What are NSAIDs for Pets and How Do They Work?

Vital Information about NSAIDs for Dog Owners


Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are medications that relieve pain and reduce inflammation in both animals and humans, as well as fever in humans.

However, animals should never be given NSAIDs created for humans. Over-the-counter pain relievers for people are not safe for dogs or cats.


Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can help dogs suffering from osteoarthritis, a very common condition in dogs. The condition is characterized by chronic joint inflammation which is caused by deterioration of joint cartilage. What happens, in a nutshell: Eventually the bones start rubbing against each other. The effects are damaging and painful and the damage cannot be reversed.

NSAIDs can also be prescribed for dogs and cats to help manage post-surgical pain.

Also: Cats are often given pain-relief medications before surgery.

NSAIDs Work by Blocking the Pain-inducing Molecules

Cell damage activates an enzyme (protein) by the name of cyclooxygenase (COX).
COX stimulates cells to produce active substances called prostaglandins (PGs).
So, when the body is irritated or injured, after cells are damaged, PGs are produced.

The Role of Prostaglandins (PGs) in the Body:

  • Contribute to / promote pain and inflammation
  • Protect stomach and intestinal lining from the damaging effects of acid
  • Support function of platelets in the blood that are necessary for the clotting
  • Help maintain blood flow to the kidneys

NSAIDs work because they either:

  1. Block Cyclooxygenase (COX)
    This can reduce the amount of PGs produced and associated pain and inflammation.
  2. Block Some Activity of Certain Prostaglandins (PGs)
    PGs are still produced after COX is activated, but some activity gets blocked which can reduce pain and inflammation.

The outcome is the same: Continuing pain and inflammation are reduced.

NSAID Benefits versus Risks

Although NSAIDs have provided pain control for many dogs, they also have the potential for serious side effects, such as gastrointestinal bleeding, ulcers, and perforations, and in rare cases, kidney damage and liver problems.

Being informed about the drug your dog is prescribed and watching out for potential side effects are the best ways to reduce risks. Your veterinarian will provide a Client Information Sheet that summarizes important safety information about the drug and serves as an easy reference for you at home.

Possible side effects of NSAIDs include:

  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea
  • Not eating/eating less 
  • Lethargy

If your dog experiences any of these side effects, stop the medication and contact your veterinarian immediately.

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