A Guide to Prescription NSAIDs for Canine Arthritis

For canine arthritis, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs can reduce pain and improve the quality of life for dogs. This class of drugs controls swelling and inflammation and improves the stiffness associated with dog arthritis. They are also helpful as a post-operative pain control measure.

The Cause of Arthritis Pain

Pain causes the body to product prostaglandins, a chemical that causes inflammation. The site of the injury or disease can become reddened, warm, swollen and painful. NSAIDs block the production of prostaglandins, in turn relieving pain and reducing swelling.

In the past, canine arthritis treatment was limited to buffered aspirin given in weight-appropriate doses. Aspirin is an effective pain reliever, but its use as an anti-inflammatory is limited. Worse, dog pain was not well understood or appreciated and often, canine arthritis symptoms went untreated.

Recent pharmaceutical advances have resulted in a class of prescription drugs to treat and control canine arthritis. All of the drugs listed below are recommended for management of pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis in dogs.

Common Brand Name Canine NSAIDs

  • Etogesic (etodolac) tablet
  • Rimadyl (carprofen) caplet, chewable tablet or injection
  • Deramaxx (deracoxib) chewable tablet
  • Metacam (meloxicam) oral drop or injection
  • Zubrin (tepoxalin) disintegrating tablet
  • Previcox (firocoxib) chewable tablet
  • Novox (generic carprofen) caplet

Rimadyl is also used for the control of postoperative pain associated with soft tissue and orthopedic surgeries and Deramaxx is similarly used to control of postoperative pain and inflammation associated with orthopedic surgery in dogs over 4 pounds.

NSAID Cautions

There are well-documented side effects associated with these drugs. Discuss these potential side effects with your veterinarian. She will help you understand the implications and make the best choice for your dog.

The FDA has warned that NSAIDs "may be associated with gastrointestinal ulcers/perforations, liver and kidney toxicity." This government regulatory agency recommends that these drugs be used under strict veterinary supervision.

Designing and Implementing an NSAID Treatment Plan

Your veterinarian will access your dog's physical condition and take a complete medical history. Blood and urine tests will be conducted to determine whether NSAIDs are suitable for your dog. These tests will be repeated regularly to check for liver toxicity reactions.

If your dog has liver, kidney or heart problems, use NSAIDs with caution.

Your veterinarian will provide a client information sheet with every NSAID prescription. If you do not receive this document, be sure to ask for it. It will help you recognize the warning signs of an NSAID reaction. Discontinue NSAIDs and contact your veterinarian if you see any of the following signs:

  • Decrease or increase in appetite or thirst
  • Vomiting, diarrhea or black, tarry or bloody stools
  • Lethargy, seizure, aggression or confusion
  • Jaundice (yellowing of skin, gums or eyes)
  • Change in urinary habits (frequency, color, or smell)
  • Red, itchy skin

Tip: Dehydration increases the risk of kidney problems; be sure your dog is getting enough water. Increase fluid intake by adding water to the daily rations.

Used properly and cautiously, veterinary NSAIDs will improve your dog's mobility and allow her to participate in her favorite activities well into her senior years. Work with your veterinarian to design a program that works best for your dog.