NSAIDs, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, are commonly used to decrease pain and inflammation for both humans and animals. You might recognize these in your own medicine cabinet with names like ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Alleve). Both of these can be deadly to pets, so please don't share. Your pet might be placed on any number of these, which include carprofen (Vetprofen, Novox, Rimadyl), deracoxib (Deramaxx), firocoxib (Previcox), piroxicam (Feldene), or meloxicam (Metacam). While these drugs have eliminated much pain and suffering for pets (mostly dogs, cats are very sensitive to these drugs, although Metacam and the new drug, Onsior, are available for cats), they can also have serious side effects, including death. Common uses for the medications include ACL tears or other strains/sprains, post-surgical pain management, arthritis, and trauma. They are also commonly included in some cancer treatment protocols.
The risks of NSAID use are serious. If your pet is placed on an NSAID drug, you need to monitor closely for any of the following signs and stop administration of the drug immediately:
- decreased appetite
- excessive drooling or nausea
- black, tarry stools
- abdominal pain
- pale gums
These symptoms could be an indication of more serious side effects which can include:
- kidney failure
- liver failure
- stomach or intestinal ulceration
- stomach or intestinal perforation
These drugs should NEVER be combined with steroids, aspirin, or other NSAIDs, as the risk of side effects and death are much higher. If your pet is given one NSAID and the doctor wants to change your pet to a different NSAID, you should wait a MINIMUM of 5 to 7 days between drugs. If your pet has gastrointestinal side effects like decreased appetite, vomiting, or diarrhea, do NOT mask the symptoms by giving additional drugs like Pepcid, metoclopramide, metronidazole, famotidine, or sucralfate. If your pet is suffering from GI symptoms and is taken OFF the NSAID, then antacids and stomach protectants can be given. The combination of antacids and NSAIDs can cause a rare reaction in which the stomach wall swells to the point of closing down the GI tract. (I never would have known about this, but it happened to my office manager's dog while being treated by another veterinarian.) If an NSAID is prescribed for one of your pets, please do not share with other pets in the household. Many NSAIDs cannot be given to cats and the dosage range for dogs is very narrow. Small weight differences can be significant when dosing the drugs.
While I do believe pain management is an important part of proper pet care, I also believe owners need to be well informed of the potential side effects. I am always amazed when I see a new client with a pet that has been given steroids and NSAIDs together. Owners need to be aware of the dangers. Always ask questions about interactions between medications.
There are other alternatives available for pain relief that have fewer side effects. For arthritis and inflammatory conditions, acupuncture, cold laser, chiropractic treatments, massage, omega 3 fatty acids, joint supplements, homeopathic remedies, and CBD products provide nontoxic relief.
For oral pain, inflammation and infection can be decreased by using dental drops that contain no harsh chemicals. Proper dental care, including extraction of loose, painful teeth must be performed.
Many pets with cancer, arthritis, or other inflammatory conditions will get relief from herbal preparations available through holistic veterinarians. Herbal therapies are usually individualized for the pet.