What You Need to Know About NSAIDs for Pain Treatment in Dogs

Posted by Dawn Jenness on

NSAIDs for Pain Treatment in Dogs

Dog pain treatments explained

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory drugs (otherwise referred to as NSAIDs) are some of the most common pain medications prescribed for dogs. Whether your dog just had surgery or received an injury while playing at the park, NSAIDs are routinely prescribed for pain ranging from mild to moderate.

Humans also use NSAIDs, however, there is a major difference between the dosage/strength level of NSAIDs made for humans and those made specifically for canines. This is one of the main reasons why you should never give your pup an NSAID that’s made for humans (because it would be far too taxing on their organs - see: NSAID toxicity in dogs). 

If your dog has suffered an injury or is otherwise in pain, and you’re looking for mild pain treatment, you should definitely consider using an NSAID (made for dogs). Below we go into detail regarding the science behind NSAIDs, as well as some other pain management techniques that might come in handy for your furry little friend. 


NSAIDs for Dogs: How They Work

NSAIDs for dogs work in much the same way as they do for humans (with one major exception) - NSAIDs formulated for dogs contain much lower levels of the heterogeneous compounds which make them so effective at managing pain and inflammation. But how exactly do they work? What biochemical changes occur in the body once a dog ingests an NSAID? 

There’s a certain type of chemical that’s released by the body when it experiences pain, injury, or inflammation. These chemicals are known as prostaglandins. They essentially tell the body/mind to deliver the proper signals responsible for pain and inflammation. 

Prostaglandins are produced by a specific type of enzyme known as “COX.” COX (short for cyclooxygenases), produces prostaglandins and also manages the pathways connected with the GI tract (specifically the lining of GI organs).

NSAIDs work by blocking the release of prostaglandins as well as blocking COX reactions. The result of this is lowered pain and inflammation. However, because of COX’s relation to the GI tract, NSAIDs can also lead to ulcers (or a lower level of health in the GI tract - which can eventually cause the stomach/intestines to bleed).  

Some types of medications only block a specific type of COX that causes pain (e.g. chewable NSAID for dogs like Deramaxx). However, you should always ask your vet about the specific NSAID they prescribe you. Different NSAID manufacturers have different processes, and that translates to different effects on your dog’s body. 


Possible Side Effects 

We’ve already mentioned how NSAIDs can cause problems in your dog’s GI tract (specifically with the stomach and intestinal lining), but what about other symptoms? NSAIDs, like most other prescription medications, aren’t perfect. There are several symptoms that might stem from giving your dog NSAIDs:


  • Problems with your dog’s digestion 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Vomiting 
  • Development of red skin 
  • Pronounced behavioral changes
  • Changes in your dog’s dietary habits

While some of these symptoms might be more pronounced than others, some of the more overlooked symptoms are those that appear in the GI tract. Because NSAIDs work by prohibiting prostaglandins, they also indirectly cause stomach and intestinal issues. These might be more difficult to diagnose than more obvious symptoms. 


Minimizing the Risk of NSAIDs

NSAIDs are a great all-around way to help manage the pain your dog might be experiencing (especially if that pain is minimal to moderate). However, there are obvious risks associated with NSAID-usage that need to be considered before administering them to your pet. 

The main thing to keep in mind in regards to minimizing risk is to follow the vet's instructions on dosing, cycles, etc. You never want to give your dog an NSAID dose that’s too high (because this could directly affect its GI tract, cause nausea, vomiting, etc.). NSAID toxicity is a very real side effect that you should keep in mind when giving your dog its dose. 

When your vet prescribes your dog a round of NSAID medication, he/she should discuss proper dosing levels, scheduling, etc. with you before handing the medication over. The most important factor in dogs developing NSAID toxicity is their owners not following instructions. 

If your dog is in pain or is suffering from inflamed joints, using NSAIDs to help their issues is an excellent option to consider. The facts posted above should help you make an informed decision regarding whether or not NSAIDs are appropriate for your furry little friend.

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