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dogs and meds
Dog taking a pill

The essentials

  • Anti-inflammatories for dogs are extremely common — Pet owners and veterinarians use them regularly to treat swelling, redness, and pain in dogs.
  • There are several types of anti-inflammatories — But not all anti-inflammatory medications are alike or can be combined with other medications. Having a vet’s diagnosis ensures you use the right one for your pup’s situation.
  • Ingredients play a big factor in anti-inflammatory effectiveness — Your dog may react better to some treatments over others.

What are anti-inflammatories?

As their name hints, anti-inflammatories are a type of medication that reduces a dog’s inflammatory response to injury, or infection. Inflammation on its own isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it can actually help your dog’s body fight off foreign invaders, such as viruses, bacteria, or allergens.

But according to the Merck Veterinary Manual , too much inflammation can cause negative effects on a dog’s body, like loss of function of the affected area. When symptoms become severe enough, anti-inflammatory drugs may be prescribed to help reduce or limit inflammation.

Most of us are familiar with the tell-tale signs of inflammation because they’re like those in humans:

  • Heat
  • Pain
  • Redness
  • Swelling

Anti-inflammatory medicines are used to treat both temporary and acute conditions, such as swelling caused by an insect bite or cut. They’re also used for more long-term conditions, such as osteoarthritis (OA).

Types of anti-inflammatories for dogs

There are four common types of anti-inflammatory medications used for dogs. They include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, antihistamines, and natural alternatives. Which one is right for your pup depends on the severity of their inflammation. Read on to learn about each type of medication.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

  • Medication type: Anti-inflammatory
  • Form: Pill (oral) or injection
  • Availability: Prescription
  • FDA approved? Yes
  • Active ingredient names: carprofen, deracoxib, firocoxib, grapiprant, meloxicam, piroxicam, robenacoxib
  • Common medications: Deramaxx, Doxidyl, Feldene, Galliprant, Metacam, Novox, Onsior, Previcox, Rimadyl
  • Life stage: All ages. Some labels warn that safety has not been evaluated for 4 weeks or younger.

What are NSAIDs used for?

If you’ve heard of Advil or Aleve, you’re already somewhat familiar with NSAIDs. NSAIDs are used for pain relief. Just don’t use those brands for your dog!

🚨 Never give your dog over-the-counter pain relievers from the drug store, such as aspirin or Tylenol (acetaminophen), without first consulting your vet. These medicines are for human consumption and can cause emergency medical conditions in dogs.

Specifically formulated and branded NSAIDs are used to control pain and inflammation in dogs. They’re often prescribed for painful canine conditions such as osteoarthritis — to manage pain and improve mobility. They may also be prescribed for post-operative pain management or to treat musculoskeletal inflammation.

How do NSAIDs work?

When cells in your dog’s body get damaged, they activate cyclooxygenase (COX), an enzyme that stimulates the production of prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are found throughout a dog’s body and are important for protecting the lining of the stomach, maintaining blood flow to the kidneys, supporting blood clotting, and more. Prostaglandins are also responsible for inflammation and other symptoms, such as swelling and fever — acting as an alarm system when doggie cells are damaged.

NSAIDs for dogs inhibit the activation of the COX2 enzyme (and thus the inflammation-causing prostaglandins), or they block certain activities of prostaglandins.

Benefits of NSAIDs in dogs

According to the FDA, the two key benefits to NSAIDs that make them favored for doggie pain relief are:

  1. They have proven to be safe and effective when labels are properly followed
  2. NSAID labels are specifically designed for dogs with all the information vets need for treatment.

The Merck Veterinary Manual also notes that NSAIDs can produce positive results without the side effects that can come with other medicines, such as corticosteroids. But that’s not to say NSAIDs don’t come without their own risks.

What are the side effects of NSAIDs for dogs?

Like any drug, NSAIDs can come with side effects. The Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine outlines the most common:

  • Decrease or increase in appetite
  • Change in bowel movements (diarrhea, bloody stool)
  • Changes in behavior (activity level, aggression, incoordination, seizure)
  • Changes in drinking habits (more or less water consumed)
  • Change in urine (color, frequency, smell)
  • Lethargy
  • Skin conditions (redness, scabs, scratching, yellowing)

👉 If your dog experiences any of these symptoms after taking an NSAID, contact your vet immediately.

Remember how prostaglandins also protect the lining of the stomach, maintain blood flow to the kidneys, and support blood clotting? Non-selective NSAIDs that target all COX enzymes (such as human NSAIDs) over-inhibit prostaglandins, and can disrupt those positive bodily functions.

As a result, though extremely rare, NSAIDs can cause stomach ulcers, intestinal ulcers, intestinal bleeding, kidney failure, or liver failure. So, if your pup has any digestive, liver, or kidney conditions, be sure to inform your vet before treatment with NSAIDs.

Combining NSAIDs and other medication for dogs

Pet parents should take special care when treating their pets with NSAIDs. They shouldn’t be consumed while any other NSAIDs or steroids are present in the body. What’s more, some NSAIDs have a washout period where successive NSAIDs shouldn’t be given until the body is “clear.”

