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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.

When a dog is injured or exposed to environmental irritants, their body sends out an immune response commonly referred to as inflammation. This causes redness, warmth, and swelling in the affected area to fight off infection and jump-start the healing process. 

Unfortunately, inflammation isn’t just part of the body’s natural defense system — it’s also associated with significant pain and mobility problems if left unchecked. That’s where anti-inflammatories come in.

What are anti-inflammatories?

When symptoms become severe enough, anti-inflammatory drugs may be prescribed to help reduce or limit a dog’s inflammation. 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 like osteoarthritis (OA).

There are four common types of anti-inflammatory medications used for dogs. These include: 

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) 
  •  Corticosteroids
  • Antihistamines
  • Natural alternatives, including joint and allergy immune supplements 

 The best medication for your dog depends on the specifics of their condition and the severity of their inflammation. Read on to learn about each type of medication.

Are over-the-counter anti-inflammatories healthy for dogs?

Like all medications, anti-inflammatory medications for dogs have the potential to cause side effects including upset stomach, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, constipation, drowsiness, and fatigue. These symptoms are typically mild and go away once a dog stops taking the medication. 

While anti-inflammatory steroids, antihistamines, and supplements can sometimes be purchased over-the-counter, it’s important to note that there are currently no FDA-approved OTC NSAIDs for dogs and cats. Ask your vet to see if OTC anti-inflammatories can be used to treat your dog’s inflammation (or before giving your dog any new 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 prostaglandin compounds. Prostaglandins are found throughout a dog’s body and are important for sending chemical messages that protect the lining of the stomach, maintain blood flow to the kidneys, support 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 inflammation-causing prostaglandins while allowing the body’s other prostaglandins to continue functioning normally. NSAIDs made for humans are less selective when it comes to inhibiting prostaglandin function because people are less sensitive to the negative effects of NSAIDs than dogs. That’s why you should never give your dog an NSAID intended for human use. 

A new medication called Galliprant works unlike traditional NSAIDs for dogs by leaving the production of prostaglandins totally unchanged, instead blocking a prostaglandin receptor associated with pain and inflammation. 

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’re 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 treating them 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. If at any point during the treatment you’re required to switch medications, most veterinarians recommend waiting a few days between taking your dog off the initial NSAID and getting them started on the new one. This gives their body time to flush out the old medication and minimizes the risk of adverse effects. 

👉 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.


  • 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 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?

Also referred to as corticosteroids or cortisone, steroids are naturally-occuring hormones produced in dogs’ adrenal glands. Mineralocorticoids, like aldosterone, regulate the body’s electrolyte and water levels by retaining sodium in the kidneys, while glucocorticoids like cortisol 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 long-lasting. These include prednisone, prednisolone, dexamethasone, triamcinolone, and methylprednisolone.

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 Hospital 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 steroids to your dog. Watch for any symptoms as they progress through the treatment and report them promptly. If any of the above symptoms occur, your vet may prescribe a different steroid to minimize side effects while continuing to treat your dog’s inflammation. 

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.


  • 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. Histamine is normally released when the body detects the presence of a harmful irritant or infection, causing the blood vessels to expand and the skin to swell. 

While this defense mechanism plays a key role in protecting the body from foreign invaders, people and dogs alike experience allergies when their body mistakes something harmless, like dust or pollen, for a threat and starts producing histamine in response. This results in an allergic reaction characterized by itchy, watery eyes, a runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, and skin rashes.  

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 “whomp” 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 relieving 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

Rare, more serious 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.

Combining antihistamines with other canine medications

As with other anti-inflammatory drugs, antihistamines shouldn’t be combined with any other drugs, including other anti-inflammatory drugs, unless specifically approved by your veterinarian. In some cases, concurrent use of antihistamines with corticosteroids like prednisone may prove beneficial in helping dogs ween off the steroid — but again, don’t do this unless your vet specifically instructs you to.

An important note on antihistamines

  • Adult dogs need a smaller 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.

👉 Always consult your vet before giving your dog an antihistamine to make sure it’s the best treatment for their condition. 

Anti-inflammatory supplements for dogs

Your vet may recommend putting your dog on an anti-inflammatory supplement to help manage their inflammation. These typically come in the form of joint supplements or allergy supplements. What’s best for your pup will depend on what their inflammation is caused by.

Joint supplements

Oftentimes, inflammation and joint pain go hand-in-hand. Fortunately, joint supplements for dogs can help reduce the uncomfortable symptoms of osteoarthritis by supporting healthy ligaments and providing building blocks for cartilage regeneration to help get our four-legged friends back on their feet. 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.

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, which 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.

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.