Medically Reviewed by Taylor Froiland, PharmD, RPh
Written by Adam McCown, PharmD
Aspirin is one of the most common over the counter painkillers available in stores today. More likely than not, you have a bottle of it in your bathroom medicine cabinet right now. It is in a class of drugs called NSAIDs or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and, similar to other NSAIDs like ibuprofen, it is typically used to treat pain, relieve inflammation and swelling, reduce fever, and to deal with clotting disorders in humans.
But what about our cats?
Aspirin for Cats
As we’ve written many times before, if you’re a cat owner then you understand that your furry friend is a member of the family. To the majority of animal owners, cats are more than just a pet; they are family. If we notice them in pain, limping, wincing, sleeping more often than usual, not loving the things they normally love, or, generally, not acting like themselves, we are concerned and want to help make them feel better.
The question is, how should we help their pain and discomfort? It is true that dogs and cats are very similar to ourselves in a multitude of different ways. We all share similar organs, analogous structures, and often suffer from the same types of diseases and illnesses. These similarities may cause you to go running for your medicine cabinet when you notice your feline friend is not behaving like themselves. However, in many situations, this can often do more harm than good.
Although similar, it is important to remember that there are biological and health differences between us and our pets. This fact means that drugs like aspirin for cats can possibly have serious consequences that may not be seen when humans consume them. For example, acetaminophen, a non-NSAID medication that is found in products like Tylenol, can potentially be fatal for our felines because their bodies cannot break it down properly.
Effects of Aspirin on Cats
In general, cats are not able to metabolize aspirin as well as humans or dogs can. In fact, felines typically require about 19 times as long to remove the drug from their body compared to their human owners. This extra length of time is a problem because the longer the drug remains in your animal’s body, the greater its effects, including the negative ones.
Aspirin treats inflammation and pain by blocking certain enzymes or chemical processes that are released in specific situations (like injury, sickness, or allergic reactions). These enzymes are the cause of inflammation, and so blocking their release will reduce or eliminate it. However, in addition to blocking the processes that lead to inflammation, swelling, and pain, aspirin also blocks enzymes used to control gastrointestinal function, kidney function, and blood clotting.
If these normal and necessary functions are blocked for too long, it can lead to serious and potentially life threatening consequences for your pet. Side effects of aspirin for cats may include the following:
- Decreased appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Gastric ulcers
- Kidney or liver problems
- Bleeding disorders
Aspirin Poisoning in Cats
If you notice any of the symptoms above, then you should bring your feline to an animal emergency hospital as soon as possible. Depending on the dosage that was consumed, any or all of these signs may indicate that they are suffering from aspirin poisoning.
At high doses of 50 mg/kg every twelve hours or more, your cat may experience bloody stools and holes (ulcers) in their stomach that leak into their abdomen. These conditions can then, in turn, lead to pale mucous membranes, weak pulses, dehydration, and anemia (low number of red blood cells). In cats, 100 mg/kg/day has been associated with death within a week.
When you bring your cat to the emergency center, they will need to know how much and how often your cat has been consuming aspirin. Depending on how quickly you get them there, the veterinarian or other professional may choose to induce vomiting. If your cat is seen later—within about two hours—then they will probably opt to administer activated charcoal to help reduce the drug’s toxicity. In cases where the aspirin was consumed more than two hours prior, treating the clinical signs and symptoms becomes the primary focus.
Once the drug is cleared from your cat’s system your vet will most likely conduct blood work to evaluate their kidneys, liver, blood counts, and electrolytes. X-rays may also be used to identify lung disorders that often result from aspirin poisoning.
What to Do If My Cat Is in Pain?
The first thing you should do when you notice your cat is suffering from pain or inflammation is contact your vet. They will conduct a thorough physical exam and run any other tests necessary to determine the root cause of the discomfort and whether any treatment is necessary beyond just pain relief. Now, it is possible that they will prescribe aspirin or another type of NSAID to help your animal.
In these cases, it is important to follow your vet’s instructions carefully. Do not exceed their recommended dosage and never assume you know the right amount better than your veterinarian. If you give your pet too much or too little, it may harm them. Additionally, NSAIDs should not be given to cats for more than three consecutive days.
If your vet does prescribe your cat aspirin or other type of pain relieving drug, remember that you can fulfill all their medication needs conveniently online at ExpressVet Pharmacy.