Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) help many pets manage pain from health issues like joint problems and arthritis.
Pet owners say the drugs return zip and zest to older, lame dogs that can once again jump and play.
However, NSAIDs – like any other drug – can have side effects, which is why it is important to make sure your dog is the right candidate (with urine and blood work) and that she does well on the drug. Talk to your doctor about pre-existing conditions and watch for side-effects (like vomiting) that indicate problems. Side-effects can include gastrointestinal problems and – in some cases that are not treated quickly – death.
In the past few years, consumer complaints to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about NSAID side effects have steadily increased.
After studying the issue, professionals believe that while doctors explain side effects, some pet owners may not understand the risks involved in giving NSAIDs that can – if not used properly – cause medical problems in pets.
To ensure safety, veterinary professionals and doctors at the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine encourage pet owners to ask questions and read client information sheets provided by drug companies thoroughly. After conversations, some doctors ask pet owners to repeat what they heard to make sure that messages are conveyed effectively.
In other words, once you leave the clinic do you know what signs to watch for? Do you understand that while an NSAID may help your pet immensely it also has the potential to cause harm, just like any other medication?
“It doesn’t matter what we say to clients, it only matters what clients hear,” said Robin Downing, DVM, owner of AAHA-accredited Windsor Veterinary Clinic in Colorado.
Downing, who is also a past president of the International Veterinary Academy for Pain Management, believes testing, rechecks within the first few weeks, and assessment of a pet’s reaction to the drug is the key to successful use of an NSAID.
Pet owners are urged to watch closely for subtle signs of side effects to the drug, and to call their veterinarians to report signs quickly.
Vomiting, diarrhea, and lack of appetite are common side-effects of NSAIDs. Unfortunately, many of those side-effects are common ailments in pets, especially with dogs that regularly eat random items, which is why pet owners should remind their veterinary professionals that pets are on NSAIDs when they call.
“We are so close and so familiar with some of the [early signs] that we don’t really stop to consider what a pet on NSAIDs could be trying to tell us,” said Michelle Sharkey, DVM, a veterinary medical officer with the FDA’s Office of New Drug Evaluation.
AAHA produced an educational handout titled “What YOU Should Know About Your Pet’s Pain Medication” that contains detailed information for pet owners about NSAIDs. It can be downloaded by clicking here.
To make sure that pets are paired with the right pain medication, Downing runs extensive tests before prescribing NSAIDs to ensure that patients do not have underlying problems and can safely take the drugs. Depending on the pet, she takes a CBC, renal panels, and also checks hepatic function, blood sugar, albumin and – for seniors – she does a urinalysis. Although it does not happen frequently, Downing has disqualified patients for NSAID use because of the test results. “It doesn’t happen often but it’s often enough to realize that this [testing] is an essential part of the process,” she explained.
If a pet is a good candidate for the drugs, Downing prescribes an NSAID and schedules a check-up visit one week later to weigh the dog and assess overall response to the drug.
Ask your veterinary professionals about NSAIDs. If your pet is on an NSAID, or if you are considering an NSAID, talk with the veterinary professionals who you trust about the risks versus benefits to this class of drugs. If you decide to give the drug, watch closely for signs that your pet is doing well and ask for the necessary medical tests to make sure that your pet continues to do well.
This article originally appeared in PetsMatter Volume 2 Issue 1, published by the American Animal Hospital Association. Copyright © 2009 AAHA. Find out more.