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Metacam for Dogs: NSAIDs side effects & alternatives

Updated 13 February 2024
Read time: 13 mins
article author
Written by Corinne Homer
Copywriter
article author
Reviewed by Dr. Linda Simon
Team Vet

When a dog’s suffering from inflammation - in their joints, for instance - or a condition caused by inflammation such as osteoarthritis, the likelihood is your vet will prescribe a course of NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs).

 

One of the most common of these NSAIDs is called Metacam. But is there an alternative to Metacam for dogs, and in which scenarios can dog-owners consider a different treatment? In this article, we’re going to discuss the side effects of NSAIDs such as Metacam as well as possible alternatives, so that you, as a dog owner, can make an informed choice over what’s best for your precious pooch.

 

Introduction to NSAIDs in Veterinary Care

Once again, NSAIDs stands for Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs, and they’re commonly prescribed to treat inflammation. When looking to ease the distressing symptoms of inflammation and inflammation-based health conditions in dogs (pain, swelling, redness, fever etc.), vets will likely suggest a commonly used NSAID, such as Metacam.

 

How Metacam works

NSAIDs like Metacam are so popular because they have pain relieving properties, and inhibit the release of the naturally occurring substances which contribute to inflammation.

 

Without getting too scientific, Metacam blocks the production of an enzyme called COX-2, which is released into a dog’s body during inflammation. COX-2 plays a key role in the synthesis of prostaglandins, which contribute to the nasty and sometimes debilitating side effects of inflammation.

 

Therefore when COX-2 is blocked, so are the prostaglandins, and the uncomfortable symptoms your dog experiences are greatly reduced. NSAIDs also soothe the resulting fever that comes from inflammation, and may indirectly help dogs with their mobility, as reduced pain means more movement.

 

Common Uses of Metacam in dogs

Metacam, sometimes called Meloxicam (Meloxicam is the name of the drug, while Metacam is the generic product name), is most often prescribed to dogs suffering from moderate to severe pain and/or dogs with certain medical conditions, related to inflammation.

 

These conditions usually include the following:

  • Osteoarthritis or severe joint pain
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Soft tissue injuries
  • Pain management after surgery
  • Chronic pain
  • Other health conditions related to bone, joint and tissue

 

Essentially, if your pooch is suffering due to the pain, lethargy and subsequent lack of mobility that comes from inflammation-based health issues, a vet might prescribe Metacam as the first port of call.

 

A small white, curly-haired dog looking upbeat, against a salmon pink background

Dosage guidelines for Metacam

Not all dogs will be prescribed the same dosage of Metacam; it depends on their breed, size, age and other health conditions they may have.

 

Metacam usually comes as a flavoured liquid which can be added to food or administered directly into your dog’s mouth after they’ve eaten. Less often, you may be prescribed Metacam in a tablet format.

 

Metacam can only be prescribed by a vet, so despite which version you’re given, you must listen very carefully to the dosage instructions they advise for your specific dog. Overdosing can be dangerous or even fatal (more on that later).

 

Comparing Metacam with other NSAIDs: Rimadyl (Carprofen)

Some dog owners will be prescribed Rimadyl (which contains Carprofen) instead of Metacam or Meloxicam. They’re used for the same type of thing - the inhibition of COX-2 and the prostaglandins that contribute to inflammation - however there are small differences between them.

  • Rimadyl is an older drug, and was one of the first NSAIDs available for veterinary use. Metacam has come onto the market more recently (though both are very established).
  • Rimadyl is available in the form of chewable tablets and capsules, or can be injected directly into your dog - whereas Metacam is available as an oral liquid or tablet.
  • The effects of Rimadyl are quicker but less prolonged - so it may need to be administered twice daily as opposed to Metacam’s once. It may also be used for quick relief of intense pain, as opposed to longer term pain.
  • Sometimes Rimadyl (Carprofen) is favoured by vets for dogs suffering from hip dysplasia.

Both have the same risks and side effects, especially after prolonged use: gastrointestinal issues and nausea, kidney or liver damage.


Always ask your vet why you’re being prescribed one NSAID over another.

 

Potential side effects of NSAIDs

Though lots of dogs have favourable results from using NSAIDs, they’re sometimes deemed controversial due to the risk of dangerous side effects and overdosing.

 

It’s really important to be diligent when administering NSAIDs to your pooch, and keep a close eye on them and their behaviour throughout treatment.

 

It’s equally as important to monitor your dog if they’ve been using NSAIDs for a prolonged period of time, as well as when the medication is just being introduced.

