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No, Tylenol (acetaminophen) is not safe for cats under any circumstances. In fact, it's fatal to cats, and should never be considered as a type of pain relief for cats. Cats are unable to metabolize acetaminophen due to a genetic issue, and require prescription pain relievers for effective pain relief.1
It's normal to want to give your cat relief from their pain, but Tylenol is not a viable solution. If your cat is showing signs of pain, call the vet for help. The vet can help you determine if the issue is an emergency, and if your cat needs to be seen for a diagnosis and the administration of safe and effective pain relief.
There is no safe Tylenol for cats dosage, but if you find that your cat has been given Tylenol or has accidentally ingested some, you need to take action as quickly as possible. The signs of Tylenol poisoning in cats are the same as if they've been poisoned by another toxic substance, and time is of the essence to get your cat treatment. Your cat's body is going to do everything in its power to expel the Tylenol, but it's also going to shut down and may pass away from the poisoning.
The following is a look at why you should never give your cat Tylenol for pain relief.
- Tylenol (Acetaminophen) Toxicity in Cats
- Signs of Tylenol Poisoning in Cats
- Toxic Dosage
- Alternatives to Tylenol For Cats
- Final Notes
Tylenol (Acetaminophen) Toxicity in Cats
Tylenol, also known as acetaminophen or paracetamol, is an over-the-counter pain reliever. It's used by people to deliver relief from a variety of painful conditions, but it should never be administered to cats due to the fact it's toxic to felines.2
It's normal to ask the question of "can cats have acetaminophen?", especially when they're aging and displaying signs of osteoarthritis. Cats are often very stoic when it comes to pain, so it's normal to want to give them relief when you notice their discomfort, but cats are unable to metabolize acetaminophen due to a genetic defect all cats possess.
Cats lack the enzymes that help their liver break down acetaminophen. That means they can't benefit from the administration of Tylenol for pain, and their bodies are incapable of metabolizing the drug altogether. This makes acetaminophen toxic to cats as they are unable to clear it from their bodies through natural processes.
Signs of Tylenol Poisoning in Cats
Cats show distinct signs of distress when they've ingested Tylenol. If your cat gets a hold of Tylenol, you may see signs of weakness, lethargy, rapid and shallow breathing, and vomiting.
Blue skin or pale gums is a sign of cyanosis, which means the red blood cells are unable to transmit oxygen throughout the body. It's a sign that your cat is slowly suffocating. In the event your cat has ingested Tylenol and is showing any of these signs, don't wait to call the vet for help.3
- Rapid breathing
- Difficulty breathing
- Blue skin or pale gums
- Methemoglobinemia (dark brown coloration of the skin or gums)
- Facial and/or paw swelling
Under no circumstances can cats have acetaminophen at any dose. The higher the dose, the worse the resulting liver and red blood cell damage. However, you should be aware of the toxic Tylenol for cats dosage in case your cat manages to ingest something that contains acetaminophen.
A toxic dose of acetaminophen starts as low as 50-100 mg/kg. Compare this against the 325 mg dose of regular strength Tylenol and you can see how easy it is for a cat to become poisoned with a dose of acetaminophen. An extra strength dose of 500 mg can cause toxicosis.1
A cat is more likely to survive a lower dose of acetaminophen with prompt attention, but the odds of survival go down with higher doses.
A veterinarian can provide a diagnosis based on your information, a visual and physical exam, and a blood test to determine the cause of the toxicity. A blood test is the most definitive method of confirming a case of Tylenol toxicity, but the vet may start treatment immediately to counteract the effects of acetaminophen.3
Time is of the essence to save your cat after they’ve consumed Tylenol. The sooner you get treatment for your cat, the better the odds are of a good outcome. There's a window of about four to six hours after the moment of ingestion for the best possible results, but you should still get your cat to the vet when you realize something's wrong.
The first step after your cat has ingested Tylenol is to call the emergency vet/emergency pet poison hotline at (888) 426-4435. The hotline puts you in immediate contact with a veterinary professional who can evaluate your cat's symptoms over the phone and inform you of the steps you need to take. After you administer emergency treatment per the hotline, it's time to go to the vet for further intervention.
