Pet Care Tips and Articles

A Simple Overview of Pain Medication

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatories (NSAIDS): Pain Medications

Pain medication for pets

Simply put, these medications control pain by reducing inflammation. Inflammation is a common source of pain (arthritis, post-operative, infection, etc). When the inflammation is reduced, the sensation of pain is often reduced also. These drugs are often capable of reducing fever as well.

This article may contain affiliate links. When you purchase through links on this site, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Common examples of human NSAIDS are ibuprofen and aspirin. Ibuprofen is merely mentioned here as people are familiar with the name/drug. It is rarely used in veterinary medicine, as it has a relatively high tendency to upset the gastro-intestinal system. Commonly used NSAIDS in veterinary medicine are Metacam, Rimadyl, Deramaxx, Pervicox, Anafen, others.

NSAIDS, through their mode of action, have the potential to upset the gastrointestinal system, the kidneys, the liver and blood clotting. At prescribed doses, this is not at all common, but we should always be conscious of it.

It is difficult to make comparisons of one NSAID to another in terms of efficacy, strength, etc, as there are many sub-classes of NSAIDS, and, as you might expect, they can have quite different effects in one individual compared to another. We all know people who find aspirin more effective than ibuprofen for headaches and pain, yet we generally consider ibuprofen to be a "stronger" NSAID.

Whenever possible, it is NOT a good idea to be using more than one of the medications in this category at the same time. This would seem like an intuitively obvious thing to avoid, but it is a very common mistake made by many unfortunate pet owners. Pet owners may not realize that some of the medication prescribed by their vet is an anti-inflammatory, and give additional medication from their own drug cupboard, with the good intention of making their pets more comfortable. Use of combinations of NSAIDS are much more likely to lead to stomach upset.


This drug should never be used in cats.

This drug is in a class of its own, as the mode of action is still not fully understood. It is no longer considered an NSAID in most pharmacological circles. It has no anti-inflammatory effect, nor does it affect clotting. It is used by some veterinarians in certain circumstances, but dog owners should contact their vet to get advice before ever giving it to their pets. Remember... never to cats!

Opiates (Narcotics)

Opiate medications are used primarily to block the sensation of pain. They do not possess any anti-inflammatory effect (that is to say... if inflammation is the root cause of discomfort, opiates only block the sensation of pain, the inflammation is still present). Most opiates also have some cough suppression effect, may cause constipation, respiratory depression and sedation. These side effects are highly variable with each drug and corresponding dose.

Some commonly recognized opiate drug names are codeine, morphine, Oxycontin, fentanyl, many others.

Please contact your veterinarian if you have any questions about the pain management your pet is receiving, and always contact us if you are considering giving a medication from the human market.

Stephen Longridge, D.V.M.
Clappison Veterinary Services
Waterdown ON 905-689-8005