An Overview of Dog Arthritis Pain Medication Options

Dog arthritis pain is a disease that causes inflammation and stiffness of the joints. It is an intermittent disease, with the swelling and pain increasing and decreasing on a continual basis. Larger dog breeds are more susceptible to this disease, and the chance to develop arthritis increases with age. There are many medication options, and your vet should recommend the best treatment for your dog.

Symptoms, Treatments and Risks

Symptoms of arthritis can include inflammation, swelling, stiffness, heat and pain in or around the joints. One of the best, most consistent classes of drugs used to treat arthritis pain in both pets and humans are NSAIDs, Non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs. Like most drugs, NSAIDs are not without risks, and you will need to carefully watch your dog's behavior for signs of a NSAID-related problem. Common side effects can include vomiting, appetite loss, depression, lethargy and diarrhea. More serious effects include gastrointestinal bleeding, ulcers, digestive tract perforations, kidney damage and liver problems.

NSAIDs suppress a chemical in the body called cyclooxygenase that causes joint inflammation and pain. Thus, NSAIDs are known as COX-1 and COX-2 inhibitors because there are 2 types of cyclooxygenase. The newer NSAIDs are COX-2 inhibitors and cause less digestive track irritation because they only act on the second type of cyclooxygenase.

Because arthritis isn't a constant disease, the pain and inflammation may come and go, and the smallest effective arthritis pain medication dosage should be used. The FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine has approved the following NSAIDs for arthritis pain therapy in dogs:

  • Etogesic
  • Rimadyl
  • Metacam
  • Zubrin
  • Deramaxx
  • Previcox
  • Novox

These arthritis pain relief medications come in caplets, tablets, drops and injections. If your doctor recommends a drug in caplet or tablet form, find out if it is acceptable to crush the medication to include in your dog's food.

Your vet should do a thorough exam and health history on your dog before a NSAID is prescribed. You should tell the vet about any symptoms you have observed in your dog and any other medications you have been giving your pet. Laboratory baseline blood chemistry values should be obtained prior to drug prescribing.

Alternative Treatment

Steroids are another class of medications used for arthritis in dogs. Anti-inflammatory Corticosteroids are the most commonly used steroids for treating arthritis in dogs. They can be tricky to use, however, and must be given exactly as prescribed, or serious consequences may occur. Major organs can shut down as a result of misuse of steroids. Lesser side effects include increased water drinking, panting, weight gain, immune system suppression and irritability. The down side of using corticosteroids is that they merely suppress the symptoms of arthritis. The symptoms usually come back when the drugs are discontinued.

Again, a thorough physical exam of your dog and an update of his medical history are needed before any prescribing of steroids can be done. Get the lab work done to provide a blood chemistry baseline so that the vet can properly monitor your dog's progress. Keep the Drug Information Sheet that will tell you about dosage, side effects and serious adverse events.