Dog Arthritis Medication

Conventional dog arthritis medicaiton includes the use of pain relief drugs such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and steroids. While these drugs may bring about pain relief to your dogs, long-term use can cause adverse side effects, especially steroids. This page looks at these commonly prescribed dog arthritis drugs and their side effects.

Dog Arthritis Medication Your dog is in pain. He has been diagnosed with dog osteoarthritis and has been put on some conventional dog arthritis medication.

But do you know exactly what kind of drug it is? Do you know if it causes any nasty side-effects?

As responsible dog parents, it is important that we educate ourselves as much as we can before we put our dog on a particular treatment program involving medication.

There are two main categories of common dog arthritis medication. Let's take a look at each one of them.

NSAIDs (Non-Steroid Anti-Inflammatory Drugs)

NSAIDs are medicines commonly used to treat hip dysplasia and arthritis in animals. They provide analgesic pain relief and reduce joint inflammation.

NSAIDs work against a chemical in the body called cyclooxygenase.

There are two kinds of cyclooxygenase, COX-1 and COX-2. Traditional NSAIDs, such as aspirin, Rimadyl (generic name is Carprofen) work against both COX-1 and COX-2 in the body.

Newer medications (such as Deramaxx) leave the COX-1 variety alone, resulting in less stomach irritation and ulceration. These newer generation NSAIDs are known as COX-2 Inhibitors and are said to have fewer side effects than the earlier NSAIDs.

Side Effects

FDA, pharmaceutical companies and many vets cite that dog arthritis medication such as NSAIDs can cause indigestion, vomitting, diarrhea, or stomach ulcers.

In some animals, these medicines may also cause high blood pressure or asthma. Other than that, it is said that NSAIDs are very safe for our dogs.

But are they?

Take a look at these facts:

  • COX-2 inhibitors have been found to pose risks of heart attack and stroke in people and these pain relievers for people were withdrawn from the market in September 2005.
  • Before getting FDA approval, Rimadyl was tested only in 549 dogs; Deramaxx in about 700.
  • FDA records show that 3,200 dogs have died or been put down after taking the drugs. Almost 19,000 dogs have had bad reactions to them.
  • Through November 2004, the FDA received almost 13,000 adverse-event reports about Rimadyl, far more than for any other dog pain reliever.
  • Pfizer's (pharmaceutical company that makes Rimadyl) database includes almost 20,000 adverse-event reports. The FDA's data include those "possibly" or "probably" linked to the drug. Adverse events for all drugs are believed to be under-reported.
  • The FDA's data include 2,813 adverse-event reports for Deramaxx, including 630 dogs who died or were put down (between 2002 and 2005).
  • (The above information was obtained from an article in USA Today.)

There are also a lot of anecdotal reports on the serious side-effects of these NSAIDs on dogs.

However, NSAIDs do have their place in treating dog arthritis as they can improve the dog's quality of life. If you think your dog could benefit from treatment with NSAIDs, do take precautions to minimize their risks:

  • First and foremost, insist on a proper diagnosis before agreeing with your vet to put your dog on dog arthritis medication such as NSAIDs.

    Not all lameness and stiffness are caused by arthritis. For example, dogs suffering from hypothyroidism can also show signs of lameness. However, x-rays will reveal that there is nothing wrong with the joints. Other causes include injury, or bone cancer.

  • Get lab tests done prior to treatment. Blood and urine tests should be done to make sure that your dog has proper and healthy functioning of the heart, liver, kidneys, pancreas and the GI system. Do not use NSAIDs if your dog has problems in any of the above organ systems.
  • Monitor liver and kidney enzymes during treatment.
  • Give NSAIDs with a meal to reduce the chance of stomach upset.
  • Be extremely careful with concurrent drug use. For example, the combined use of aspirin, multiple NSAIDs, or steroids is not advised.
  • Familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms of all the possible side effects of NSAIDs. If your dog shows any of such signs, discontinue the drug's use and seek veterinary advice immediately.


Another type of common dog arthritis medication is a kind of steroid called anti-inflammatory corticosteroids, which are used to treat pets for various conditions. The manner in which these drugs work is, they suppress the immune system.

