Our Dog Health Library - Anti-inflammatories for dogs
Your dogs suffering can come from many different conditions including arthritis, dysplasia and damaged ligaments that may cause noticeable pain in their legs and joints. Back or spinal pain is also common in dogs.
Anti-inflammatories are the prime treatment for musculo-skeletal pain in both humans and dogs.
The process is painful, due the expansion of tissues and the presence of pain mediators.
Anti-Inflammatory medications are intended to dampen down the inflammatory cycle and to focus especially on one of the side effects – pain. Depressing the inflammatory response completely is not desirable because it would inhibit or stop the healing process.
Anti-Inflammatories can be broadly divided into three categories for the layman: steroids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAID’s) and thirdly natural anti-inflammatories.
Steroids and NSAID’s are man made drugs generally only available for dogs on prescription. They are effective but often have side effects that make them unsuitable as long term treatments. For example steroids depress the general immune system and NSAID’s can affect the gastro-intestinal tract.
Natural anti-inflammatories are derived from animal or plant sources and usually require extraction of known active compounds. They can be highly effective and show similar anti-inflammatory power as NSAID’s. They have no long term damaging side effects
Drugs licensed for dogs
The following information on anti-inflammatory drugs is provided to help your complete understanding.
Most of the drugs available to us relieve pain and nothing else. Some actually make the joint worse, despite relieving pain; while others do help to restore the normal structure of the joint and its cartilage.
It is very important that you do not give any pain killer to an animal without veterinary advice first. It’s best to insist on being prescribed a veterinary licensed product on all occasions. These have been shown to be safe and effective in the target species.
Metacam® is currently the first choice NSAID for the treatment of arthritis. It has an acceptable safety profile, but can cause vomiting or diarrhoea. It is presented as a liquid with its own dosing syringe. Metacam doesn’t have any adverse effects on joint cartilage, but because of side effect fears, many owner avoid its long-term use.
Rimadyl® is an excellent pain killer, and side-effects occur, though more commonly than with metacam. Dose adjustment is not so easy because it is only available as 20mg and 50mg tablets.
Ketofen® is a good pain killer, but unfortunately, it can only be safely given for 5 days. This makes it unsuitable for the long-term treatment of arthritis.
Pain killers are the Vets main treatment for arthritis, and have been for a great many years. Most of these belong to a family of drugs called NSAIDs (pronounced en-sayeds), which means Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs. There is a large range of these on the market partly because no one drug is universally effective. All have a slightly different effect.
Of all the drugs in common use in veterinary medicine, NSAIDs show the greatest differences in toxicity between species. This means that a drug that is very safe if one species can be very toxic to another. Good examples of this are:
Paracetamol – this is very safe in people and dogs, but a single dose of a quarter of a 500mg tablet can be fatal to cats.
Ibuprofen – this is very safe in people, but toxic to dogs.
Phenylbutazone – this is very safe in the dog, but was banned for use in man (except for certain special circumstances), because of serious adverse effects.
Unlicensed drugs commonly used
Piroxicam(Feldene®) is very closely related to meloxicam. It is unlicensed for use in animals in the UK, but was used extensively before meloxicam was introduced. It is much cheaper than meloxicam, but also considerably more toxic. Vomiting and diarrhoea are quite common. It has a much greater potential for damaging the kidneys than meloxicam. It is however an excellent pain killer, and only needs to be administered once every 2 days.
Aspirin This is the oldest NSAID in use. It’s cheap, and available from practically every grocer’s shop in the UK. In the dog, aspirin is quite good as a pain killer, but vomiting is common. Giving the drug with food helps to prevent vomiting in some individuals. Aspirin can also hasten the course of arthritis, because it inhibits the production of important proteins within cartilage. It does not have a veterinary licence in the UK, and it is generally better to use one of the more modern drugs with a better safety profile. (Also note: aspirin must not be given to cats except on specific veterinary advice).
Paracetamol Like aspirin, paracetamol is cheap and readily available. It appears to be less effective as a pain killer than aspirin, but vomiting is usually not a feature. Although paracetamol is classified as an NSAID, it has no anti-inflammatory effect. In the UK, paracetamol alone is unlicensed for use in dogs, but it is licensed with a combination of codeine, and is marketed as Pardale®. Care must be taken when calculating the dose, as it can be fatal if used incorrectly. In small dogs, it is very easy to give a toxic dose. For instance, one 500mg paracetamol tablet could be fatal to a Yorkshire Terrier weighing 2kg.
Paracetamol must never be given to cats. (Why?)
Dangerous to give
The following NSAIDs should not be given to dogs under any circumstances:
Indomethacin (Many brand names)
Ibuprofen (Nurofen®, Brufen®, and many other brands)
This is not a complete list of all the NSAIDs that are unsuitable for dogs. If you are taking an NSAID for arthritis, and you think it’s the best thing ever, it does not mean that it will be good, or safe to give it to your dog.
Steroids are commonly used to treat arthritis in the dog. They are potent inhibitors of inflammation, and very useful pain relievers as a result.
While these drugs can be very effective in controlling the symptoms of arthritis, especially in the short term, they can seriously adversely affect the condition of the joint.
That is, they make the disease worse rather than better. This effect is much more pronounced than any of the NSAIDs. In addition, steroids have masses of other side effects.
The following side-effects are seen with NSAIDs.
Loss of appetite
Reduced blood flow to the kidney, (and hence kidney failure)
Abnormalities of blood cell production
Inhibition of phagocytosis, (a phagocyte is a white blood cell which destroys bacteria, and foreign proteins, and is an important part of the immune system).
Pentosan polysulphate (Cartrophen) is in the only class of drugs used to treat arthritis that relieves pain by actually improving the condition of the joint.
It’s worth noting again here that steroids and some NSAIDs, such as aspirin speed the progression of arthritis. It is injected periodically over a treatment course.
The response to Cartrophen Vet® is quite variable; in some dogs, no other treatment is required for many months or years; in others, there is no effect at all.