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Can You Give a Cat Tylenol?

Over-the-counter medications formulated for humans can sometimes be given to cats and other animals to treat mild, moderate, or severe pain. Tylenol is a commonly used OTC pain medication, but can you give a cat Tylenol? Read on to find out. 

What type of drug is Tylenol?

Tylenol is a brand name for acetaminophen, which is an analgesic or a drug that treats mild to moderate pain, such headaches, toothaches, menstrual cramps, backaches, flu aches and pains, and osteoarthritis pain, and also reduces fever. 

Studies have shown that Tylenol and other acetaminophen products should not be given to cats as they cause toxicity in these animals. 

Many cat owners give their pets OTC pain medication without consulting their vet first. Tylenol is often a medicine cabinet staple in most homes, but it is one of the many human drugs that are not safe for use in cats. Even a single dose can be fatal. 

For felines, the toxic dosage of Tylenol is 50-100 mg per kilogram of weight, or one 325 mg tablet (a regular strength dose) for an average-sized cat. An extra-strength dose, or 500 mg, has a high probability of causing toxicosis. 

As in humans, a cat’s liver metabolizes drugs so they can be properly absorbed. A cat’s liver, however, is not genetically suitable to break down acetaminophen; this genetic deficiency leads to acetaminophen toxicity when a feline is given Tylenol. 

What are the symptoms of acetaminophen/Tylenol toxicity?

Symptoms of toxicity appear within 1-4 hours of ingestion of the drug, and may include:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Nausea and drooling
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bluish gums or mucus membranes in the eyes — a sign of cyanosis, or oxygen deprivation
  • Progressive depression
  • Fluid buildup in the face, forelimbs, and paws
  • Dark or blood urine
  • Jaundice

If left untreated, acetaminophen toxicity can lead to death within 18-36 hours of ingestion. 

Emergency treatment for Tylenol/acetaminophen toxicity

Aggressive treatment and inpatient care may be required depending on how soon your cat is diagnosed with toxicity after being given Tylenol. 

Your vet may perform any of the following emergency treatments:

  • Induced vomiting
  • Flushing of the stomach
  • Treatment with activated charcoal
  • Intravenous fluids
  • Blood transfusion, in case of anemia or presence of blood or hemoglobin in the urine
  • Vitamin C, to reduce levels methemoglobin in the blood, which disrupts oxygen transport
  • N-acetylcysteine, which is considered an antidote for acetaminophen toxicity

Some cats that recover from acetaminophen toxicity may still suffer from long-term liver dysfunction as a result of liver damage and scarring. 

The sooner a cat is given treatment, the better the chances of preventing liver damage and of complete recovery. 

What pain medications are safe for cats?

For mild to moderate pain, some non-steroidal antiinflammatory drugs may be prescribed by your vet. But take note that NSAIDs must be used with great care and with the guidance of a vet as these drugs have been associated with liver, kidney, and digestive issues. And you should never give your feline friend an over-the-counter NSAID as some products can cause toxicity.

For short-term management of acute pain in cats, the FDA has approved two NSAIDs: robenacoxib and meloxicam. Discuss your cat’s options with your vet before giving her any drugs for pain. 

Opioids, such as morphine, codeine, hydromorphone, and fentanyl may be administered to cats with severe, chronic pain, such as pain from surgery, severe arthritis, or advanced stages of cancer. 

Corticosteroids, such as cortisone, prednisone, and dexamethasone are effective against inflammation, such as from allergies or arthritis. But these should also be used with caution and only for a short term, if recommended by a vet, as long-term use has been associated with adverse side effects. 

You may also ask your vet about alternative options for pain management, particularly if your cat suffers from acute or chronic pain. An alternative remedy that has shown great potential in helping reduce pain in animals is CBD oil. If your vet does give the go ahead to give your cat CBD oil, make sure you buy a product that is formulated for animals and is derived from hemp. Do not administer CBD oil manufactured for human use to your cat as these products have a more potent formulation. 

Can you give your cat Tylenol? Final Thoughts

Never give your cat Tylenol or any other brand of acetaminophen — it is not safe for use in cats. Fortunately, you have other options to help ease your feline friend’s pain and improve her quality of life. Always consult your vet before giving your cat any medication.