The drug makers maintain their medicines are safe. Deramaxx-maker Novartis stated, "Deramaxx has been safely and effectively used to treat more than 1 million dogs for canine osteo-arthritis." Boehringer Ingelheim, maker of Metacam, said it was "confident that there are millions of animals whose lives have been improved by the pain relieving benefits of (Metacam)." Both companies note they provide vets with information sheets concerning the side effects.
The FDA states that the pet NSAIDs are considered safe and effective when used according to the label and if owners are aware of the side effects. But Chris Sweeney, who used to own a 9-year-old cocker spaniel named Ari, said she never would have used the drugs if she had been aware of the possible side effects.
"I went from having a healthy dog to having a dog that had to be rushed to the hospital and they said he might die on the way," Sweeney said, adding that she believes Metacam is responsible for Ari's death.
Boston veterinarian Dr. Margo Roman said she feels cases such as Ari's are the tip of the iceberg.
"There's liver issues, there can be kidney issues, there can be gastrointestinal irritation issues," Roman said, adding that she would never prescribe these NSAIDs to her patients or use them on her own dog.
Pet owners do not have to turn to potentially harmful prescription drugs for their pets' health, however. Natural options are available. Health advocate Mike Adams says that pet health, like human health, mostly comes down to proper nutrition, although he noted a pet's dietary needs were specific.
"It is tragic, although not surprising, that so many beloved pets are falling victim to these side effects," said Adams, co-author of the "Real Safety Guide to Pet Health" with Dawn Prate. "These drug companies are just interested in making a buck, and the FDA is just interested in protecting their financial interests, so of course they are going to say the medicine is safe if used properly. What they don't mention is that these drugs should only be used as an absolute last resort or if your pet sustains an injury, not as part of a lifestyle.
"The bottom line is: The healthiest thing you can do for your pet is love it, feed it properly, and keep prescription drugs as far away from it as possible," he said.