NSAID stands for a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. These are a grouping of drugs that are anti-inflammatories, pain relievers (analgesics), and fever-reducers (antipyretic).
They are unique in the group of pain-relieving drugs because they do not contain steroids, and are non-narcotic (i.e., morphine or opium).
You've probably used some common NSAIDs for humans, including aspirin and ibuprofen. (Acetaminophen, found in Tylenol, is also non-steroidal, but its anti-inflammatory effects are very low, so it’s not usually considered a NSAID.)
Most NSAIDs designed for pets require a prescription.
In addition to their pain relieving and comfort enhancing qualities, current studies are researching their effectiveness in treating cancer.
How do NSAIDs work?
Most NSAIDs function by blocking two enzymes in the body: Cox-1 and Cox-2. These enzymes play a key part in the making of prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are chemicals that cause tissue swelling at the point of an injury and play a role in the electrical signaling to the brain that causes what humans and pets feel as pain.
If your dog is experiencing pain from arthritis, or if your dog or cat has had an operation, your vet will likely recommend one of the following medications to ease pain and increase comfort:
Rimadyl - Previcox - Metacam - Piroxicam - Novox
So what’s the difference between these NSAIDs?
What are the benefits and potential drawbacks?
- Rimadyl, Metacam, and Piroxicam block both Cox-1 and Cox-2 production, reducing fever, pain, and inflammation.
- Because the body is blocked from making prostaglandins, your pet will feel pain relief, but prostaglandins also protect stomach and intestinal lining. Some pets can have adverse reactions to these NSAIDs, which may include gastrointestinal problems.
- Previcox and Novox are Cox-2 NSAIDs, and only block the Cox-2 enzyme. This still reduces pain, but leaves essential prostaglandins free to maintain digestive tract lining.
- However, when Cox-2 is not around to moderate the effects of Cox-1, Cox-1 encourages blood clotting and tightens arteries. In some cases this can lead to heart problems or even heart failure.
Be sure to ask your veterinarian about the dosage for your pet, and how to watch for any potential problems.
What pets can be given NSAIDs, and at what ages?
- Rimadyl is for dogs 6 weeks and older.
- Previcox is for dogs 7 weeks and older, and 12.5 pounds or heavier.
- Metacam is only for dogs.
- Piroxicam can be given to cats or dogs. Consult a vet about appropriate dosage for your animal's size.
- Novox is for dogs 6 weeks and older.
Are there any side effects?
- Possible side effects of all NSAIDs include appetite loss, vomiting, and diarrhea. If your pet experiences any of these, discontinue use and contact your veterinarian immediately as this could indicate damage to the liver, kidneys, or digestive tract.
- When using Previcox, contact your vet if you notice your pet is experiencing abdominal pain, tenderness, or discomfort; bloody, black, or tarry stools or blood in vomit; unexplained weight gain; water retention; fatigue or lethargy; skin rash; itching; yellowing of eyes; or unusual bruising or bleeding.
- When using Piroxicam, contact your vet if your pet shows signs of depression, an increase in drinking, jaundice, dizziness, seizures, behavior changes, lethargy, swelling, shedding, itching, constipation, or hot spots.
- If your pet is on NSAIDs for a long period of time, your vet will want to check on their liver and kidneys on a regular basis.
What if I miss a dose?
- Check with your veterinarian, but most NSAID manufacturers recommend skipping the missed dose and simply continuing with the next scheduled dose.
Can it be used with other drugs?
- Unwanted or even dangerous interactions could occur if your pet is on other medications or supplements, so be sure to talk to your vet about any other medications you give your pet.
- NSAIDs should never be used with other NSAIDs, other anti-inflammatories, or with steroids.
- ACE-inhibitors can also have averse interactions.
- Many veterinarians will pair NSAIDs with probiotics. Be sure to use both only as your veterinarian directs.
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.
More on Treating Dogs and Cats:
First Aid: Treating a Dog's Laceration
Treating Arthritis in Pets