Managing Pain in Your Dog Using NSAIDs


Knowing that your dog is in pain is one of the worst feelings imaginable if you’re a pet owner. There could be many underlying health issues facing your dog (e.g. disease, worm infection, etc.), or your dog could just be getting old. Either way, knowing how to identify, treat and manage your dog’s pain is vital to their overall health. 

As we’ve already covered, there are many reasons why your dog might be in pain. While you can certainly try to diagnose your dog’s medical problem(s) on your own, you should eventually take them to a qualified veterinary professional. Vets are able to perform a wide array of tests to determine the health issues of your dog.

One of the most common pain management methods prescribed by vets is NSAIDs. This type of medication (short for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) is used to treat inflammation, swelling, and pain stemming from joints/ligaments. Below we delve deep into everything you need to know about giving your dog NSAIDs. 

The Basics of NSAIDs for Dogs

Humans also use NSAIDs for many of the same reasons they’re prescribed to dogs (i.e. joint pain, stiffness, moderate pain, etc.). However, there is a major difference between NSAIDs made for humans and those made for dogs. NSAIDs are usually given to a dog who’s undergone surgery, or one who suffers from mobility issues. Metacam is a NSAID for dogs that’s commonly used for these purposes.

One of the most important things to understand about NSAIDs for dogs is that they can be toxic if they exceed a certain threshold. That’s why you should never administer any type of human NSAID to your dog (it will cause serious health complications to your dog’s liver, kidney, and/or gut organs). Use the below list to determine whether or not your dog is experiencing a toxic reaction to NSAIDs:

  • Noticeable changes in behavior. 
  • Loss of appetite (not attributable to another health problem).
  • Development of scabs on various parts of the skin. 
  • Skin that’s turned red/raw. 
  • Bowel Problems (i.e. diarrhea).
  • Stool that doesn’t look normal (e.g. stool that’s thick and goopy). 

If your dog has been prescribed an NSAID treatment and experiences one of the above symptoms (or a combination of them) you should schedule an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible (and most importantly – stop giving your dog the NSAID). 

What You Need to Ask Your Veterinarian About NSAIDs

You should never feel too intimidated to ask questions to your vet, and this especially goes for questions regarding prescription medications. While NSAID treatment options are very common throughout the industry for treating inflammation and pain, they also have the potential to cause problems. Use the following list as a reference before going to the vet (for topics of discussion):

  • Why is this specific NSAID being prescribed, and for what?
  • What’s the proper dosage?
  • How many times per day/week should I give it to my dog?
  • How long will the treatment cycle last?
  • Are there any possible side effects?
  • Will it have any interactions with other medications my dog is taking?
  • Are there any behavior changes the NSAID will cause?
  • Will I need to adjust anything in my dog’s life (e.g. diet)? 
  • How does my dog’s medical history play into this decision?

Treatment Alternatives to NSAIDs

NSAIDs are one of the most popular pain-fighting treatments in the world (for both dogs and humans). However, sometimes they either might not be enough or they might not be the best treatment option. This could be from your dog’s medical history, the current medicine they’re taking, or the level of pain they’re facing. 

There are quite a few alternatives to NSAIDs for dogs. Other prescription treatments include tramadol, gabapentin, and their generic counterparts. Tramadol is a very popular oral medication, however, there is a lot of controversy surrounding its effectiveness. Gabapentin is routinely used for anxiety-related issues (as well as pain). 

Risks of Alternative Treatments: Gabapentin 

Gabapentin is considered to be a safe drug to use for veterinary purposes. However, like with any other medication, gabapentin can cause problems if it’s not carefully prescribed. 

Dogs with kidney problems should generally not be prescribed gabapentin. This is because the drug is filtered through the kidneys. Another problem to consider is its possible interactions with other drugs. That’s why it’s important to open a dialogue with your dog’s vet (in regards to treatment options, risks, etc.). 

Gabapentin is also used by humans for anxiety-related issues (and other health problems). But, the two drugs aren’t the same in most cases. Gabapentin for humans uses separate ingredients than the canine version. The human-formulated gabapentin includes ingredients that can be toxic for dogs. 

The Risks of Tramadol 

Just like gabapentin, tramadol is prescribed to both humans and dogs. Tramadol is often prescribed for pain, anxiety, and post-surgical discomfort. While tramadol is an effective treatment option for most dogs, there are some risks associated with it. 

One of the most important things to look out for in regards to tramadol is giving too much of it to your dog. If a dog ingests too much tramadol, they can become very ill (which can lead to seizures and/or death). If you notice anything out of the ordinary in your dog’s behavior after administering tramadol, take them to a veterinary clinic as fast as possible. Below are some of the common symptoms associated with tramadol:

  • Sleepiness
  • Inability to eat
  • Blurry eyesight
  • Difficulty balancing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Digestive issues
  • Convulsive behaviors

Another issue to consider is the addictive nature of the drug. While dogs are generally unable to become mentally addicted to a substance, they can easily become physically dependent on painkiller medications. 

This is one of the reasons why vets will provide owners with a taper plan (to wean their dogs off the drug). If your dog has been taking tramadol, it’s important to slowly take them off (otherwise they can go through physical withdrawals). 

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