For older dogs starting new exercise regimens, I’ll often prescribe NSAIDs. This class of pain relief is the one most athletes swear by before a big event. Vitamin I, they call it (as in ibuprofen).

Not that you’re about to offer ibuprofen to your dog or cat (that’s a deadly trick you’d do well not to pull), but meloxicam, carprofen and other NSAID pain relievers are pet approved and often implemented to prevent inflammation in advance of heavy exercise.

Given that human athletes have found this method to work for pain prevention, it seems like a reasonable idea to let pets in on the act, too. After all, there’s very little difference between how these drugs work in humans and animals.

But no longer will I engage in this practice. I’ve had cause to rethink my approach to pre-exercise pain relief after reading about a study published over on the New York Times website. Here’s an excerpt of the study’s findings for your consideration:

“After looking at racers’ blood work, [physiologist David Nieman] determined that some of the ultramarathoners were supplying their own physiological stress, in tablet form. Those runners who’d popped over-the-counter ibuprofen pills before and during the race displayed significantly more inflammation and other markers of high immune system response afterward than the runners who hadn’t taken anti-inflammatories. The ibuprofen users also showed signs of mild kidney impairment and, both before and after the race, of low-level endotoxemia, a condition in which bacteria leak from the colon into the bloodstream.”

While pain prevention is a mainstay of many pain relieving techniques (preventing the so-called “wind-up” mechanism involved in the neurologic pain pathways is a crucial step before surgery, for example), NSAIDs don’t seem to work as well that way––not for heavy exercise anyway, as this study illustrates.

Conclusion? For now, all your athletes, oldie-goldies and heavy exercisers would do well to take this info to heart. Save the pain relief for post-exercise only...and only if the discomfort or stiffness that results warrants its use. 

Dr. Patty Khuly