It can be difficult to detect when animals are feeling pain: after all, they can’t show us where it hurts or explain the type of pain. Seeing your fur baby experiencing such hurt is also painful for pet parents, who want to help any way they can. Unfortunately, accidental poisonings occur in pets every day; human medicines are not designed for dogs and should never be given without a veterinarian’s approval.
Learn how you can safely treat your dog’s pain at home with these tips.
Is my dog in pain?
Signs a dog is in pain are mostly vocal, such as constant whining or barking upon touch. A dog experiencing chronic pain may have a reduced appetite or symptoms of depression, becoming unfriendly and snapping at the lightest touch. Acute or sudden pain can cause an elevated heart rate and raise blood pressure, breathing quickly or loudly.
You know your dog better than anyone else; sudden changes in activity level or interest are warning signs something is going on. Avoidance of favorite activities like walking or playing fetch can indicate an unwillingness or inability to exercise due to pain. If a normally friendly dog becomes snappish or constantly grumpy, that’s another red flag. It can be difficult to determine when to take your dog to the vet – it isn’t cheap, we know – but catching a potential health issue early gives pets the best possible outcome.
What can I give my dog for pain?
Over-the-counter medications called NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are the first line of pain relief for pets. Ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen are the most commonly known. But before you reach for the pill bottle, talk to your vet. It’s extremely easy to give your dog the wrong dosage, with deadly results. Even when given the correct amount some pets may experience an adverse reaction; NSAIDs can also interact with other drugs, making their use risky. Healthy Paws pet parent DeeDee experienced the horrors of ibuprofen poisoning when her two-year-old Goldendoodle Bentley ingested an unknown amount of the drug. “It was a horrible time in our family’s life,” she said on Dr. Doug Kenney’s “Pet Insurance Guide” podcast. After going into kidney failure and spending two days in the ER, Bentley made a full recovery and is now a therapy dog.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is another vet-approved dog pain medication, but it does not reduce inflammation, the source of most joint pain. Tylenol poisoning in dogs is also common, and the drug is so deadly to cats that even one regular-strength tablet can lead to death. Serious liver and kidney damage can result from an overdose of acetaminophen, so it’s important to follow your vet’s instructions exactly.
Never give your pet any medication or supplement without first consulting a licensed veterinary professional. Although many websites and pet homeopaths allege that certain “herbal pain remedies” are safer or more reliable, there is no scientific data to back up these claims. A 2006 study found glucosamine/chondroitin supplements can relieve pain related to osteoarthritis in dogs, but some vets are still skeptical, saying it has “some value, little risk.”
What causes pain in dogs?
The root of a pet’s pain is not always immediately apparent. While in some cases the cause may be obvious – a broken limb or after surgery – most of the time the animal is suffering in silence. Pay attention to any changes in your dog’s behavior, especially in senior pets and after medical procedures. Some pain in dogs appears only after certain kinds of activity, like hiking or high intensity exercise, or as a result of actions like eating or going potty.
Degenerative diseases like osteoarthritis and degenerative myelopathy, which affects the spinal cord, are more likely to arise in senior dogs and can be very painful if left untreated. Dog hip pain is the most common type, frequently caused by canine hip dysplasia or arthritis. Intervertebral disc disease (IDD) occurs more often in certain dog breeds, like Dachshunds and Shih Tzus, commonly known as a “bulging” or herniated disc.
Dog stomach pain usually indicates a serious medical condition like peritonitis, an infection of the stomach or intestines caused by a puncture; bone splinters and swallowed objects are the most common culprits. A stomach virus, or enteritis, may also be to blame. Parasites and worms in dogs can also cause pain in dogs if left untreated. More seriously, tumors and some types of cancer in dogs lead to stomach pain as the disease progresses; side effects of treatment can also cause pain and nausea.
Can I treat my dog’s pain without medication?
Your veterinarian is the only person qualified to answer that question, but there are plenty of non-medical treatments for a dog in pain. Create a treatment plan with your vet that incorporates options you and your pet are comfortable with; some pets refuse to take medication, while others are terrified of acupuncture.
Naturopathy, often called “alternative” medicine, differs from homeopathy in that it focuses on non-drug treatments like diet, exercise and massage. Daily exercise prevents dog joint pain by keeping limbs limber and limiting pet obesity; extra pounds put pressure on weakened joints. Acupuncture for dogs is used to treat pain and inflammation, promoting circulation and muscle relaxation by inserting needs at areas of the body where nerves and blood vessels meet. This is a relatively new area of veterinary medicine, along with other alternative pain treatments like acupressure, hydrotherapy and even lasers.
Many pet insurance companies do not offer coverage for these alternative treatments, whether because they doubt their efficacy or due to the high cost. Laser therapy for dogs – used to treat arthritis and dog joint pain – can run from $25 to $90 per session, depending on the city and size of the pet. Healthy Paws Pet Insurance’s alternative care offers coverage for acupuncture, chiropractic therapy, and hydrotherapy as long as the procedure is performed by a licensed veterinarian.
For more on common pet ailments and their corresponding treatments and expense, please see our Cost of Care Report.