👉 Make sure you notify your vet of any and all medications your dog is taking before receiving the NSAIDs, even if they are herbal or supplements.

Steroids

  • Medication type: Anti-inflammatory, immunosuppressant at higher doses
  • Form: Pill (oral), drops (ears/eyes), topical creams, or injection
  • Availability: Prescription
  • FDA approved? Yes
  • Active ingredients: betamethasone, dexamethasone, flumethasone, fludrocortisone, methylprednisolone, prednisolone, prednisone, triamcinolone
  • Common medications: Animax, Azium, Deltasone, Medrol, PrednisTab, Vetalog
  • Life stage: All ages

What are steroids used for?

Steroids are used for a wide range of doggie conditions ranging from mild inflammation and allergic reactions (anti-itch) to arthritis and autoimmune (AI) disease. According to the Ryan Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, some steroids can even directly kill cancerous mast cells while decreasing inflammation and the effects of degranulation, or the release of toxic substances into the bloodstream.

How do steroids work?

Steroids, also known by their scientific name, corticosteroids, are naturally produced by the adrenal glands in dogs. While a variety of steroids are produced with varying purposes, glucocorticoids are responsible for reducing inflammation caused by minor conditions or allergies. When provided in higher doses, steroids can act as an immunosuppressant.

According to VCA Animal Hospitals, synthetic steroids are the most commonly prescribed and are much more potent and longer-lasting.

Benefits of steroids for dogs

Steroids have benefits that extend beyond treatment for inflammation. They’re a part of countless treatment regimens for many life-threatening diseases and illnesses, and when properly administered, have few side effects.

Steroids also come in varying forms. Some pups react more positively to specific applications over others (e.g., oral versus injection).

What are the side effects of steroids?

VCA Animal Hospitals details the short-term side effects that can occur when dogs are initially placed on steroids. They include:

  • Diabetes (in pre-diabetic dogs; often goes away upon the end of steroid use)
  • Increased hunger, thirst, or urination
  • Loss of energy
  • Panting
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Worsening of infections (e.g., skin infections)

After long-term use (3 to 4 months), other side effects can occur, including:

At least one study also suggests that behavior changes — including restlessness, more frequent barking, aggression, avoidance, and general fearfulness — can occur in dogs treated with corticosteroids.

As with any medication, talk with your vet before administering treatment. Watch for any symptoms throughout treatment and report them promptly. If any of the above symptoms occur, your vet may prescribe a different steroid to minimize side effects while helping your dog.

Combining steroids and other doggie medications

Steroids shouldn’t be combined with any other drugs, including other anti-inflammatory drugs such as NSAIDs, or other forms of treatment unless specifically approved by your veterinarian.

Antihistamines

  • Medication type: Anti-inflammatory, anti-allergen
  • Form: Pill or liquid (oral)
  • Availability: Over the counter, prescribed
  • FDA approved? Only for humans
  • Active ingredients: Cetirizine, chlorpheniramine, clemastine, diphenhydramine HCL, hydroxyzine, loratadine
  • Common medications: Atarax, Benadryl, Chlor-Trimeton, Claritin, Elavil, Periactin, Tavist-1, Zyrtec
  • Life stage: All ages

What are antihistamines used for?

Antihistamines are most commonly used in humans to treat seasonal allergies. But they can also be used to treat depression, anxiety, and motion sickness.

Though not FDA approved for dogs, the American Kennel Club reports that veterinarians may treat skin conditions, itching, motion sickness, and anxiety in dogs with low-dosage over-the-counter antihistamines, such as Benadryl.

While some pet owners have found success with antihistamines and some studies confirm their success for treatment, other studies have found them to play no part in symptom improvement at best.

How do antihistamines work?

Antihistamines work by blocking histamine receptors in the body — in particular, the H1 histamine receptor found in mammals.

Benefits of antihistamines for dogs

Antihistamines have a variety of benefits for dogs. First, they’re generally safe in small doses and when strictly used under veterinary instruction. Second, they tend to be less of a “whompf” on the body than other anti-inflammatories — medicines like steroids tend to be more hard-hitting. Third, they can often be taken daily and for long-term treatment. Finally, they have a wide variety of applications, from skin conditions to calming anxiety.

What are the side effects of antihistamines?

Common side effects of Benadryl and other antihistamines include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Hypersalivation
  • Increased heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Urinary retention

More rare side effects include:

  • Decreased or increased appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

Dogs with cardiovascular disease, glaucoma, hypertension, hypothyroidism, lung disease, seizure disorders, or that are pregnant/nursing should always have vet approval before using an antihistamine.

Important notes on antihistamines

  • Adult dogs need less dosage than humans, and puppies need even smaller dosages.
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines may contain decongestants, sodium, or alcohol — all of which are harmful to dogs. Always check the label carefully to make sure it only contains an antihistamine.
  • Don’t give your dog time-release capsules, as they can cause an overdose
  • Watch out for agitation, constipation, dilated pupils, rapid heartbeat, and seizures, as these could be signs of an overdose.

