Advantix…..Heartguard….Anipryl…..Rimadyl….Tramadol…..Gabapentin…. The list of medications available for dogs is lengthy and growing as the pharmaceutical industry answers the call for ways to help dogs lead longer, healthier, more comfortable lives.  Of course, you and your veterinarian seek the same objective for your dog.  But there are important questions to ask:

  • Have you looked at solutions to your dog’s health issues that could be equally as effective as prescription medication? Or that could make it possible to use less medication? For example, if your dog has mobility issues or arthritis, would weight loss contribute to the solution?  Are there natural supplements that would combine well with the medication to achieve even better results with fewer side effects?
  • What are the possible side effects of a specific drug compared to the degree to which it will help your dog to live a longer, healthier, more comfortable life? In other words, what are the benefits vs. the risks?

We don’t always have the luxury of time to explore the alternatives to a quick dose of medicine. Sometimes a quick dose gets quick results and appears to be the best solution.  However, if you do have the time and interest to pursue alternative solutions, the following material can help guide you.  We have chosen the most common issues as examples:

Fleas and Ticks

Fleas and ticks are not just annoyances – their presence on your dog and in the dog’s environment can have a serious impact on health.  Your veterinarian can prescribe topical or systemic medication to control them.  However, as you will discover by reading information from the FDA/CVM (Food and Drug Administration/Center for Veterinary Medicine), these medications can have serious adverse effects.

ALERT!! The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is alerting pet owners and veterinarians to be aware of the potential for neurologic adverse events in dogs and cats when treated with drugs that are in the isoxazoline class.

16 week old cute Golden Retriever puppy scratching fleas with hind leg in motion on a white background "Missy"

Assess the exposure your dog has to fleas and ticks.  For example, is your dog one who goes to dog parks or spends lots of time with other dogs outside of your family?  Or does your dog mostly stay at home and have minimal contact with other dogs?  As for ticks, in many areas they are seasonal, which means there would be less need for medication in the off-season.

Employ environmental control methods in addition to or in place of medication for your dog.  For example, frequent vacuuming, regular laundering of bedding, and application of pesticides inside and outside the house can lessen the need to use topical or systemic flea and tick medication for your dog.

If you have the time, you can read further, in-depth information on flea and tick control…..


In some areas of the United States the occurrence of heartworm is very low; in the Atlantic and southern states it is high.  Heartworm, which is transmitted via the bite of a mosquito, also can crop up on occasion in normally low-incidence areas.  Heartworm disease is very serious; thus, if there’s any chance that your senior might be exposed, it’s certain your veterinarian will recommend preventive medication on a regular basis.

What to do:

A possible alternative to regularly administering heartworm preventive medication is to have your dog tested for the presence of the disease whenever your veterinarian recommends it.

Arthritis and Pain Control

The consensus among veterinarians is that arthritis affects more than half of all dogs as they age.  Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories -- such as carprofen (Novox or Rimadyl), deracoxib (Deramaxx), meloxicam (Metacam ), deracoxib (Deramaxx), or firocoxib (Previcox) – are usually the go-to suggestions to relieve pain and increase mobility.  Although some veterinarians may recommend NSAIDs on an “as needed” basis (e.g., when the dog appears to be “stiff”), others prefer that a dog with arthritis be on a regularly-dosed, long-term schedule.  The belief is that the less pain the dog experiences, the more comfortable he will be in regularly moving, which will help maintain muscle mass, which in turn serves to protect arthritic joints and discourage further deterioration.

What to do:

We like the following information provided by Julie, Busby, DVM, in the article, “Relieving arthritis pain in dogs: Why a multimodal approach is critical for your arthritic dog”:

“In our culture, the knee-jerk reaction for treating a painful condition such as arthritis—also known as osteoarthritis (OA) or degenerative joint disease (DJD)—is taking medication to alleviate discomfort. And while medication is absolutely an important part of relieving arthritis pain in dogs, there are so many more options that can help dogs feel and move better.

“Since arthritis in dogs is not a curable condition, a flexible approach that incorporates medications, supplements, exercise, diet and weight management, and alternative medicine is optimal. Ultimately, the goal is excellent quality of life and good mobility with minimal pain for your dog.”

For further details on multi-modality management of arthritis, please read Dr. Busby’s article at the link above.

For the Senior Dogs Project's in-depth discussion of NSAIDs, follow this link.


Your Veterinarian’s Orientation

Over the years that the Senior Dogs Project has assumed responsibility for the health and well-being of the dogs in our care, we have met many veterinarians.  As in any profession, there is a wide range of expertise and orientation.  We have always been partial to holistic and “natural” approaches, but also have been grateful to those veterinarians who have directed us to surgeries and prescription medications that have saved or prolonged the health and lives of our dogs.

Our advice is simple:  find a veterinarian whose orientation most closely matches your own and who seems open to considering alternatives and multiple modalities in approaching your dog’s health issues.

Read more about evaluating veterinarians.....

Our Bottom Line Advice When Using Any Prescription Medication

(1) Discuss with your veterinarian the potential side effects versus the benefits of any drug before deciding to administer it.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends you ask your veterinarian these questions.
(2) Request and read the package insert or Client Information Sheet that should always accompany any medication that your veterinarian dispenses.
(3) When the drug has been administered, observe your dog carefully and be alert to the appearance of any of the side effects described in the insert or sheet.
(4) Report any side effects to your veterinarian immediately, stop giving the drug, and get veterinary attention for your dog.
(5) Follow up with a report to the drug’s manufacturer and to the FDA.