According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the most commonly prescribed pain relievers for animals. These medications— which are also used extensively to reduce pain, fever, and inflammation in people—often are used to help manage joint pain (arthritis) in dogs and treat postoperative pain in dogs and cats. At this time, they are not approved for long-term use in cats.

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NSAIDs block production of chemicals in the body that play a role in inflammation—swelling, pain, redness, warmth—that develops as a result of irritation or injury. However, it's important for pet owners to realize that these pain relievers may have dangerous side effects and carry some risks.

Before prescribing NSAIDs for your dog or cat, your veterinarian will:

  • ask about your pet's health history,
  • perform a thorough examination,
  • talk to you about the medication—how to administer the drug, how long to use it, possible side effects, etc. and
  • ask about any other medications or supplements your pet is taking.

NSAID Risks & Side Effects

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can damage the digestive tract, kidneys, and liver, and they must be used with caution in pets with a history of kidney or liver problems. Before and during long-term NSAID treatment, your veterinarian will perform regular blood tests to evaluate your dog’s kidney and liver function. Most liver damage occurs in the first few weeks of treatment, so it’s especially important to monitor your pet carefully during this time.

Common NSAID side effects in pets include the following:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diminished activity level

Signs of serious side effects include blood in the feces, tar-like stools, and yellowing of the gums or the whites of the eyes. Report these side effects to your veterinarian immediately as they can indicate a potentially fatal complication, such as kidney or liver failure or an ulcer or hole (perforation) in the digestive tract.

Read all information contained in the package inserts and information sheets included your pet’s medication(s) and follow your veterinarian’s recommendations closely. If your vet prescribes more than one NSAID, or an NSAID along with a steroid (e.g., prednisone), be especially cautious. These combinations may increase the risk for and the severity of medication side effects.

Are OTC Pain Relievers Safe for Pets?

Although you may be tempted to give your pet an over-the-counter pain reliever—an NSAID like aspirin or ibuprofen, or another drug like acetaminophen—never do so without checking with your veterinarian first. Medications and dosages that are safe for people may be toxic or deadly for animals. Also, never give a medication prescribed for one pet to another animal without your vet's okay.

Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 07 Nov 2013

Last Modified: 07 Nov 2013