👉 Before giving your dog an antihistamine, always consult your vet to make sure it’s suitable for your pup.

Combining antihistamines with other canine medications

As with the other anti-inflammatory drugs, antihistamines shouldn’t be combined with any other drugs, including other anti-inflammatory drugs, unless specifically approved by your veterinarian.

Anti-inflammatory supplements for dogs

Joint supplements

Oftentimes, inflammation and joint pain go hand-in-hand. Fortunately, joint supplements for dogs can help reduce pain brought on by osteoarthritis. They can even provide building blocks for cartilage regeneration and to help get our four-legged friends back on their feet.

Ingredients found in doggie joint supplements serve to reduce inflammation, reduce pain, and support ligament health. Common ingredients include:

  • Antioxidants. Prevent damage from free radicals.
  • Glucosamine hydrochloride. An amino sugar that reduces inflammation and helps restore cartilage.
  • Chondroitin sulfate. A compound that fights specific enzymes that harm cartilage.
  • Collagen. A key compound found in connective tissues which deteriorates over time.
  • Fish oil. A great source of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Green-lipped mussels. These ocean dwellers contain glucosamine, chondroitin, and fatty acids that aid in joint repair and reduce cartilage breakdown.
  • Hyaluronic acid. A compound that helps keep connective tissues healthy through joint lubrication and reinforcement.
  • Krill oil. Like fish oil, it contains omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM). A compound that provides both pain relief and has anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids. Help reduce joint inflammation and promote general immune system and organ health.
  • Turmeric. Has anti-inflammatory properties.

What’s more, joint supplements come in a variety of forms — chews, tablets, powders, liquids, and kibble — so you’re sure to find a fitting choice for Fido.

One joint supplement we love are these leading pain relief chews. Approved by the National Animal Supplement Council, Native Pet’s joint supplements always use clean, natural ingredients. These chews include green-lipped mussels, collagen, and more to support joint pain relief and combat inflammation. They have fantastic Amazon reviews and are suitable for dogs of all sizes!

Allergy immune supplements

Seasonal itchy skin and watery eyes are foe to both humans and our canine counterparts. Instead of meticulously cutting up micro-portions of Benadryl or risking human antihistamine complications, consider allergy immune supplements specifically designed for dogs.

Allergy supplements use immune system-boosting ingredients to stave off allergy symptoms. Common ingredients found in allergy supplements include:

  • Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Fish oil is often featured in supplements as it contains omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that naturally help relieve allergies, joint pain, and itchy skin.
  • Probiotics. Many probiotics are live cultures like Lactobacillus
  • Turmeric. As noted with joint supplements, turmeric provides pain relief and has anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Vitamin C. Vitamin C plays an important role in your dog’s health as it helps reduce inflammation, fights infections, and improves joint health.
  • Vitamin E. Dogs need vitamin E to help skin cells function properly.

Like joint supplements, allergy immune supplements come in chew, tablet, liquid, and powder form for convenience.

Our favorite allergy immune supplement chews help relieve symptoms of seasonal, environmental, skin, and food allergies. They’re made in the USA and have outstanding reviews on Amazon, many of which call out how the supplements show improvement in just a matter of days.

👉 Some chondroprotective agents, such as chondroitin sulfate and hyaluronic acid, have been identified as having a protective effect against inflammation and the degeneration of cartilage. This usually occurs in some types of arthritis or tissue inflammation in people. Research is still ongoing about the effectiveness and mode of action of these compounds in dogs.

Are over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers safe for dogs? 

According to the FDA, there are more effective methods to treat your dog’s pain than using an over-the-counter pain reliever, like aspirin, which poses major risks. Always, always, always consult your vet before giving your dog any medication.

Frequently asked questions

What is a good anti-inflammatory for dogs?

There’s no one-size-fits-all for combating inflammation, as the causes and severity vary widely. Each anti-inflammatory comes with positives and negatives. Your vet will help you choose the one that’s best for your pup.

How do you treat inflammation in dogs?

Inflammation in dogs can be treated with antihistamines, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), steroids, and anti-inflammatory supplements. Your vet will help you choose the one that’s best for your pup’s situation.

What foods decrease inflammation in dogs?

Many natural foods such as fish oil and turmeric have anti-inflammatory properties. They’re often included in dog foods and dog supplements.

Is ibuprofen safe for dogs?

Giving your dog human pain relievers can lead to severe medical complications, as these substances are not designed for dogs. No human pain relievers should be given to your dog without first consulting your vet.

Is Benadryl safe for dogs?

Some vets may recommend Benadryl in very small doses to help reduce inflammation or itching or to help calm anxiety. But Benadryl shouldn’t be given to your dog without first consulting your vet.

Can you buy dog NSAIDs over the counter?

Though NSAIDs for humans are available over the counter, NSAIDs for dogs are prescribed by your veterinarian. You shouldn’t give your dog human NSAIDs.