NSAIDs for Dogs: Understanding the Side Effects

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Your 9-year-old Lab just came home from the park and you notice he is favoring one of his back legs more than the other. He is obviously in pain and you think he might have joint pain or arthritis.

The first thing you do is make an appointment with the veterinarian.

In the meantime, you check the medicine cabinet to see if you have anything that might provide some pain relief. There are bottles of pain relievers that you and your family use, like aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and naproxen. There are also a few pills of veterinary painkillers left over from when your other dog had post-surgical pain. But before you give your dog anything from the pill bottles in your medicine cabinet, STOP and give your veterinarian a call. Painkillers for people — or even other dogs — can  have adverse reactions and make your dog very sick.

The next day at your appointment, an examination proves you were right. Your dog has canine osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease that is common in aging dogs. Your veterinarian prescribes a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory for dogs, recommends a natural joint supplement, and encourages you to keep him at a healthy weight. But he also cautions you about the possible side effects of painkillers for dogs, including NSAIDs.  

Can I Give Human Medications to my Dog for Pain?

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Your dog is part of your family. He thinks he’s a person, and when he’s in chronic pain, it is tempting to give your dog the same painkillers you take. Tragically, many well-meaning dog owners accidentally poison their dogs by giving them human pain-relievers like Tylenol or Ibuprofen.

Just one of these common over-the-counter painkillers for people can poison a large adult dog or kill a small dog. Therefore, you should never give human medications to a dog unless you are specifically instructed to do so by a veterinarian — and don’t assume a painkiller that worked in one dog will be safe to give to another dog.

Not All NSAIDs Are Alike

Dogs are far more sensitive to the side effects of NSAIDs than people. Unlike Aleve and others, NSAID painkillers for dogs are more selective in how they block inflammation, so they have a far lower risk of causing stomach ulcers, bleeding, and kidney problems in dogs. Human NSAIDs, however, can be very dangerous.

Can I give my dog Aleve or Advil?

Although there are many over-the-counter NSAIDs for people, you should never give your dog a human medicine like Aleve or Advil. These painkillers are extremely toxic for dogs and cause adverse effects. Just one pill is likely to cause stomach ulcers, internal bleeding, kidney problems, and death.

Can I give my dog ibuprofen?

Veterinarians typically do not recommend ibuprofen for pain relief in dogs because it is simply too toxic to their stomach and kidneys. There are also much better NSAID painkillers that work just as well as ibuprofen but with a much lower risk of side effects for your dog.

The most common signs of ibuprofen poisoning include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, stomach ulcers, internal bleeding, black or tarry feces, weakness, abdominal pain, canine seizures, coma, and death.

Can I give my dog Tylenol?

Tylenol (acetaminophen) is slightly different from aspirin and ibuprofen. It is not an NSAID painkiller, so it does not reduce inflammation. But just like ibuprofen, Tylenol is very dangerous for dogs — especially to their liver. Even low doses of Tylenol can cause liver damage in your dog, although symptoms may not appear initially

Can I give my dog oxycodone for pain?

Low doses of oral opiate painkillers like oxycodone can effectively treat severe pain in dogs, although veterinarians do not usually prescribe it for dogs. Instead, veterinarians use opiates like morphine in the hospital, during and after surgery or other medical procedures, and then prescribe an NSAID painkiller when the dog goes home.

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Can I give my dog aspirin?

Aspirin is easily available over-the-counter and you probably already have it at home in your medicine cabinet, but the risk of side effects usually outweighs the convenience. Your veterinarian will likely prescribe a dog-specific painkiller rather than risk an aspirin overdose.

Aspirin is another NSAID painkiller, like ibuprofen. Overdoses can easily cause stomach bleeding, kidney failure, or death. If your dog ingested aspirin and vomits a dark substance that looks like coffee grounds, or has stools that are tarry or black, it could be a sign of life-threatening internal bleeding or a stomach ulcer that needs medical attention.

Furthermore, aspirin should not be used to treat dogs with arthritis. The problem is that aspirin contains acetylsalicylic acid that destroys joint cartilage when it is given to dogs for long periods of time. Aspirin can also cause bleeding disorders due to its blood-thinning effects.

Dog-Specific NSAIDs

Veterinarians usually prescribe Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) to control pain and inflammation in dogs, especially in dogs with arthritis. NSAIDs can also be used for mild post-surgical pain.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the following veterinary NSAID painkillers for use in dogs:

  • RIMADYL (carprofen)
  • METACAM (meloxicam)
  • DERAMAXX (deracoxib)
  • PREVICOX (firocoxib)
  • NOVOCOX (carprofen)
  • VETPROFEN (carprofen)
  • CARPRIEVE (carprofen)
  • QUELLIN (carprofen)
  • OROCAM (meloxicam)
  • LOXICOM (meloxicam)
  • MELOXIDYL (meloxicam)
  • ONSIOR (robenacoxib) for a maximum of 3 day use
  • GALLIPRANT (grapiprant)

Like for humans, NSAIDs have beneficial traits in treating pain in dogs. However, because the dog’s body works differently from the human body, you should only give your dog NSAIDs that are specifically developed to treat dogs. This will help avoid the potentially deadly side effects for dogs if they take NSAIDs designed for humans.

