Best Over-the-Counter Anti-Inflammatory for Dogs · The Wildest

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Best Over-the-Counter Anti-Inflammatory for Dogs

And learn which meds you should never, ever give them.

Woman looking at pills for her dog at veterinary clinic.
AnnaStills / Alamy Stock Photo

When your dog experiences pain and inflammation, finding the right medication to help them feel more comfortable can be a challenge. Over-the-counter (OTC) medications may seem like a good option in a pinch, but they can do more harm than good.

What can I give my dog for pain?

No one wants to see their dog in pain, whether it’s from a sprain after playing too hard or arthritis associated with old age. It can be tempting to give your painful pup an OTC anti-inflammatory to help relieve their pain, but you may be making things worse for your dog by rushing to relieve their pain with the wrong medication.

OTC non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), even the ones labeled “dog aspirin,” are not considered safe for dogs. There are better medications available that were developed specifically for dogs. Learning more about inflammation and what NSAIDs do can help you find the right medication to get your dog feeling better while minimizing the risk of side effects.

What are NSAIDs and how do they work?

The physiological systems related to inflammation and pain sensation are incredibly complex. Exploring the function of every pain receptor and inflammatory cascade in the body is a great way to put most people to sleep. But understanding a few basics about how NSAIDs work can make it clear why some are more dangerous than others.

When an injury occurs, cells in the area increase production of an enzyme called cyclooxygenase (COX). COX helps produce prostaglandins, which are a key component in the inflammatory response. In injured areas, prostaglandins dilate blood vessels, keep platelets from sticking together, and increase sensitivity to pain. Early NSAIDs like aspirin and ibuprofen inhibit all COX activity.

While this may seem great, it turns out that there are at least three types of cyclooxygenases in the body. The important ones are COX-1 and COX-2; COX-3 was discovered recently, and its role in the body isn’t fully clear yet. OTC NSAID medications like aspirin inhibit both COX-1 and COX-2, which causes problems because COX-1 is needed for some of the body’s baseline functions like protecting the stomach, intestines, and kidneys day to day.

Risks and side effects of NSAIDs in dogs

Most of the downsides of NSAIDs come from inhibiting COX-1. When NSAIDs block COX-1, stomach acid secretion increases, protective intestinal mucus production decreases, and blood flow to the kidneys decreases. These effects can lead to ulcers in the stomach and intestines, as well as damage to the kidneys.

Newer NSAIDs inhibit COX-2 preferentially. While they still have some minor effects on COX-1, they’re targeted at the specific enzymes that show up in an injury to cause pain and inflammation. Limiting the impact on COX-1 limits the effects on the kidneys and GI tract.

Dogs that receive the wrong type of NSAID or too much of an NSAID will often show symptoms associated with these systems, such as:

  • Loss of appetite

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Blood in stool (bright red or tar-like appearance)

  • Lethargy

  • Pale gums

  • Decreased urine production

  • Perforation of the stomach or intestines

In severe overdoses, neurological signs like altered behavior, seizures, or coma are possible for reasons not fully understood.

Importance of proper dosage and veterinary guidance

Because NSAIDs can cause such serious problems if misused, it’s always recommended to see a veterinarian to get an appropriate medication if your dog is in pain. Based on your dog’s history and degree of pain, your vet can choose a drug with the fewest potential risks. Once prescribed, give the medication as recommended — administering extra doses of NSAIDs won’t have any added benefit and can increase your dog’s risk for developing side effects.

Safe NSAIDs for dogs

When an injury occurs, your first thought may be, “What can I give my dog for immediate pain relief?” This is a normal instinct, but giving an OTC pain reliever can complicate things for your dog’s recovery. The side effects of most NSAIDs overlap and last five to seven days. This means that giving an OTC NSAID at home could prevent your dog from getting pain relief from safer, more effective NSAIDs for a week.

