Everybody experiences pain from time to time, including dogs. But as tempting as it may be, don’t reach into your medicine cabinet and give your dog one of your nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs).
Medications like ibuprofen (Advil and other brand names), naproxen (Aleve), and aspirin can cause serious side effects in dogs, including gastrointestinal ulceration, kidney damage, liver damage, and bleeding. Tylenol, which isn’t technically an NSAID but has many of the same effects, can damage a dog’s red blood cells and liver when used incorrectly.
Thankfully, we now have NSAIDs made specifically for dogs, which are much safer and more effective than those designed for human use. Let’s look at the reasons why.
What Are NSAIDs for Dogs?
Most NSAIDs work by blocking the production of prostaglandins, chemical messengers that play many roles in the body. Some prostaglandins initiate inflammation and pain responses, often due to tissue damage. These are the prostaglandins that we want to block when we give a dog an NSAID.
However, there are different prostaglandins doing important jobs that we don’t want to interfere with. These prostaglandins help produce mucus that protects the stomach’s lining, regulate the secretion of gastric acid, support normal blood clotting, and maintain blood flow through the kidneys.
People are less sensitive to the adverse effects of NSAIDs than are dogs. So nonselective over-the-counter NSAIDs that block both types of prostaglandins can be safe for people. But with dogs, these human NSAIDs would have to be used at such low doses to prevent side effects that they don’t do much to relieve pain and inflammation.
In contrast, most NSAIDs designed for dogs more selectively block production of the “pain and inflammation” prostaglandin, while still allowing the other type to do its important work. These are called COX-2-selective NSAIDs.
COX-2-selective NSAIDs for dogs, like Rimadyl, Deramaxx, Previcox, and Metacam, are much safer and more effective than over-the-counter NSAIDs meant for people. Galliprant, a new type of NSAID, goes a step further by leaving prostaglandin production unchanged, and instead blocks a specific prostaglandin receptor that is only associated with pain and inflammation.
Of course, all drugs have potential side effects. NSAIDs designed for dogs are quite safe but can damage the liver, kidneys, gastrointestinal tract, and the ability of blood to clot normally, particularly when given to high-risk dogs or used at the wrong dose.
These medications are available by prescription only to ensure that a veterinarian can determine if a dog is a good candidate for treatment with NSAIDs and to monitor their effect.
Safe NSAIDs for Dogs
Many NSAIDs for dogs are now available. Your pet may respond better to one particular NSAID, or if one product doesn’t seem to be working as well as expected, a veterinarian may recommend trying another.
Here are some of the most popular COX-2-selective NSAIDs for dogs:
Rimadyl, Deramaxx, Previcox, Metacam, and the other brand name and generic COX-2 selective NSAIDs for dogs are available by prescription only. Each of these can be used for short-term relief of pain and inflammation—after an injury or surgery, for example—or over longer periods for chronically painful conditions like osteoarthritis or cancer.
Possible side effects include gastrointestinal ulceration, liver damage, kidney damage, and problems with bleeding or blood clotting. Except in the case of some rare liver reactions, most serious side effects are seen with overdoses. Call your veterinarian or Animal Poison Control (1‐888‐426‐4435) immediately if your dog ingests more of these medications than they should.
Galliprant is available by prescription only. It is labeled for the long-term treatment of osteoarthritis, although its use in other chronically painful conditions is being studied. It appears to be less effective in treating acute pain, like that caused by injury or surgery.
Possible side effects are generally mild and include vomiting, diarrhea, and poor appetite. Galliprant is significantly more expensive than many other NSAIDs, but it may be a good option for dogs that have reacted poorly to NSAIDs in the past or cannot take them due to health problems.
Which Dogs Should Not Take NSAIDs?
Most healthy dogs tolerate COX-2-selective NSAIDs well, particularly if they are only going to be on them for a short period of time. However, dogs that are dehydrated or have underlying liver or kidney disease, gastrointestinal problems, blood clotting or bleeding disorders, or low blood pressure are at increased risk for side effects.
For this reason, most veterinarians recommend running a panel of bloodwork before a dog starts a long course of NSAIDs. Galliprant or other treatments to relieve pain and inflammation may be a better option in dogs with underlying health problems. Dogs that are continually on NSAIDs should be seen by a veterinarian every 6 to 12 months for lab work to monitor for adverse effects.
Can Dogs Take NSAIDs With Other Meds?
Dogs that are given NSAIDs with some other medications are at increased risk for side effects. Most importantly, dogs shouldn’t be given more than one type of NSAID at a time or be given an NSAID along with a corticosteroid like prednisone.
Many veterinarians even recommend a pause between administering these drugs. For example, if your dog has been on Rimadyl for a couple of weeks but it hasn’t been working very well, your veterinarian may recommend waiting 5 to 7 days before trying Deramaxx. If necessary, a pain reliever that isn’t an NSAID can be used during this time.
Possible drug interactions with NSAIDs include:
Taking more than one type of NSAID at a time
Corticosteroids (prednisone, for example)
Diuretics like furosemide (Lasix or Salix)
Some types of antibiotics (aminoglycosides and sulfonamides, for example)
Selective serotonin uptake inhibitors like fluoxetine (Prozac or Reconcile)
This is not a complete list of drugs that can potentially interact with NSAIDs. Your veterinarian can determine whether it is safe for your dog to take an NSAID.
Can My Dog Take Supplements While on NSAIDs?
Osteoarthritis is the most common reason to give dogs NSAIDs long-term. The best way to manage the condition is through multimodal therapy—several types of treatment at the same time.
Veterinarians often incorporate nutritional supplements like omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), avocado soybean unsaponifiables (ASU), manganese, and methionine into treatment plans for arthritis. Thankfully, all of these are safe to use in combination with NSAIDs for dogs.
Possible Side Effects of NSAIDs to Watch For
Most dogs will take an NSAID at some point in their lives, and while NSAIDs for dogs are quite safe, pet parents still need to monitor for adverse reactions.
Seek immediate veterinary care if your dog has:
Increased thirst and urination
A yellow tinge to the whites of the eyes
Severe vomiting or diarrhea
Stop giving your dog their NSAID and call your veterinarian if your dog develops:
In most cases, dogs quickly return to normal with symptomatic care.
Dogs should not take more medication than is necessary. Once a dog’s pain is well-controlled, it’s often possible to lower the dose of an NSAID or give it less frequently, particularly when NSAIDs are combined with other appropriate therapies. Your veterinarian can put together a plan for treatment and monitoring that is best suited to your dog’s needs.
Featured Image: iStock.com/Hugo Alejandro Salazar S
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