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NSAIDs for Dogs: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

When I was a kid, our small family dog Louie ate about 30 ibuprofen out of my mom’s purse. 

At the time (I was around age 11) I didn’t know why this was such a serious issue. I mean, it sounded bad. I wouldn’t feel good about eating 30 ibuprofen myself and Louie weighed much less than I did. 

Louie did pull through (lucky guy!) and lived a long, happy life, but not without a major trip to and multiple day stay at the emergency pet vet. 

You can imagine the vet bill my parents received. Louie never lived it down. 

Let’s walk through why the ibuprofen was so problematic for poor Louie.  

What are NSAIDs? 

Ibuprofen is one of many common over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for humans. 

When you are dealing with everyday aches and pains, one of your first “go-to’s,” is probably to reach for an NSAID, such as Ibuprofen or Advil. We’ve all been there before with headaches, sore muscles, back pain. Our first reaction is to get to the medicine cabinet and pop a few aspirin!  

So what’s the harm with using NSAIDs?

While these drugs are not necessarily bad (there is a definite time and place to use these anti-inflammatory drugs), long-term use of NSAIDs can have negative side effects. This is probably not that surprising. Most of us are aware that long-term use of any drug typically comes with a pro/con list. 

And it’s no different for your dog. The difference is that your dog probably isn’t complaining about a headache. Dogs are far more likely to be experiencing joint pain that is limiting their daily activity.  

The scenarios have some differences. You taking 2 aspirin on Tuesday for a random minor headache is much different than your dog’s constant joint pain which would require consistent NSAID use. 

How can you help relieve your dog’s pain without causing bigger problems and side effects down the road?

What do NSAIDs do?

We’ve got to start with a little background about the role that NSAIDs play in the body. Basically, when any cell becomes damaged as a result of injury, trauma, illness or degeneration (such as what occurs in dog arthritis), an enzyme called cyclooxygenase (COX) becomes activated. The activation of COX causes the cell to start producing prostaglandins. 

Prostaglandins are interesting because they are neither good nor bad; They play different roles in the body depending on what is going on. When they are showing off their good side, prostaglandins offer protection to the stomach and digestive tract lining, but when they are showing their bad side, prostaglandins can create a major inflammatory cascade and pain within the body.

This is simplifying it a little bit, but you just need to know that NSAIDs act by blocking COX, which, in turn, decreases prostaglandin production. This means that pain and inflammation decreases, but at the same time, the body loses some of the positive effects from prostaglandins.

Are NSAIDs safe for dogs? 

When the positive effects of prostaglandins are dampened, this leaves your dog’s stomach and digestive tract vulnerable to damage. Long-term use of NSAIDs in dogs has some pretty nasty side effects, including vomiting, diarrhea, development of ulcers, bloody/tar colored stool, decreased appetite, decreased physical activity, and worse. 

Our dog Louie was monitored for digestive distress at the emergency hospital for this very reason. He ingested WAY too much of an NSAID that had the potential to cause some serious long-term issues. 

Can you give ibuprofen to dogs? 

Now, Louie did not receive ibuprofen by his owners’ choice...He took that one upon himself. But the question still remains! 

The answer is no. Dogs are much different than humans and human drugs may reach higher blood levels, be absorbed faster, and react differently within a dog’s body. So even if you think your dog is in pain, don’t head to the medicine cabinet!

Talk to your veterinarian about using NSAIDs for your dog first. Some common NSAIDs for dogs are carprofen, deracoxib (deramaxx), firocoxib (previcox), grapiprant, meloxicam, and robenacoxib. There are different manufacturers that sell these drugs, so if you are using any joint pain meds for your dog, look for the drug name on the label, rather than just the brand name/manufacturer, so you know if you are using a dog NSAID.

And to be clear, too much of any NSAID (dog or human) or long-term use will negatively affect your pet. But, of course, if they really need an NSAID, make sure it is species-specific and discuss with your vet.  

What can I give my dog for joint pain?

If NSAIDs are not the best solution for treating joint pain and arthritis in dogs, what should you do?

These days it is hard to shop anywhere without seeing the words “natural,” “organic,” and “anti-inflammatory.” If you’re wondering whether or not these are buzzwords, you’ve come to the right place. 

The short answer is that they are more than buzzwords, but there is also a lot of misguided information out there. 

What is a natural anti-inflammatory for dogs?

There are many “natural anti-inflammatories” on the market that have not been scientifically proven as a natural remedy for joint pain in dogs. They are based on nice ideas, rather than research. 

There’s a lot of benefit to using a natural anti-inflammatory for dogs, especially if it works, without all those awful side effects listed above that typically come with NSAID use. 

Enter: Rocket Animal Health’s Canine Cush, which has been formulated to reflect current research about the best, safest ingredients to use for your dog’s joint health. Not only is it designed to have maximum anti-inflammatory benefits, there are also ingredients to help decrease anxiety and pain, support the immune system, and rebuild the joints

If you want to ease your dog’s joint pain safely and effectively, you’ve gotta try this joint supplement!