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NSAID Medications and Dogs 101

Reviewed by Dr. Celeste Clements, DVM, DACVIM on Wednesday, July 15, 2015
Posted July 27, 2015 in Dog Toxins & Poisons

How are NSAIDs used in dogs?
Nonsteroid anti-inflammatory medications, also called NSAIDs, are primarily used to treat pain in veterinary medicine. NSAIDs can also be used to treat pain associated with osteoarthritis and post-operative pain in dogs. In addition, NSAIDs are used off-label to lower fevers, decrease inflammation and treat acute pain.

Woman petting yellow labWhat are the potential side effects of NSAIDs?
NSAIDs are the most frequently prescribed analgesic (pain medication) in dogs. NSAIDs are effective, but like all medications, certain side effects can occur. Some are mild and resolve spontaneously, while others are serious and even life threatening. The most common side effects are:

Serious side effects may include:

  • Gastrointestinal ulcer
  • Gastrointestinal perforation
  • Liver toxicity
  • Kidney toxicity, kidney failure
  • Death

It is important to realize adverse side effects can happen after one dose, many doses, or may never happen. Dogs are individuals, like us humans, and react uniquely to different medications.

Why is it important to screen before prescribing NSAIDs?
The best way to minimize the risks of adverse side effects is to screen dogs for risk factors. Before prescribing NSAIDs, your veterinarian will get a thorough history and perform a complete examination to determine if your dog has any contraindications for NSAID use, such as pre-existing conditions or medications that increase the risk of side effects.

In addition, your veterinarian will obtain blood work to look for pre-clinical disease. Kidney disease, for example, often does not show outward signs until the patient has lost two-thirds of kidney function. That's why blood work is so important! Blood work allows your veterinarian to evaluate for pre-existing diseases before the signs and symptoms become evident so that they can determine if your pet is a good candidate for NSAIDs. [Click here to learn more about kidney disease in cats.]

How do I monitor my dog on NSAIDs?
Just as important as screening, once your dog has started NSAIDs, your veterinarian will likely recommend re-checking your dog’s blood and/or urine on a regular basis. Routine monitoring allows your veterinarian to ensure that your pet is tolerating the medication without developing adverse effects. All NSAID manufacturers recommend baseline blood work as well as periodic monitoring to minimize the likelihood of serious side effects.

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Ruth has more than 15 years of experience in the veterinary industry as a companion animal veterinarian in private practice. Along with being a writer and media personality, she is also a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.