or vomiting.
  • Corticosteroids (Prednisone and Prednisolone)- These are very powerful anti-inflammatory medications that work to reduce swelling, which can in turn, decrease pain. These are used only short-term, since long-term use can cause weight gain, water retention, decreased immune system, increased blood sugar, liver changes and mood swingsWhen a dog is given this, it is often referred to as Corticosteroid therapy, as dosing will be adjusted throughout the 2 to 3 weeks that the medication is given. Often, a Chihuahua will be started on a high dose and then slowly weaned off.This can work very well for issues that are seen with the Chihuahua breed such as patella luxation, hip dysplasia, collapsed trachea and ear infections. 
  • Supplements - Some supplements can be a good choice for Chihuahuas that have chronic issues relating to the joints. In many cases, if the dog reacts well, pain medication can then be lowered or stopped altogether. Glucosamine and Chondroitin are very popular supplements to help with hip dysplasia, knee luxation and osteoarthritis. Dosing should be consistent, as it can take weeks to see improvement and often will need to be given indefinitely. 
A Final Word

While it is human instinct to want to offer relief to a dog that is in pain or ill with a fever, the only human product considered safe for Chihuahuas is Aspirin; and even so, it is important to make sure that dosing is exact since overdosing is a risk. Canine NSAIDs are considered to be safer; though only some are given to Chihuahuas due to their small size. 

If your Chihuahua has not be properly diagnosed or if symptoms of a known condition are not responding to treatment or are worsening, it is important to seek the advice of a reputable and experienced veterinarian. The signs that you see on the outside (limping, whining, etc.) or those that you are able to monitor at home (fever) are often just the tip of the iceberg and only a thorough diagnosis will be able to determine exactly what your Chihuahua is ailing from and what the proper treatment should be. 
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