Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Friends or Foes: NSAIDs

Today, NSAIDs seem to be the pain management drugs of choice for everything from injuries, post surgery pain management, to arthritis. Some veterinarians prescribe them left and right, and some are quite selective in their use.

Ultimately though,  it is your dog, and I believe that it is your responsibility to learn about the proposed treatment, potential side effects, and alternative options.

So are NSAIDs friends, or foes?

I believe, they can be friends. But they are the type of friends, who might get out of hand and really trash your party. It is important to know them really well before making a decision about what party you might invite them to.

What are NSAIDs?

NSAIDs is short for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. They work to reduce inflammation, and the resulting pain. Thus anti-inflammatory. Great!

What does nonsteroidal mean?

Steroids, namely corticosteroids, are type of hormones that suppress immune response. They can be used to treat allergies, autoimmune disorders, and they are also very potent anti-inflammatory agents. So that is a good thing, right?

The problem with steroids is that they work by basically turning the immune system off. But the immune system is there for a reason. If your dog is on a steroid treatment, besides other potential side effects, his body is wide open to infections. And that is not so good.

So what do we do? Right, we come up with nonsteroidal drugs. And here we are, having anti-inflammatory drugs without all those dangerous side effects of steroids. Excellent!

Instead of turning off the entire immune system, NSAIDs only inhibit certain enzymes that are involved in the inflammatory process. Great, now we have it all figured out! But guess what? Those enzymes are there for a reason also.

So here we have all different drugs, with a potential for all different dangerous side effects, such as ulceration, bleeding, liver and kidney damage, and in extreme cases, death.

So should I give NSAIDs to my dog or not?

There are many dogs who greatly benefit from the NSAIDs treatment. But like with any drugs, there is a potential danger involved.

As a rule of thumb, I always recommend going with the lesser of the evils. Look at both the problem you're treating, and the treatment. It doesn't make sense to leave your dog suffering, but it also doesn't make sense to use a treatment that can potentially do more harm than the condition treated.

Learn about all options. Then make a decision. The less obvious solutions can be better than the obvious ones.

The usual scenario seems to be: my dog cannot tolerate NSAIDs, so I have to try something else. My suggestion is to reverse this process. How about considering something safer first?

Depending on the condition, there can be alternatives. I will talk about them in my upcoming articles.

I am not an anti-drug activist. Sometimes drugs are the best solution for your dog. I am however promoting education and caution. Our Jasmine almost died twice in the past year, and both times drugs were involved.

So before you take the easy road, think about your best friend. Are drugs the best solution for your dog? Or could he benefit from a safer alternative?

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