What Can You Give Dogs for Pain?

Dr. Jason Gagné, DVM, DACVIM
By Dr. Jason Gagné, DVM, DACVIM
Updated: 5/15/20242-4 minutes
A close up of a golden retriever taking medicine from his owner

Seeing your dog in pain can be a distressing time. While humans can self-diagnose and often self-medicate, animals cannot. It is therefore important to consult a veterinarian to determine what is the cause of your dog’s pain as quickly as possible.

Your vet will ensure that your pet is treated effectively so they can return to their usual happy selves with the appropriate care.

We all want to do the most for our pets, but as much as they seem like a family member, albeit a four-legged one, there are some things they can’t have. In this article, we will explore the question, “What can I give my dog for pain?” In addition, we will review some of the treatments your vet may prescribe for your dog if he is in pain.

What Are the Signs a Dog is in Pain?

It can be difficult to determine if your dog is in pain, as they cannot tell you. Before concerning yourself with finding pain medications for dogs, you first need to know how to tell if your dog is in pain. There are certain signs to look out for that often indicate they are experiencing a level of discomfort, and they can range from any to all of the following: 

  • Whimpering 
  • Whining 
  • Excessive barking 
  • Excessive panting 
  • Reduced or lack of appetite 
  • Lethargy or listlessness 
  • A reluctance to exercise

A noticeable change in your dog’s behavior or demeanor could indicate the onset of chronic pain. If he starts to snap or act in an unfriendly or aggressive manner, this could indicate that he is in some kind of pain or discomfort.

Acute pain can also cause your dog’s heart rate to become elevated, his blood pressure may become raised, and his breathing could also speed up.

Chances are you will be able to notice the signs of discomfort in your dog. You know what his natural behavior and temperament are like, so if you notice anything unusual, it may be a warning sign that something is not quite right. To prevent your pet from suffering in silence, take them to your local vet as soon as possible.

Can I Give My Dog Pain Meds?

Although humans can readily buy medication over the counter, this may not always be suitable for your dog. It is important that dog owners do not try to administer pain relief to their pets without first consulting a vet. If a dog is in pain, he should undergo a full veterinary examination. 

This will enable the vet to make a proper diagnosis to determine the cause of your dog’s pain and discomfort. Several pain medications have been specifically designed for dogs, and your vet will decide the most appropriate treatment for your pooch. Giving dogs non-prescribed drugs can result in accidental poisoning and possibly even kidney failure. 

What Has Caused Pain in My Dog?

There are several factors that may cause your dog to feel pain, from injuries and accidents, to less obvious causes such as degenerative diseases, like canine hip dysplasia, bulging discs, and dog arthritis. Pain in our dogs can also occur in the mouth due to dental problems.

While arthritis is seen more frequently in older dogs, some breeds are also more susceptible to this condition: 

There are several indicators that could determine what kind of pain your dog is suffering from. For example, if your dog is a bit of a scavenger and has stomach pain, this may indicate he has eaten something he shouldn’t have, leading to dog gastroenteritis. Stomach pain may also be a symptom of more serious conditions, such as peritonitis or gut obstructions.

Untreated parasites, such as worms or fleas, would not normally cause stomach pain in dogs. The exception to this might be puppies when a heavy worm burden could cause stomach pain. However, it is a good idea to ensure you treat your dog with appropriate worm and flea treatments and that you do so on a regular basis.

In some instances, your dog may only display symptoms of pain following a particular activity, such as walking, eating, or relieving himself. Whereas in other situations, your dog may show signs of being uncomfortable independent of any activity. The more information you can give your vet about your pet’s signs, the easier it will be for them to get to the root of the problem. 

Can I Give My Dog Ibuprofen?

Do not give ibuprofen to your dog. While it may help relieve your aches and pains, it is toxic to dogs and can cause serious health problems. In fact, many over-the-counter, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, known as NSAIDs, are dangerous for dogs. Only give your dog medications recommended or prescribed by your vet.

What Pain Meds Are Safe for Dogs?

There are NSAIDs specifically formulated for pets. They have many uses in veterinary medicine and are often prescribed to reduce swelling or stiffness and provide relief for dog joint pain. They’re especially helpful for dogs with arthritis, or dogs recovering from injury or surgery.

NSAIDs work by blocking the effects of pain-inducing enzymes, easing pain and inflammation, and allowing your dog to move more comfortably. These should only be prescribed by a vet. Common NSAIDs for dogs are: 

  • Carprofen 
  • Robenacoxib 
  • Firocoxib 
  • Meloxicam

NSAIDs are very effective pain killers in many cases, but they may not be suitable for all dogs. Also, if a dog is in a lot of pain, NSAIDs on their own may not be sufficient. So sometimes vets will prescribe other pain relievers for dogs, which may include: 

  • Amantadine – This is a medicine that blocks certain neural transmitters and is sometimes prescribed to treat a range of conditions, including arthritis, disc disease, and cancer in dogs. 
  • Gabapentin – This medicine treats nerve pain. It may also be prescribed as a mild sedative or for seizure management, in addition to being used for pain relief for dogs. 
  • Tramadol – Tramadol belongs to a class of drugs called opioids. It is used for treating mild pain, most commonly in older animals for treating aches and pains caused by joint disease.

Natural Pain Relief for Dogs

With the potential for side effects from painkillers for dogs, some dog owners prefer to treat their pet’s pain with natural remedies, like homeopathy and acupuncture as an alternative, or alongside, traditional treatments. Many vets feel that there is little or no scientific basis for many natural treatments, while others swear by their selective use and have had successful responses using them. The important thing is to always follow the guidance of your vet. There are some natural remedies that can help to manage pain in dogs for specific conditions. For example, glucosamine and chondroitin are ingredients in dog food and supplements that are sometimes used in the management of arthritis. But dog owners should only ever use natural remedies if directed to do so by a vet.

Keeping your dog fit and healthy will go a long way towards helping to prevent everyday pain. Regular activity and exercise, such as walks and long runs, will keep their joints and limbs flexible, plus it will keep them at a healthy weight, reducing pressure on their joints. Remember that, especially for older dogs, regular, steady exercise is better than walking your dog very little during the week and then ‘balancing it out’ with a long day out hiking on the weekend.

For more expert tips on your dog’s health, explore our other dog health symptoms and issues articles.

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