However, dog-specific NSAIDs can have negative side effects as well – especially if it is used incorrectly, or if the dog has other health conditions in conjunction with pain. The most common side effects of NSAIDs for dogs are vomiting, loss of appetite, depression, and diarrhea. Severe side effects include stomach or intestinal ulcers, liver failure, kidney failure, and even death. The reason for these side effects is because of how NSAIDs work.

How do NSAIDs Work?

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NSAIDs relieve pain chemically. They block the effects of special enzymes – Cox-1 and Cox-2 enzymes. These enzymes play a key role in making prostaglandins, which are a group of lipids created where tissue damage or infection occurs. They control inflammation, blood flow, and the formation of blood clots. By blocking the Cox enzymes, NSAIDs prevent your dog’s body from producing excess prostaglandins – meaning less swelling and less pain.

For dogs, too much NSAID can damage their stomach lining, which is far less hardy than a human’s. By reducing prostaglandins, NSAIDs are taking down an internal line of defense in dogs. It’s a bit like robbing Peter to pay Paul. The right dose will not negatively affect most dogs, but an overdose of NSAIDs can have devastating consequences. Even through dog-specific NSAIDs block only the COX-2 enzyme (the COX-1 is needed by dogs to protect their organs), a dog can still overdose.

Signs of NSAID Poisoning in Dogs

If your dog has ingested too much NSAID, whether human or dog-specific, he will likely show symptoms. The most common side effects occur in the kidneys, liver, stomach, and gastrointestinal tract, and may include:

  • Unusual changes in behavior
  • Eating less, or not eating at all
  • Drinking less
  • Sleepiness or depression
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea that is black or tarry
  • Yellowing of the eyes, skin, or gums
  • Skin scabs, redness, or scratching

If your dog is showing any of the above symptoms, take him to the vet immediately.

What if my Dog is in Severe Pain?

NSAID painkillers are only useful for mild or moderate pain. For dogs in severe pain, veterinarians will typically prescribe a more powerful painkiller, such as Tramadol, Amantadine, or Gabapentin. These medications are especially useful in dogs who need something stronger than an NSAID painkiller, but their pain is not so severe that a veterinarian needs to prescribe a powerful opioid like morphine.

What Else Should I Know About NSAIDs?

Prescription painkillers for dogs come with an “Information for Dog Owner Sheet” that describes side effects. You should read this information and talk to your vet about the dose, how to give it to your dog, when to give it and for how long, and what to avoid while your dog is taking it.

Your dog may need medical tests before a veterinarian will prescribe pain medication. For example, it may not be safe to take NSAID painkillers if your dog has kidney, liver, heart, urinary, or intestinal problems. You should also discuss any other medications your dog is taking. NSAIDs should never be given with aspirin or corticosteroids.

Other Options for Dog Pain Relief

NSAIDs are not the only option for treating pain in your dog. There are plenty of natural remedies that do not carry the risk of side effects that prescription painkillers have.


Good diet is another important aspect of managing pain in dogs. For example, foods that are supplemented with Omega-3 fatty acids like fish oil can reduce painful joint inflammation. Also, dogs who are overweight will benefit from a weight-loss plan and mild exercise.

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The benefits of exercise for dogs go far beyond pain management. Exercise can help with everything from weight management to stress reduction to improved cardiovascular function. As a general rule, you should exercise your dog at least 30 minutes per day. Whether it’s a walk around the neighborhood, a session of fetch, or a jog on the beach, exercise may be the most important thing you can do for your dog.

Physical Therapy

Aquatic therapy is a great type of physical therapy for dogs with pain.  It’s low-impact, so it’s great for dogs in too much pain to get exercise by walking. The buoyancy of the water reduces the load on their painful joints. Swimming also provides gentle resistance for strengthening muscles.

What should I know before giving my dog a supplement for pain?

Good news! You do not need a prescription for herbal supplements. However, do not give human supplements to your dog unless you are instructed to do so by a veterinarian. Dogs can overdose on natural supplements just like prescription medications, especially if they have kidney or liver diseases that cause problems with excreting toxins from the body. Be sure to consult a cbd oil for dogs dose calculator to find the right dosage for your pet.

If your dog is taking medications, supplements may interact and cause side effects. Another hazard is that supplements are not highly regulated. It is important to consult with a vet before adding natural supplements or making dietary changes. However, Canna-Pet is benign and veterinarian approved for all animals.

What Can I Do to Help my Dog with Pain?

Pain is a symptom of a variety of different health problems, and while there are many medications that relieve pain, they will not cure the underlying problem. If you don’t know why you dog is in pain, it is important to get a diagnosis and start the appropriate treatment. Managing pain in dogs can be a preventative action as well as a reactionary one.

While some pain comes from injury or sudden sickness, most dogs suffer from more common types of chronic pain, like arthritis and joint pain. Making sure your dog has the right diet, is getting plenty of exercise, and is having a yearly physical with a veterinarian will go a long way in managing pain. If your dog is in immediate pain, do what you can to make his surroundings comfortable (prepare a dog bed and some pillows and keep water close by) until you are able to take him into the vet for a diagnosis.  

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