What Can I Give My Dog For Pain? Meds, Supplements, and Therapy Can Help

·6 min read
woman giving dog a pill for pain wrapped in a treat
woman giving dog a pill for pain wrapped in a treat

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. On This Page

    • Signs of Pain in Dogs

    • Pain Meds for Dogs

    • Is There Aspirin for Dogs?

    • When NOT to Give Pain Meds

    • Alternative Pain Relief for Dogs

If your pup is in pain, you want to provide some relief—and fast. We humans can easily reach for an over-the-counter pill to treat our aches and pains, but asking yourself "What can I give my dog for pain?" doesn't have a simple answer. Before you can treat your dog's pain, you'll need to figure out what's causing it in the first place.

Before you search your own medicine cabinet or head to the local drugstore, you should know that many human pain medications are unsafe for dogs. Contact your veterinarian if you think your dog is in pain. They can help you figure out why your pup hurts and create a plan to address the pain.

Signs of Pain in Dogs

How can you tell if your dog is in pain? Sometimes, it's fairly obvious: limping, yelping, pulling away when the painful area is touched. But many dogs hide pain as a survival instinct. Less overt signs of pain in dogs include:

  • Withdrawing from family, not being as social as usual

  • Behavior changes toward people and other pets

  • Sleeping more than usual

  • Shaking or trembling

  • Hunched posture

  • Lethargy

Bear in mind that these signs can indicate illness or fear rather than pain. Seeing your veterinarian is the best way to figure it out so you can help your dog.

Pain Meds for Dogs

We know dogs experience pain, even if they show it differently than we do. Pain management is an important part of veterinary healthcare for dogs. There are many different types of drugs used to relieve pain in dogs, and they work in different ways. There are also drugs you definitely shouldn't use, so consult your vet to determine which drug is best based on your dog's current pain and medical history.

Over the Counter

While there are several over-the-counter pain meds for people, few options exist for dogs. Avoid giving your dog OTC pain meds unless your vet specifically recommends them. This includes the following drugs:

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be safe when carefully dosed and used short term. However, the risk of toxicity is high and most vets prefer safer, more effective drugs.

  • Aspirin—specifically buffered baby aspirin—can be safe when dosed carefully but is not as safe or effective as prescription medications.

  • Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) is toxic to dogs and should never be used.

  • Naproxen (Aleve) should be avoided because there's a very narrow margin of safety and a high risk of side effects.

NSAIDs

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs relieve pain by reducing swelling. These prescription drugs are very effective in relieving pain from arthritis, injury, and surgery. However, they're not without risk. Potential side effects of NSAIDs include vomiting, diarrhea, poor appetite, gastrointestinal irritation and bleeding, and liver or kidney damage. Because of this, vets recommend monitoring before and during NSAID treatment.

Opioids

Vets often use injectable opioid drugs along with anesthesia to control pain during and after surgery. Oral forms can be prescribed and used at home for short-term surgery or injury recovery, but you'll want to avoid long-term use. Evidence shows oral opioids are not as effective as other pain meds. In addition, there is growing concern that pet opioids risk human abuse of opioids.

Other Prescription Drugs

Gabapentin is an anti-convulsive drug that is also effective at managing pain (especially nerve pain). Oral capsules or liquid can be administered at home. Many vets use gabapentin along with other pain meds, such as NSAIDs or tramadol.

Maropitant (Cerenia) is an anti-vomiting drug that has mild pain-relieving effects. It works best on internal pain, such as pain caused by gastrointestinal upset. This drug is rarely used alone to treat pain, but it can help as an add-on to other pain meds.

Herbs and Supplements

Various "natural" pain remedies are marketed to pet parents. However, these products are not regulated the way prescription drugs are, so it's important to choose a safe formula. Your vet can guide you to the best brands and dosage.

  • CBD has been effective against mild to moderate arthritis-related pain in some dogs, but efficacy varies by brand.

  • Joint supplements, such as chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine, can help relieve joint pain by decreasing inflammation and lubricating joints. They can be used along with NSAIDs and other pain meds.

  • Herbs like turmeric and arnica may have some pain-relieving properties but should be used with caution and only under direct veterinary supervision.

Is There Aspirin for Dogs?

There are a few brands that market buffered aspirin for veterinary use, but these are essentially the same as the aspirin at drug stores. While buffered aspirin can be given to dogs, other pain meds are safer and more effective. If you do decide to give your dog aspirin, contact your vet for advice so that you use the right dose. Too much aspirin can cause gastrointestinal upset, bleeding, and ulcers. It may also worsen existing kidney disease.

When to Not Give Your Dog Pain Meds

All pain meds have potential side effects. For some dogs, the risks of pain medications are too high because of other conditions. Always contact your vet before giving pain medication to your dog, even if it's something you have given your dog in the past.

You should also avoid giving pain meds (or any oral meds) without your vet's recommendation if your dog is not eating, vomiting, having diarrhea, or otherwise seems to be in poor health.

Alternative Pain Relief for Dogs

Fortunately, there are alternative pain management options for dogs who cannot take medications. These therapies can also be used in conjunction with pain medications to provide additional pain control:

When it comes to managing your dog's pain, your vet plays an essential role. Dogs may develop a tolerance or sensitivity to drugs and treatments, so you'll need to check in with your vet periodically for adjustments.

RELATED: What Is Holistic Vet Care? How an Integrated Approach to Your Pet's Health Keeps Them Thriving