 

Dangers of overdose

As Metacam is often dosed to dogs in liquid form, there’s a heightened danger of overdosing. This can be especially prominent if you drizzle the liquid into food without using a proper dosage dropper (do not do this).

 

This can cause distressing side effects in your dog such as stomach upset or nausea, but at its worst can prove fatal. It’s vital to avoid the risk of giving your dog an overdose of Metacam or other NSAIDs.

 

Constantly refer to the advice given by your vet regarding dosage, and get in touch with them if you have any concerns that your dog isn’t responding well to treatment.

 

Meloxicam poisoning in dogs

If your pooch has been administered too much Metacam or Meloxicam, they’ll likely show untoward side effects that indicate poisoning. There have also been reports of Metacam poisoning in dogs after it has been administered over a particularly long period.

 

Symptoms & signs to look out for

Keep a close eye on the signs of Metacam overdose or poisoning in dogs, which may include the following:

  • Extreme gastrointestinal issues - overdosing on Metacam (or Meloxicam) can result in stomach ulcers, intestinal perforations or bleeding. You’ll know if your pooch is suffering from this as they’ll be in much distress, exhibiting abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhoea. Sometimes their stools will be bloody too.
  • Increased thirst, urinating, lethargy, loss of appetite - These symptoms point to kidney (renal) damage, as kidneys can be impacted by overdosing NSAIDs.
  • Yellowing of skin and eyes, vomiting, lethargy - If your pooch shows yellowing on the tips of his ears, eyes and other exposed patches of skin, this could point to liver damage due to NSAIDs.
  • Seizures, lack of coordination - Your pooch may have suffered nerve damage and appear disoriented due to NSAIDs.
  • Difficulty breathing - In severe cases, your dog may struggle to breathe if they’re reacting to an overdose of NSAIDs.

If your dog is suffering from any of the above symptoms or a combination, get them to a vet as a state of emergency.

 

Exploring alternative treatments

Though NSAIDs are widely seen as the standard treatment for inflammation and inflammation-based conditions in dogs, many dog-owners concerned by the apparent risks choose to try alternatives.

 

Many find a more natural route to be more in-keeping with what they want for their dog. At least, they may supplement the NSAID prescription with alternative treatments and/or supplements.

 

This should always be done in collaboration with a vet - so be sure to talk through your plans with them and get advice regarding your dog’s specific medical issues.

 

Let’s go into some of the alternative options you might consider for your dog’s inflammation and pain management…

 

Hydrotherapy for dogs

If inflammation means your pooch has issues with mobility and getting around, many dog owners choose hydrotherapy as a low impact way for them to get vital exercise.

 

In collaboration with a physiotherapist for dogs, you could take your dog to specialist swimming classes, or even use an underwater treadmill.

 

Exercising in water will help keep them active and their body strong, without the stress and pain they might experience from standard walkies.

 

Acupuncture for dogs

Another option is acupuncture; an ancient treatment which many dog owners swear by.

 

Acupuncture involves the insertion of tiny needles into targeted areas of a dog’s body, called ‘pressure points’, to ease the pain caused by inflammation. Lots of vets recommend acupuncture as an alternative mode of pain relief.

 

Nutritional supplements

A wide range of nutritional supplements can provide a more natural way for your pooch to get the physical support their body needs.

 

Nutrient-packed supplements for dogs can be bought as oils, powders or tablets to add to regular meals - almost like a condensed shot of anti-inflammatory power.

 

Let’s take a look at the most well-known supplements that can be used either instead of, or in addition to NSAIDs for dogs.

 

Our Pooch & Mutt Salmon Oil being poured onto a spoon over a bowl of dog food, against a pale blue background

Glucosamine and Chondroitin

Glucosamine and Chondroitin are the heavy hitters when it comes to pain relief in joints - and they’re derived from the natural world, found in shellfish such as green-lipped mussels.

 

Glucosamine helps form the building blocks of cartilage, and in doing so, supports the joint, reducing the pain and strain your dog experiences.

 

Joint care supplements for dogs often contain Glucosamine and Chondroitin, which are both used to combat the painful symptoms of arthritis and joint pain.

 

Omega-3 fatty acids

Essential fatty acids such as Omega-3 have tons of benefits to a dog as they contribute to building healthy cells.

 

Omega-3 fatty acids (found in oily fish like salmon and mackerel, or in fish oil for dogs) can boost a dog’s immunity, improve skin and coat condition, contribute to heart health, brain function and a dog’s nervous system, and reduce inflammation.

 

This makes fish oil supplements for dogs a great natural alternative to NSAIDs.

