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While it can be tempting to reach for over-the-counter medications like Tylenol when your dog is in pain, an accidental overdose isn’t a risk worth taking.

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Tylenol is the brand name for the drug acetaminophen, used in humans to reduce fevers and for pain relief. It can be tempting to reach for this common household medication when your dog is in pain, but dogs do not process medications the same way humans do. 

Can You Give Your Dog Tylenol for Pain?

Short answer: No.

Technically you can give acetaminophen at an appropriate dose provided by your veterinarian, and it will provide pain relief for your dog. But should you give your dog Tylenol for pain? No. The safest choice for your dog is to visit your veterinarian to get a pain medication that is intended for use in dogs that will be less likely to give your dog harmful side effects.

Potential Risks Involved With Giving Your Dog Tylenol

  • Liver damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Dry eye
  • Tissue damage due to poor oxygen delivery
  • Tylenol might interfere with other medications or prevent your dog from being immediately switched to a safer medication
  • Dogs with other health conditions may experience toxicity at lower doses than healthy dogs

What Do I Do If My Dog Accidentally Eats Tylenol?

Contact your veterinarian or a poison helpline such as the Pet Poison Helpline or ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. If you know the dose that your dog consumed, that will be helpful. If you do not know how much he got, immediate intervention should be made to make sure he doesn't experience severe side effects.

Have the pill bottle handy while speaking to a poison helpline or take it with you to your vet's office. Tylenol is often combined with other medications, which may also be toxic to dogs. 

Some specialty and emergency clinics may have a blood test that can be run to see how much acetaminophen is in your dog's system, but in most cases the first priority is to start treatment immediately to counteract negative effects.

There is no antidote for acetaminophen. Your veterinarian will administer medications to try to slow the absorption of the Tylenol into your dog's system as well as liver protectants and antioxidants. Your dog may also be started on intravenous fluids to help with hydration and as a means of giving other medications. Severe cases may require oxygen therapy and blood transfusions.

Your veterinarian will want to monitor your dog's liver values after the incident to catch any signs of liver damage early. This will require checkups with your vet for blood draws.

Sleepy beagle sleeps on tan pillow while laying on couch
Credit: Przemek Iciak / Shutterstock

Signs of Tylenol Overdose or Toxicity in Dogs

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Depression or lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Pale, blue, or muddy-colored gums
  • Abnormal breathing
  • Collapse
  • Coma
  • Dark urine

Even if your pet seems fine, seek veterinary attention immediately after consuming Tylenol. Treatment is more effective (and cheaper) if started early before your dog is in critical condition.

Preventing Tylenol Exposure

Keep all medications, including Tylenol, in a secure location out of your dog's reach. Medicine cabinets are a good place, especially if high up. When taking Tylenol yourself, always take the pill immediately after removing it from the bottle and close the bottle right away. Never leave medications on a counter where they can be stolen by a curious pet.

What to Give Your Dog for Pain Relief Instead of Tylenol

The safest and most effective pain medications for dogs are prescribed by your veterinarian. Even aspirin is easy to overdose in dogs. Never give ibuprofen, as it is highly toxic to dogs.

Safe pain medications for dogs include:

  • Carprofen (Rimadyl, Quellin)
  • Deracoxib (Deramaxx)
  • Etodolac 
  • Firocoxib (Previcox)
  • Gabapentin
  • Grapiprant (Galliprant)
  • Meloxicam (Metacam, Meloxidyl)

While waiting for your veterinary appointment for your dog's painful condition, there are some things you can do to keep him comfortable in lieu of administering pain medicine.

Icing the area is a great way to reduce inflammation and swelling and help with pain relief. Wrap an ice pack or bag of frozen vegetables in a thin cloth and hold it on the area for 15–20 minutes to achieve adequate cooling. If you aren't sure exactly which part of your dog's leg hurts, hosing the entire leg with cold water is a good option. Even five minutes of cold hosing can make your dog feel better.

Make sure your dog is resting and not aggravating the injury. Walk him on a leash if he needs to be outside, and limit him to his crate or a single room to prevent excess activity indoors.