There is no published dose of NSAIDs like ibuprofen or naproxen for dogs due to toxicity concerns. Aspirin had been used regularly in dogs before safer medications were available, but aspirin has been shown to induce stomach ulcers in dogs after just one dose at previously recommended levels. Drugs like acetaminophen (Tylenol) are occasionally used in dogs, but the dose range is very limited and there are still toxicity concerns.

Even for dogs with chronic pain, finding a long-term drug that keeps your dog happy and active with minimal side effects can be tough. Just picking the best NSAID for a dog with arthritis involves working with your vet to monitor blood work, watch for side effects, and gradually adjust the dosage or medications to find what works for your dog.

The most commonly prescribed NSAIDs for dogs are COX-2 inhibitors. This class of drugs available from your veterinarian has a decreased risk of side effects compared to drugs like aspirin. Some dogs with kidney disease or endocrine issues like Cushing’s disease are at increased risk of side effects from these drugs, despite their improved safety. Some common NSAIDs your veterinarian may prescribe include:

  • Carprofen (Rimadyl or Novox)

  • Deracoxib (Deramaxx)

  • Meloxicam (Meloxicam)

  • Firocoxib (Previcox)

  • Robenacoxib (Onsior)

  • Etodolac (Etogesic)

A newer class of NSAID prevents inflammatory prostaglandins from binding to their receptor rather than inhibiting COX. This results in fewer GI side effects, though they are still possible at high doses. The first drug of this class for dogs is grapiprant (Galliprant).

NSAID alternatives for dogs

There are no great at-home options for acute pain in dogs. If your dog is hurt, the best plan is to get them to the vet as soon as possible. Vet clinics have quick-acting narcotics available for moderate to severe pain and a variety of prescription pain control options to choose from.

Prescription pain relief meds

NSAIDs are often the go-to option for at-home pain control, but they may not be right for every dog or every situation. Some reasons for not prescribing NSAIDs include:

  • Risk factors for side effects

  • Recent GI surgery or symptoms

  • Interactions with other medications

  • Previous intolerance of NSAIDs

If your vet determines NSAIDs aren’t right for your dog, they have other non-NSAID pain relief options available for dogs, such as gabapentin, tramadol, muscle relaxers, or narcotic medications. These may also be used in conjunction with NSAIDs for dogs with more severe pain.

Dietary supplements

Dietary supplements aren’t going to do anything for a dog’s acute pain, but they may help regulate pain and inflammation in dogs with chronic conditions like arthritis. There are many types of supplements available, and your vet can help guide you on which ones can be most effective for your dog.

When to consult with your vet

Always talk to your veterinarian if you’re concerned that your dog is in pain. Although some causes of pain are mild and may resolve quickly, severe or protracted pain should always trigger a visit to the vet. Your dog can’t talk, so getting any possible pain checked out and under control is the best way to make sure they’re comfortable.

FAQs (People also ask):

Can dogs take aspirin?

Although aspirin was commonly prescribed for pain for dogs in the past, there are much safer and more effective options available for dogs now. Never give your dog medications without consulting your vet first.

What can I give my dog for arthritis pain?

Dogs with arthritis benefit from a tailored lifestyle approach to manage their pain with weight loss, dietary supplements, and prescription medications. The goal is to minimize medications and maximize quality of life.

What medicine can I give my dog for pain?

There are no over-the-counter medications that are safe and effective for dogs. See your veterinarian to have the cause of your dog’s pain evaluated and treated with appropriate medications.


Dr. Bartley Harrison holding his dog

Dr. Bartley Harrison, DVM

Dr. Bartley Harrison, DVM is a small animal veterinarian based in North Carolina who has practiced emergency medicine since graduating from the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine. His primary interest areas include pain management, cardiology, and the treatment of shock.

He is a member of the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society, American Veterinary Medical Association, and American Medical Writers Association. In addition to his clinical work, he writes pet health articles to help provide accurate information for both new and experienced pet parents. When he’s not working, he enjoys cooking, traveling, reading, and going on adventures with his dog.

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