The trouble with NSAIDS

Patty Khuly, DVM
Published: July 28, 2009
The trouble with NSAIDS

No discussion of pain relief in pets would be complete without a discussion of the side effects of pain relievers. Because NSAIDs are by far the most commonly prescribed class of drugs for pain, it’s worth spending a whole post (or five!) on their untoward effects.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating anyone go without pain relievers based on the fear of side effects alone. NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) pain relievers are too crucial for too many of our pets’ comfort to discount their use just because of a possibility that a problem will ensue.

Pets are living much longer these days. And that’s not always the result of our fancy surgeries and better nutrition. In my experience, I can honestly say that pain relievers have made by far the most notable dent in my patients’ quality of life and longevity.

Years ago, we euthanized simply because pets could “no longer get up.” And we still do that. But the age at which that happens is delayed by years in many cases. I see more pets granted the “opportunity” of dying from less insidious diseases than arthritis, now that pain relievers have become commonplace additions to older pets’ protocols.

Nonetheless, these drugs come with cautions you should know about. It’s also true that pets whose veterinarians have not delved into the unsavory details of NSAIDs’ downside are more likely to succumb to these drugs’ side effects.

That’s because pet owners who are not prepared to predict and intervene based on explanations of what side effects look like are those whose pets usually DIE from them.

Any pet owner whose pet takes these drugs (Rimadyl, Previcox, Deramaxx, Metacam, Piroxicam, etc.) needs to know a few basic facts. Here they are:

  1. Know the side effects of NSAIDs. These primarily include vomiting, regurgitation, diarrhea, lethargy, inappetance, evidence of nausea and dark, tarry stools.  
  2. NSAIDs can damage the liver and/or kidneys. Pets (usually dogs) receiving regular, long-term doses of NSAIDs should have blood testing performed before the drug is initiated: one month afterwards and then every six months thereafter to ensure the liver is not experiencing severe effects from these medications. (Liver toxicity seems to happen to a certain subset of dogs, while kidney failure more often affects cats.)
  3. Beware drug interactions. It’s not unusual for pets taking these medications to wind up at an emergency hospital for some unrelated injury or illness. In these cases, owners MUST inform the new veterinarian of the drugs their pets are taking. That’s true for all drugs, but VERY important for NSAIDs since they cannot be combined with corticosteroids (like Prednisone), which are commonly used in emergency situations. 

Makes sense, right? These drugs may be a godsend, but they’re not without their risks. Know what side effects look like, have your pets monitored, and ignore drug interactions at your own peril. Ask your veterinarian for more information that may specifically apply to your pet’s case. 

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