One of the biggest changes in my 35 years as a veterinarian is the difference in how we handle both acute and chronic pain in dogs and cats. In the late '70s we rarely used pain control after surgery. A decade or so later, a new class of drugs called non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs revolutionized veterinary practice.
Also used for painful conditions such as arthritis, NSAIDs are frequently used daily in every traditional veterinary practice. Animals show pain from arthritis by lying down more than normal. They can be reluctant to walk, run or climb steps. Limping is the classic sign, but they might show subtle signs like barking, hiding or aggression.
We use this class of medication for post-surgical pain control. Occasionally we use additional drugs in addition to an NSAID.
The side effects of a NSAID need to be discussed with the veterinarian who prescribes them. In the short term, gastrointestinal signs like lack of appetite, vomiting and diarrhea can be a problem. Pain medication should be discontinued if the owner suspects a problem and your veterinarian has been contacted. Adverse GI signs often resolve quickly. More serious long-term side effects can involve liver and kidney problems.
There are many reports of serious side effects and websites dedicated to animals who died after taking non-steroidal medication. Some cases did not include adequate warnings and instructions. Other complications were a result of a lack of medical monitoring. One report discussed 7,000 severe adverse drug reactions. Compared with the 7 million pets that may have been treated, that is a relatively small number. The facts show that we need to be very careful but not avoid this class of drugs to treat pets needing pain relief. The lowest possible dose of NSAIDs should be used.
Prior to starting a long term NSAID, we always check the blood count and chemistry to make sure that internal organs are normal. The side effects are similar for both animals and man and are possible with all the drugs in this class. Television ads for NSAIDs in humans list serious side effects including death.
It is critical that over-the-counter drugs on the market for people are NEVER used in dogs and especially cats. Likewise, never use a human prescription for a pet without veterinary approval. We sometimes see clients and even physicians use improper drug administration in their own animals.
In older dogs, a prescription for an NSAID can extend an arthritic pet's life for additional years if used with caution. Cats do much better when only a very short course of a NSAID is used.
With continual advancements in veterinary medicine, we use NSAID therapy along with other drugs and techniques to benefit our patients.
Lawrence Gerson is a veterinarian and founder of the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic. His biweekly column is intended to educate pet owners. Consultation with a veterinarian is necessary to diagnose and treat individual pets. If you have a question you'd like addressed in Pet Points, email firstname.lastname@example.org . Please include your name and municipality or neighborhood.