Canine Pain Medication
This page looks at common canine pain medication, in particular using pain relief medicines such as NSAIDs to treat osteoarthritis and other joint pain in dogs. Learn more about how to use pain medications for dogs to treat canine osteoarthritis including dosage and potential side effects.

Dogs suffering from osteoarthritis can be in great pain. Although degenerative joint disease cannot be cured, there are quite a few treatment options that can greatly improve the dog’s quality of life.

One such option is the use of canine pain medication to manage pain and inflammation.

Dog pain medications that are commonly used for arthritic dogs are NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).

Other medications that are sometimes used as painkillers include corticosteroids and opiates.

NSAIDs as Canine Pain Medication

Arachidonic acid is a fatty acid essential in a dog’s diet and found in cell walls. When inflammation begins, arachidonic acid is broken down by cyclooxygenase (COX) into prostaglandins and by lipoxygenase into leukotrienes.

Generally speaking, prostaglandins promote swelling and increase nerve sensitivity to pain. Leukotrienes attract inflammatory cells that worsen the inflammation and add to nerve sensitivity.

Anti-inflammatory drugs work to block the COX and/or lipoxygenase from forming prostaglandins and/or leukotrienes, thereby reducing the pain, swelling, and other symptoms associated with inflammation.

There are at least 2 forms of COX (called COX-1 and COX-2).

COX-1 is normally present in many tissues, and inflammation causes COX-2 levels to rise.

COX-1 produces prostaglandins that help protect the stomach, kidneys, and blood vessels. COX-2 produces prostaglandins that are associated with pain and inflammation.

The ideal anti-inflammatory drug, therefore, should be “COX-2-specific”, “COX-2-selective”, or “COX-1-sparing”. That is, they should only select and block COX-2 so that prostaglandins that are associated with pain and inflammation are not produced; yet at the same time COX-1 is spared so that production of the prostaglandins that help protect the stomach, kidneys, and blood vessels is not disrupted.

Here are some common NSAIDs that are used to treat canine osteoarthritis:

Generic Name Brand Name Mechanism Dosing Possible Side Effects
Aspirin Many COX-1 and COX-2 inhibitor 7-12 mg/lb every 12 hours Stomach upset
Carprofen Rimadyl COX-2 inhibitor 2 mg/lb/day Stomach upset
Deracoxib Deramaxx COX-2 inhibitor 0.5-1 mg/lb/day Stomach upset
Etodolac Etogesic COX-2 inhibitor 5-7 mg/lb/day Stomach upset, dry eye
Meloxicam Metacam COX-2 inhibitor 0.05 mg/lb/day Stomach upset
Tepoxalin Zubrin dual pathway inhibitor (inhibits both COX and lipoxygenase) 5 mg/lb/day Stomach upset

Precautions

While newer types of NSAIDs are relatively safe for use on dogs, there are several things to keep in mind when using this type of canine pain medication:

  • Do not give aspirin or any other NSAIDs to your dog while he is already on one NSAID. The combination increases the chance of your dog having gastrointestinal or other complications.
  • NSAIDs should NEVER be given in combination with steroids.
  • Never give your dog an NSAID designed for people.
  • If your dog is on other medications, check with your vet before giving your dog any pain medication. Some NSAIDs may interact with other medications, such as antibiotics.
  • Check with your vet before giving an NSAID to a pregnant or lactating female dog.

Canine Pain Medication – Steroids

Sometimes dogs with osteoarthritis are treated with steroids (such as prednisone), which have anti-inflammatory properties.

In particular, steroids are the drugs of choice in treating immune-mediated osteoarthritis in dogs, such as rheumatoid arthritis.

In immune-mediated osteoarthritis, steroids are used in high doses for short periods of time to block the process of cartilage destruction.

However, steroids are very powerful and can cause a lot of nasty side effects. Therefore, the use (especially long-term use) of steroids to treat canine osteoarthritis is controversial.

Many veterinarians are of the opinion that steroids are best used for short periods in dogs with osteoarthritis who have not responded well to NSAIDs.

Short-term side effects of steroids include increased drinking, eating, and urinating.

Long term use of steroids can in fact contribute to destruction of cartilage, weakening of the muscles and other soft tissues, and disturbing the normal hormonal balance.

There are also other possible long-term side effects which, as you can see, can affect almost every organ of a dog’s body.

If your dog has been prescribed steroids for the treatment of osteoarthritis, be sure to closely monitor his conditions for possible side effects.

Also, NEVER give any NSAIDs to your dog if he is on steroids.

Canine Pain Medication – Opiates

Opiates are very strong painkillers and are only used by vets in animal hospitals to alleviate extreme pain in sick or dogs who are terminally ill.

Examples of opiates are morphine and butorphanol.

Since opiates are sedative and extremely powerful, they tend to cause very serious adverse side effects, such as changes in respiratory and heart rate.

Moreover, interestingly, opiates are addictive not only to people but also to dogs.

In view of the addictiveness of the drugs and the serious side effects they can cause, opiates are usually used as a last resort and should always be administered under the close supervision of a veterinarian.

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