They can therefore be used to treat not only inflammation from arthritis, but also such diseases as allergies, auto-immune diseases, stomach and intestinal inflammation, and kidney diseases.

Some common steroid medications used to treat pets include prednisone, dexamethasone, and triamcinolone.

Side Effects

Common side effects of this type of medication include:

  • Drinking a lot of water
  • Panting
  • Renal disorders
  • Excessive hunger
  • Weight gain
  • Irritability

However, if we do a little more research, we will find out that these anti-inflammatory corticosteroids, such as prednisone, can cause a lot more damage to our dogs' bodies than the pharmaceutical companies want us to know.

Side effects after a considerable period of usage include:

  • Suppression of the immune system
  • Ulcers in the digestive tract
  • Pain and inflammation in pancreas
  • Diabetes
  • Degeneration of muscles
  • Unpredictable changes in behaviors and mood

Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, obstruct the proper functioning of the adrenal glands. If the drug is continued for more than a week, it can affect the normal functioning of the adrenal glands on a permanent basis. This results in a dependency on the drug, since the body is unable to create its own natural corticosteroids.

In fact, many veterinarians and human doctors alike have voiced their concerns about the use of steroids - the side-effects caused outweigh the medicinal benefits that they can give us.

Need some proof, huh? OK. Here goes ...

Dr. John B. Wong, an associate professor of medicine at Tufts-New England Medical Center in Boston, conducted a study that tracked the progress of 4,993 people with rheumatoid arthritis for 15 years, monitoring their medications and subsequent health.

According to the study, those who had taken 5 milligrams to 10 milligrams of prednisone a day were twice as likely to break their hips and 2 and a half times as likely to develop cataracts as those who had taken no prednisone.

In an article written by a veterinarian, Dr. Levy, he indicates that "corticosteroids (cortisone-type anti-inflammatory drugs) are the most abused and dangerous class of drugs. Not only do they not cure the underlying cause of the problem, they usually make the underlying problem, that is, the real problem, worse."

Dr. Kidd (author of Herbal Dog Care) also shares the same view.

He says steroids "are definitely contraindicated for treating arthritis. Long term use (for more than a couple of weeks) ... causes nasty side effects, such as stomach ulcers and liver and kidney problems. In addition, the drugs actually inhibit the healing of joint surfaces, tendons, and ligaments. What's even worse, many of them also promote the degeneration of the joint-surface cartilage - the very process we are trying to prevent and heal." (Dr. Kidd's Guide to Herbal Dog Care, page 60)

Scary stuff, don't you agree?

Other Pain Relief Medications

Besides the conventional dog arthritis medication above, how about common pain relief medications? Are they safe for our pets?

As a rule, never, never give pain relief medications for humans, such as Advil (generic name - Ibuprofen) and Tylenol (generic name - Acetaminophen) to your dog. They will cause serious damages or even death to your dog.

Many people, including veterinarians, say that aspirin is a safe pain relief medicine for dogs.

But is it really?

Actually, aspirin, like many NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory dugs), can cause a lot of nasty serious side effects, such as:

According to Veterinary Drug Handbook (3rd ed., D. C. Plumb), aspirin interacts with other drugs. Using aspirin with other NSAIDs exaggerates the ulcerative properties of these medications. Therefore, aspirin should not be used in combination with cortisone-type medications such as prednisone or with other NSAIDS such as Rimadyl.

Moreover, aspirin may cause birth defects, so if your dog is pregnant, do not give her any aspirin.

Aspirin is poorly tolerated by young dogs, since they lack the enzymes necessary to process the aspirin. (For that matter, the same is true for most cats.)

Even for adult dogs, aspirin can be toxic if given in high doses of about 30 mg per pound of the dog. This means that if your dog weighs 2 lb. or less, even a baby aspirin could be poisonous for her. For a dog that weighs about 10 lb., an adult aspirin (320 mg) could be toxic.

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Natural Pain Relief for Dog with Arthritis

As you can see from above, conventional dog arthritis medication may cause a lot of nasty side effects to our dogs and should be used with extreme care and under veterinary supervision. If you'd rather go natural, visit this page for more information.