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 e