What Can I Give My Dog for Pain?
Reviewed for accuracy on November 15, 2019 by JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM
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, however signs like whimpering and panting can tell you something’s up. The last thing you want is your beloved pup suffering, but this desire to soothe your pet’s pain can lead to accidental poisoning. Bottom line: Human medicines like ibuprofen and acetaminophen are not designed for dogs and should never be given without a veterinarian’s approval.
How do I know my dog is in pain?
Signs of pain can be physical or vocal, including:
- Whining or barking upon touch, yelping during play
- Reduced appetite
- Symptoms of depression (becoming unfriendly and snapping at the lightest touch)
- Elevated heart rate and high blood pressure
- Loud, quick breathing
- Limping and mobility issues
- Hiding or antisocial behavior
- Change in posture
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.
Over The Counter Pain Medication for Humans Does Not Translate to Dogs
NSAIDs: Over-the-counter medications called NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), such as ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen are the most commonly known painkillers for humans.
Risks and side effects of NSAIDs
It’s extremely easy to give your dog the wrong dosage, which can be fatal. Even when given the correct amount some pets may experience an adverse reaction, such as:
- Gastrointestinal ulcers
- Kidney dysfunction
- Liver damage
- Interactions with other drugs your pet is prescribed
You can read specifics in these articles:
Acetaminophen (Tylenol; paracetamol): Acetaminophen poisoning in dogs is also common, and the drug is so toxic 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 avoid administering this medication without a vet’s consent. For more specifics read:
- Can I Give My Dog Acetaminophen? (This includes Tylenol.)
Never give your pet any medication or supplement without first consulting a licensed veterinary professional. 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. Bentley ended up with kidney failure and spent two days in the ER, but he’s since made a full recovery and is now enjoying life as a therapy dog.
If you suspect your dog or cat has ingested an over-the-counter painkiller, take the situation seriously. Contact your vet or local animal emergency clinic immediately.
Pet-specific pain medications
Drug companies have formulated certain medications specifically for dogs and cats that are much safer than over-the-counter pain medications meant for humans. Common medications prescribed for dogs include carprofen, etodolac, and meloxicam. Your veterinarian can prescribe one of these at a safe dose for your pet’s specific needs.
Can I treat my dog’s pain without medication?
Your veterinarian is the most qualified person to answer that question, but there are plenty of non-medical treatments, also known as alternative care, for a dog suffering from chronic pain:
- Exercise: To help with daily, chronic pain from arthritis and aging, daily exercise helps to keep limbs flexible and limits pet obesity (extra pounds put pressure on weakened joints), however sometimes an animal isn’t physically able to partake in the daily run around the park. Your veterinarian can help you devise an exercise plan that is appropriate for your pet’s overall health status and physical limitations.
- Hydrotherapy has been extremely beneficial for pets as warm water helps to soothe swollen joints and enhance circulation without gravity. Compared with walking on a hard surface like concrete, hydrotherapy is much easier on the joints, making walking less painful.
- Acupuncture has also been noted to treat pain and inflammation in dogs, promoting circulation and muscle relaxation by inserting needles at areas of the body where nerves and blood vessels meet. Acupuncture should be performed only by a certified veterinary acupuncturist. Search for a certified veterinary acupuncturist on the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society website.
- Other options: Pups can also find relief in massage and chiropractic services, as well as laser therapy, which is a relatively new treatment that speeds healing of surgical incisions and wounds. It also has been proven to help assuage pain from arthritis and residual pain from fractures or damaged nerves.
Create a treatment plan with your vet that you and your pet are comfortable with (some pets refuse to take medication and others can be terrified of acupuncture). Healthy Paws covers alternative care such as acupuncture, chiropractic therapy, and hydrotherapy, as long as the procedure is performed by a licensed veterinarian. Enrolling your dog in pet insurance early on, before any problems occur, is the best way to be prepared for an unexpected accident or illness, and allows you to pursue the best treatment available without having to worry about the cost.
What about supplements or CBD oil?
Many pet parents give their dogs or cats glucosamine to help ease those creaky, arthritic joints. 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.”
CBD oil, however, has been making headlines of late as helping alleviate pain, discomfort, increase appetite, and help with anxiety in pets, so asking your vet is a good first step. Check out our article CBD Oil for Cats & Dogs to find out more about how it works and what pet-friendly brands are out there.
Notably, a study by Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine reported that CBD oil provided significant pain relief to dogs with arthritis, allowing the dogs to be more physically active. Veterinary research on CBD oil is only just beginning, so there’s still a lot more to learn about how CBD oil can help pets who are in pain.
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 post-surgery – most of the time the animal is suffering in silence. Sometimes the pain’s location can be difficult to identify. For example, visceral pain, such as abdominal pain, can be challenging for a vet to pinpoint. 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.
Chronic pain: 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 (IVDD) occurs more often in certain dog breeds, like Dachshunds and Shih Tzus, commonly known as a “bulging” or herniated disc.
Acute pain: In addition to incident-related injuries or broken bones, internal pain can be acute and needs immediate vet attention. For example, stomach pain can indicate a serious medical condition like peritonitis, an infection of the stomach or intestines caused by a puncture (chicken bone splinters and swallowed objects are common culprits). A stomach virus, or enteritis, can also be to blame, caused by parasites and worms in dogs. Tumors and some types of cancer in dogs can also lead to stomach pain as the disease progresses, so catching cancer early is of utmost importance.
Your best bet for a dog in pain? Take them to the vet. Healthy Paws processes hundreds of claims for pain – it was one of the most common claim for dogs in 2018. Diagnostics can range anywhere from $150 to $4,500 while treatment varies just as widely, making pet insurance a sound investment for those unexpected accidents and illnesses.