Your puppy is teething, and you'd do anything to mute that pitiful whimpering and make them feel better. You're softening their dry food with warm water so it's not so uncomfortable to chew. You've tried chilling a plastic toy to help numb the pain, but it's not helping much. Is it time to reach for that tube of Orajel you used when you had a toothache?
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Benzocaine for pain relief in dogs
The topical anesthetic benzocaine helps block nerve signals to alleviate pain. In dogs, it is sometimes used to treat gum inflammation, earaches, skin conditions, and pain caused by trauma to various parts of the body. The drug is formulated in a cream or ointment form.
Orajel for dogs
If your dog is in pain, don't reach for that tube of human-grade Orajel or another over-the-counter mouth pain reliever containing benzocaine. Anbesol is not safe for dogs either.
Rather, get a prescription from your veterinarian for a dosage that is appropriate for canines. The prescription should be filled by a compounding pharmacy that has experience in formulating topical medications for veterinary use.
Benzocaine isn't just used for dog tooth pain relief. Antipyrine and benzocaine for dogs is another formulation of the drug that is used to treat ear pain. But when it's prescribed for your pup, it should be made explicitly for canines rather than humans.
Drug sensitivity and allergies for dogs
Is benzocaine safe for dogs? Generally, benzocaine is safe when used as directed, but some dogs may be more sensitive to it than others. The most common side effect of Orajel and similar oral pain relievers is skin irritation in the area in which the cream is spread. Dogs who are highly sensitive to the drug could develop a more widespread, serious rash. Wheezing and vomiting may indicate a more serious allergic reaction; the area where benzocaine was applied should be cleaned, and your veterinarian should be contacted.
A severe benzocaine side effect for dogs
When dogs are treated with human-grade benzocaine, it increases their risk of developing a serious blood disease called methemoglobinemia, a kind of anemia. This rare condition dramatically reduces the amount of oxygen carried through the blood. This is life-threatening and could result in death. Dogs with methemoglobinemia may require hospitalized care that includes oxygen supplementation and a blood transfusion.
One sign of the condition is that blood turns a brownish color, indicating that far too little oxygen is circulating. You can't see your dog's blood, but you can check the gums. It's possible they may be brown or blue instead of the usual pink color. Weakness, rapid breathing, and vomiting are also signs of methemoglobinemia. In addition to being exposed to toxic amounts of benzocaine, dogs can develop the condition if they ingest too much acetaminophen, which is the active ingredient in Tylenol.
Methemoglobinemia is not just a concern for dogs. In 2018, the U.S Food and Drug Administration warned that oral drug products containing benzocaine should not be used to treat infants and children younger than 2 years of age because of the risk of methemoglobinemia.
How much benzocaine is dangerous for dogs
Because benzocaine is meant to be used topically, it can be toxic if a dog eats a product containing the drug. Generally, when applied to the skin or gums, a small amount of the drug is absorbed. By ingesting a tube of it, your dog may be exposed to a dangerous amount. Store it in an area inaccessible to your dog, such as a high cupboard or medicine cabinet.
It is also important to keep your dog from licking areas where benzocaine was applied as much as possible. An Elizabethan collar can help keep them from accessing the area treated with benzocaine.
Alternative ways to ease a dog's pain
Many pain relievers in your medicine cabinet are not safe for dogs, particularly in strengths appropriate for humans. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like aspirin and ibuprofen, can be toxic to dogs depending on the dose. Instead, several NSAIDs have been developed specifically for dogs. These include carprofen, deracoxib, firocoxib, and robenacoxib. Though it was originally developed for humans, meloxicam can also be safe for dogs.