 

Other beneficial supplements

Other beneficial supplements that could have anti-inflammatory effects include: Collagen Devil’s Claw Yucca Vitamins E and C CBD oil. These can be found over-the-counter as an array of natural supplements for dogs.

 

Understanding when NSAIDs are necessary

Of course, we don’t condone that you use natural supplements instead of NSAIDs when a vet insists they’re absolutely necessary.

 

There are medical scenarios in which NSAIDs are the most sensible treatment for your pooch’s condition - especially if their pain is severe and/or chronic - and you should follow medical advice when this is the case.

 

However, there may be times in which NSAIDs are prescribed as the first port of call, when perhaps nutritional changes could have similar, and safer effects than these powerful drugs.

 

There are lots of risks to consider with NSAIDs, and as a dog owner who wants the best for their dog, you should decide which other avenues may be worth pursuing.

 

Consulting with your veterinarian

Overall, you should be working as a team with your vet to work out which is the best route for your dog’s health.

 

Whether you want to go for NSAIDs or try alternative therapies combined with anti-inflammatory nutritional supplements for dogs, you should be open with your vet and let them know exactly what you intend to do.

 

Integrating NSAIDs with alternative treatments

Often, NSAIDs and natural supplements won’t be an either/or discussion, but each can be integrated with the other to create a comprehensive treatment plan for your dog suffering with inflammation.

 

For instance: a course of NSAIDs such as Metacam, combined with hydrotherapy and a nutritional supplement such as Salmon Oil for dogs, could be exactly what your dog needs to have their pain and inflammation treated from all angles.

 

Conclusion

Overall, NSAIDs such as Metacam are widely accepted by dog owners as the go-to treatment for the pain and discomfort caused by inflammation - but there are risks involved, particularly when used over a prolonged period.

 

Many dog owners express concern about the high risks associated with NSAIDs, such as gastro issues, stomach ulcers, liver and kidney damage.

 

It’s great that medications like NSAIDs are available to dog owners - however, you do have a choice, and if you think there are other options to try first, there are natural alternatives (therapies, nutritional supplements) you can integrate into your dog’s initial treatment plan to see if they have an impact in delaying or reducing painful symptoms.

 

As always, get your vet’s advice and be completely open with them, and together you should end up with a treatment plan that has your dog feeling as happy, physically healthy and pain-free as possible.

 

Our resident Pooch Vet, Linda says:

“As a vet and an advocate for pets, I'm so grateful for the existence of NSAIDs like Metacam (Meloxicam).

 

I prescribe it most days I'm at work as it is a safe and effective way to manage pain, reduce fever and minimise inflammation.

 

For those on long-term NSAIDs, many will benefit from adjunctive therapies such as nutritional supplements and it's always a good idea to chat to your vet about what can be done to minimise the need for medication.”

 

A large, red coloured dog taking a Pooch & Mutt Joint Supplement with the tub beside it, against an aqua blue background

FAQs

Here are some final questions about using Metacam for your dog.

 

How long can a dog be on Metacam?

This will depend on your specific dog and their ailments, so ask your vet’s opinion on how long your pooch will need to stay on medication such as Metacam.

 

Occasionally, NSAIDs are used as a one-off treatment for pain (such as post-surgery or due to an injury); at other times, such as in management for chronic pain, your dog may be prescribed NSAIDs for a much longer time.

 

What if I miss a dose of Metacam?

If you miss a dose of Metacam, just continue taking it as usual when the next dose comes around. Never double up a dose to make up for a missed one - this carries the risk of overdosing.

 

If you miss more than one dose, call your vet for advice. If you have further questions about Metacam and NSAIDs, feel free to get in touch with us, or you can chat it through with your vet. At Pooch & Mutt we have a range of natural Joint Care Supplements to help fight inflammation in dogs and keep them strong and healthy.

References

  1. ‘Clinical efficacy and tolerance of meloxicam in dogs with chronic osteoarthritis’, 2000 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1476158/
  2. ‘Evaluation of adverse effects of long-term oral administration of carprofen, etodolac, flunixin meglumine, ketoprofen, and meloxicam in dogs', 2007 - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17331014/
  3. 'The essential fatty acids omega-6 and omega-3: from their discovery to their use in therapy' (National Library of Medicine, NIH) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18449139
  4. ‘Randomised double-blind, positive-controlled trial to assess the efficacy of glucosamine/chondroitin sulfate for the treatment of dogs with osteoarthritis’ - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16647870/
  5. ‘Canine Osteoarthritis and Treatments: A Review’, 2015 - https://www.pagepress.org/journals/index.php/vsd/article/view/5931/6327

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