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Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) aim to reduce pain and inflammation in dogs struggling with chronic conditions and acute injuries. When prescribed by a veterinarian, these drugs can help a dog live comfortably and continue their regular activities.

As with all drugs, there are side effects, some of which can be life-threatening. It’s important to talk to your veterinarian and learn about NSAIDs and whether they’re right for your dog.

What Are NSAIDs for Dogs?

Dr. Jerry Klein, the American Kennel Club’s Chief Veterinarian, explains that NSAIDs are prescribed in many situations, such as when a dog suffers an injury, undergoes surgery, or deals with a chronic condition. NSAIDs work by blocking an enzyme called cyclooxygenase (COX). It also targets the production of prostaglandins, which are hormonal-like compounds that, among other things, can cause blood vessels to constrict or dilate.

While COX and prostaglandins have many positive functions, from protecting the stomach’s lining to maintaining circulation, they can cause discomfort in response to certain conditions.

“Many NSAIDs work by blocking some or all COX, so fewer prostaglandins are produced,” Dr. Klein says. “There are several NSAIDs that are FDA-approved for dogs to control pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis, as well as pain and inflammation after soft-tissue or orthopedic surgery.”

When deciding whether to prescribe NSAIDs, your dog’s veterinarian will consider many factors, such as whether your dog is currently experiencing kidney or liver changes. Your vet will likely review any previous allergies your dog has had, medications they have recently, and pertinent health history. They may also consider your pet’s age, as some senior dogs are more prone to serious side effects than younger dogs. If prescribing NSAIDs isn’t right for your pet, your veterinarian may consider other alternatives.

Bigandt_Photography/Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

Examples of NSAIDs for Dogs

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) notes that there are many NSAIDs currently marketed for use in dogs. They include:

Aspirin/Acetylsalicylic Acid

Veterinarians occasionally prescribe aspirin for dogs with certain joint conditions. In addition to treating mild to moderate pain, it can also prevent blood clots. Be sure to review the dosage instructions before administration, as aspirin overdoses can cause life-threatening side effects.

Rimadyl (Carprofen)

Rimadyl is the brand name for the generic equivalent, carprofen. Because this drug poses fewer side effects than other NSAIDs, it’s commonly used for dogs with long-term conditions. Your dog can take Rimadyl orally as a chewable tablet or caplet, or your veterinarian can administer an injection. It’s typically administered every 12 hours in dogs.

Merck Veterinary Manual explains that while uncommon, some dogs can develop hepatopathies, which refer to a group of liver diseases. One-third of dogs that develop these conditions are Labrador Retrievers. Your veterinarian may take your dog’s breed into consideration when creating their treatment plan.

When prescribed as a chewable, many dogs enjoy the taste of Rimadyl and may try to get into its pill bottle. As a result, Rimadyl is one of the most common drug overdoses seen at emergency veterinary hospitals. Since overdoses of Rimadyl, or any NSAID, can lead to serious consequences, dog owners should ensure to put all pill containers in a secure location that their dog cannot access.

Galliprant (Grapiprant)

Grapiprant, sold under the brand name Galliprant, is a relatively new NSAID that comes in tablet form. In high doses, it can cause gastrointestinal distress, so be sure to talk to your veterinarian about administering the drug appropriately. Galliprant is typically administered once daily in dogs.

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Metacam (Meloxicam)

Meloxicam (brand name “Metacam“) aims to reduce inflammation and discomfort in dogs. It comes in many varieties as an injection, a gel, a liquid, or a pill. It can be used to address musculoskeletal conditions or as a post-operative measure. Metacam is usually administered once every 24 hours in dogs.

Previcox (Firocoxib)

Previcox (firocoxib), like many NSAIDs, treats musculoskeletal conditions and pain following orthopedic surgery. It’s available in a chewable tablet, and it may cause fewer gastrointestinal problems than other pain medications.

Deramaxx (Deracoxib)

Deracoxib (sold under the brand name “Deramaxx“) helps with post-operative pain and soft-tissue inflammation. It’s available in a beef-flavored chewable tablet.

Potential Side Effects of NSAIDs in Dogs

Beagle dog is sick From infection
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Dr. Klein explains that the most reported side effects of veterinary NSAID use include:

Other serious side effects could include gastric ulcers, kidney failure, and intestinal perforations, all of which can lead to death. There’s good news, however. By being on the lookout for certain signs, you can ensure your dog gets the veterinary attention they need.

“If a dog on NSAID starts to exhibit any of those signs, one should immediately stop the medication and contact a veterinarian as soon as possible to discuss the signs, the medications, and your dog,” Dr. Klein explains. “One should not start to give these medications again until after [being] given the go-ahead by your veterinarian for your dog.”

After giving your dog a new medication, write down any changes in their physical activity, appetite, and bowel movements. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, contact your veterinarian and report your observations. They may recommend continuing NSAID use or prescribe another drug.

Alternatives to NSAIDs in Dogs

While NSAIDs are commonly prescribed for dogs with certain conditions, you may have reservations about the risks and side effects these medications pose. Fortunately, there are many treatment alternatives that can reduce your dog’s pain and promote their quality of life.

Adequan® Canine and Librela are among the medications now available to dogs that aren’t NSAIDs. Adequan® Canine is a monthly injectable medication that can help control symptoms of arthritis and joint problems in dogs. It shouldn’t be used in dogs with kidney or liver impairment. Librela is also given as a monthly injection and is the first monoclonal antibody approved by the FDA for use in dogs. It’s used to help treat pain in dogs with osteoarthritis.

Yellow Labrador Retriever getting a shot at the vet.
Cris Kelly via Getty Images

Dr. Klein shares that, depending on your dog’s condition, your veterinarian may recommend:

  • Physical therapy: Targeted exercise promotes circulation, builds muscle, and encourages the body to heal itself. Hydrotherapy for dogs is a common form of physical therapy. This may comprise using an underwater treadmill, swimming, or enjoying a warm whirlpool bath.
  • Acupuncture: Acupuncture for dogs has existed for thousands of years. The practice involves inserting needles into “acupoints” where the nerves and blood vessels are close together. Acupuncture is a complementary therapy used with other treatment measures.
  • Environmental modifications: Some musculoskeletal conditions in dogs stem from their lifestyle, diet, and physical activity. Rather than prescribe NSAIDs, your veterinarian may recommend a low-fat diet (to help your dog lose weight), assistive walking devices (such as supportive braces), or an orthopedic bed.

Dr. Klein notes that some medication alternatives include glucocorticoids, chondroprotective drugs, and chondroitin sulfate/glucosamine.

Talk to Your Vet Before Giving Your Dog NSAIDs

While many NSAIDs are readily available at drug stores, they’re also behind many of the 100,000 cases of pet poisoning in the U.S. each year. The dosages for human-intended and dog-intended NSAIDs are very different. Just a few milligrams could cause an overdose, leading to life-threatening symptoms and even death.

“Dogs (and cats) are not small people,” Dr. Klein emphasizes. “Dog owners should never give their dog their own over-the-counter medications or any non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications that have not been prescribed for their particular dog by their veterinarian.”

This article is intended solely as general guidance, and does not constitute health or other professional advice. Individual situations and applicable laws vary by jurisdiction, and you are encouraged to obtain appropriate advice from qualified professionals in the applicable jurisdictions. We make no representations or warranties concerning any course of action taken by any person following or otherwise using the information offered or provided in this article, including any such information associated with and provided in connection with third-party products, and we will not be liable for any direct, indirect, consequential, special, exemplary or other damages that may result, including but not limited to economic loss, injury, illness or death.
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