It's vital that your cat receives hands-on treatment from a veterinarian to save its life. The goal of treatment is to get the cat to expel any undigested Tylenol and start the process of detoxifying its blood stream. This involves inducing vomiting. Intravenous fluids may also be used to combat dehydration that's the result of vomiting and help flush out the Tylenol.
After the veterinarian has completed the initial procedures to clear the acetaminophen from your cat's digestive system, they'll follow up with treatment that's appropriate for your cat's presentation. That is, they'll give further treatment that addresses the symptoms and then start treatments to help your cat recover.
Your cat may need to stay at the vet's office for a day or two for monitoring and further intervention if needed. The first 24 hours after acetaminophen poisoning are crucial to your cat's survival, and the vet's office is the best place for monitoring.
Alternatives to Tylenol For Cats
Cats are sensitive to pain relievers in general, and it's inadvisable to provide them with any type of over-the-counter pain reliever. Pain relievers for cats are available through veterinarians only, and a prescription is required to get an appropriate NSAID for your cat. Your vet can prescribe the following products for your cat and help them find relief from their pain.4
Meloxicam is an NSAID that's cat-safe and is used to provide pain relief for arthritis, reduce fevers and inflammation. It's also used to treat post-surgical pain. Meloxicam should be used with caution in cats, as it can cause kidney disease if used improperly. If your vet feels that meloxicam is appropriate for your cat's pain issues, they'll write you a prescription.
Onsior is used to treat postoperative pain in cats. It's easy to administer and a single dose gives your cat pain relief for 24 hours. The pain reliever is used for a maximum of three days after spaying/neutering, orthopedic surgery, or any other type of surgery.
Opioids are reserved for cats who are undergoing severe pain. The types of opioid medications include codeine, fentanyl, morphine, hydromorphone, and buprenorphine. It's primarily used for post-operative pain and for cats who are suffering from chronic pain.
How much Tylenol can you give a cat?
There is no safe Tylenol for cats dosage, and even one tablet of regular strength Tylenol can be fatal. Don't attempt to give your cat Tylenol under any circumstances. You can effectively manage their pain with other therapies until the appointment with the vet.
How do you help a cat in pain?
The best way to help a cat in pain is to call the vet for advice and an emergency appointment if necessary. Track their symptoms in a log so you can relay them to your vet's office. In the meantime, you can set up a heating pad, turn it to a low temp and encourage your cat to lie on it. The heat will reduce inflammation and help provide pain relief as well as make it easy for you to keep an eye on them.
What OTC meds are safe for cats?
It's never a good idea to administer OTC meds to cats without talking to a vet first. Medications that work for people don't always work for cats, and can lead to an emergency vet visit if administered to a cat.
Cats are not capable of metabolizing Tylenol and many other types of over-the-counter NSAIDs. However, accidents happen and cats ingest things they shouldn't. If you suspect your cat is suffering from Tylenol toxicity, you should call the pet poison hotline and your vet's office for help as soon as possible.In the meantime, if your cat is showing signs of pain from a chronic condition, log onto Dutch for a virtual vet visit. Our veterinarians work with you to determine a diagnosis and prescribe the right medication to address the symptoms and provide comfort. We can also deliver veterinary medications from our online pet pharmacy right to your door and get your pet started on a prescription plan.
Get the Facts About Pain Relievers for Pets, 29 September, 2022, Food and Drug Administration, https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/animal-health-literacy/get-facts-about-pain-relievers-pets
Darko Mladenovic, ECFVG, edited by Stephen Hooser, Spring 1998, Tylenol (acetaminophen) Toxicosis in Cats, https://www.addl.purdue.edu/newsletters/1998/spring/acet.shtml
Vera Stenbergen, CVT, Acetaminophen and Cats: A Dangerous Combination, January 2003, https://www.aspcapro.org/sites/default/files/a-vettech_0103.pdf
Safdar A. Khan, DVM, MS, PhD, DABVT, Analgesics (Toxicity), Aug 2014, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/toxicology/toxicities-from-human-drugs/analgesics-toxicity