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NSAID Treatment for Dogs and Cats


NSAID is an abbreviation for “non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug.” The term refers to medication that is used to relieve pain, and reduce inflammation. In pets, the most common cause of pain is degenerative joint disease, which is most commonly identified as osteoarthritis, or hip dysplasia. In the case of arthritis, as your pet ages, it can experience stress and trauma to its joints, causing pain from damaged tissue, structural degeneration, infection, and inflammation. However, even young animals may develop conditions of arthritis for various reasons. Hip dysplasia occurs when the ball and socket of the hip joint loosens, causing abnormal functionality, and affecting the muscle, connective tissue, and ligaments which support the joint.

cat exam for NSAIDGenerally speaking, pain in your pets is the result of damaged tissue, which can be coincidental with inflammation. Inflammation is the body’s attempt to repair itself when dealing with damaged tissue, and has been known to occur when the body produces chemicals called prostaglandins. NSAIDs are used to block the production of prostaglandins molecules that promote pain. NSAIDs are the most common type of drugs recommended by veterinarians for the treatment and control of pain and swelling due to injury and tissue damage. Their job is to control the pain and inflammation associated most often with osteoarthritis and hip dysplasia.

While inflammation is the body’s natural response to infection and/or tissue damage, often, reducing inflammation is part of treatment strategy. However, while it is sometimes necessary, this is not always the case. This is why we encourage you to seek professional help, and follow the recommendations of your vet. The use of any NSAID in treatment of pain in dogs or cats can be a tricky process. We recommend reading this entire article before proceeding.

Risks and Benefits:

NSAIDs have been prescribed for dog and cat care for a number of diseases and conditions. Along with osteoarthritis and hip dysplasia, other ailments include knee ligament injury and kneecap displacement, rheumatoid or septic arthritis, abnormal joint cartilage development, spinal arthritis, cancer pain, and others.

Although inflammation and pain may be controlled with NSAID use, other side effects may include gastrointestinal ulcers and perforations, bleeding, and liver and kidney toxicity. Mixing with other anti-inflammatory drugs should be avoided. Be sure your pet is well-hydrated. And, it cannot be stressed enough that NSAIDs should only be administered after veterinarian prescription.

The tendency for humans is to instinctively protect the pet in pain, and encourage them to rest and relax. However, after a professional examination to determine that there is no major physical threat, exercise can help the healing process, and even improve arthritic conditions.

Accompanying pain relief is the improvement of your pet’s disposition and spirit, allowing them to return to higher levels of exercise, improving the functioning of heart, lungs, and digestive system processes, as well as helping them maintain their muscle status.

Signs and Symptoms of unwanted side effects:

  • Vomiting
  • Blood in vomit
  • Bloody or black-tarry stool
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • Lack of appetite
  • Urination problems
  • Abdominal pain
  • Seizures
  • Intestinal bleeding

From prescribed NSAID treatment, unwanted side effects are estimated at about 1%. A very common side effect is a gastric ulcer. This may cause your pet to refuse to eat, vomit, or produce a dark, tarry stool. Kidney damage may occur, presenting the symptoms of excess thirst and urination, a condition called PUPD, short for polydipsia, or polyuria. Anemia may also develop, leaving your pet with pale, or yellowed gums. Damage to the liver is another concern. Thankfully, in most circumstances the pet’s organs return to normal when the NSAID is discontinued.

In a nutshell, NSAID use for pain and inflammation in animals is generally not recommended except in highly scrutinized applications, and only after careful examination of the patient, as well as laboratory testing (blood and urine, etc.) and analysis of medical history. Over the counter (OTC) drugs for humans are not dispensed as doses appropriate for dogs, cats, or other animals, and may have dire side effects and ramifications. Hence, although there are similarities between human and pet medications, we should never assume it is okay to administer either to our pets before a veterinarian consultation, and the medication is professionally prescribed.


NEVER GIVE IBUPROFEN TO YOUR PET! Ibuprofen is linked to ulcers and kidney failure.

NAPROXEN, EVEN PRESCRIBED, CAN BE HAZARDOUS OR DEADLY TO YOUR PET! Commonly contributes to bleeding stomach ulcers, kidney failure, AND/OR death.

Irvine Compounding Pharmacy works closely with veterinarians for prescribing the NSAID called Piroxicam. It should be noted that cats have more intricate physiologies, and are highly sensitive to these medications. Hence, most are not approved for felines. However, Piroxicam has been shown to produce effective results, and is generally tolerated in cats at conventional dosage levels. NSAID prescription in dogs is quite common, and has little history of adverse effects.

NSAIDs, including Piroxicam, should only be administered as part of a prescribed plan outlined by a veterinarian. Especially in the case of cats, prescription is more critical, and administration must be closely monitored and supervised, carefully watching for unwanted side effects.

In spite of all the precautionary information, professional opinion leans toward supporting that NSAIDs can be used safely and effectively, especially for short term treatment, such as 5 to 7 days. For long term treatment, NSAID treatment should only be considered if other treatments have failed. In the case of long term treatment, additional protective drugs may be used to limit side effects, and frequent monitoring (every 60 to 90 days) will be required. Ongoing testing of blood and urine will be essential to alert the vet to any changes in condition.

A thorough education of pet owners is advised whenever NSAIDs are to be prescribed. Owners need to learn to watch for clinical signs of side effects so that they can respond immediately if special attention is required, or if medical assistance is imminent.

While NSAIDs are accompanied with many potentially serious health risks, they also have the power to assist in healing, and adding a better quality of life for our beloved furry friends.