Q: Can I give my cat Tylenol for pain?
A: Unfortunately, Tylenol is extremely toxic to cats and should never be given at even the smallest of doses. The active ingredient in Tylenol is called acetaminophen. Acetaminophen is an over the counter medication used as a fever reducer and pain reliever. Tylenol works in a similar fashion to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Its anti-inflammatory effects, however, are not as significant as aspirin and other NSAIDs.
Cats lack an enzyme in their body that metabolizes acetaminophen; therefore cats produce toxic metabolites leading to severe damage of the red blood cells, liver and kidneys. Dogs also do not metabolize this drug as well as people, so you should always be cautious and consult with your veterinarian prior to giving your dog Tylenol. The side effects of Tylenol toxicity in the cat range from vomiting and diarrhea to severe anemia and liver failure. The oxidative injury that results from toxic metabolites leads to red blood cells that are damaged and unable to carry oxygen to the tissues. This can lead to anemia, respiratory distress and weakness. A muddy brown color to the gums that is a reflection of poor oxygen carrying capacity of the red blood cells may be seen. As the drug is metabolized in the liver, it can cause severe damage and associated dysfunction. Liver failure can lead to jaundice, or a yellow tinge to the mucus membranes and skin. If the damage to the liver is severe enough, associated neurologic signs may be observed, such as seizures, coma or mental dullness. Cats will often have swelling of their face and paws with toxic doses of Tylenol.
If your cat is deliberately given Tylenol or gets into it at home by mistake, she should be seen by a veterinarian immediately. Prognosis is best with early detoxification, antioxidants and fluid therapy. Replacement of blood cells to increase the patient’s oxygen carrying capacity via a blood transfusion may be needed. Unfortunately, the prognosis can be quite poor if severe liver damage has already taken place.
If you feel your cat is in pain, there are several safe alternatives that can be given that are specifically formulated for cats and available from your veterinarian. Always consult your veterinarian for advice before medicating your pet. Unfortunately, many common medications used in people, such as Tylenol, can be harmful to our pets.