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Dog in pain comforted by owner

The essentials

  • Don’t give your dog over-the-counter human pain medications. Most non-prescription human pain medications are toxic to dogs.
  • Dogs can try to hide signs of pain. Your dog may display very subtle signs of pain and discomfort that could be hard to pick up unless you know what to look for.
  • Alternative pain management options are available. Medications are no longer the only option for pain management in dogs, as alternative medicine is becoming more widely available.

Dogs can’t use words to communicate when they’re in pain like humans can, but they feel pain every bit as much. In the past, it was widely assumed that dogs didn’t feel pain the same way humans did. We now know that dogs commonly hide their pain as an instinctive survival mechanism.

No one wants their beloved pet to suffer — but what can you do to ease your dog’s discomfort when they are in pain? We break down the most popular pain meds for dogs below, from OTC and prescription medications to alternative therapies, as well as which pain relief meds to avoid.

👉 Common signs of pain in dogs include changes in behavior, decreased activity, stiffness, limping, whimpering, vocalizing, and holding their ears flat against the back of their head. Always ask a vet before giving your dog any medications to treat their pain. 

Guide to dog pain meds

Anti-inflammatory (NSAID)

Over-the-counter pain medications, also known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, are commonly given to dogs for pain treatment. NSAIDs are particularly effective against swelling, stiffness, joint pain, and other mild to moderate pain associated with injuries like torn toenails and fractured bones.

🚨 Vets only give dog-specific prescription NSAIDs — do NOT give your dogs over-the-counter pain meds meant for humans. These can be deadly to dogs.

Safe NSAIDs for dogs include:

  • Carprofen (Novox, Rimadyl). Approved for managing pain and inflammation in dogs and humans. Vets prescribe carprofen in the short or long term for post-surgical pain, chronic pain associated with conditions like arthritis and hip dysplasia, soft-tissue injuries, and fever reduction.
  • Firocoxib (Previcox). Used to treat pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis and procedures like soft tissue and orthopedic surgery.
  • Deracoxib (Deramaxx). Used for osteoarthritis treatment, post-operative pain associated with orthopedic and dental surgeries, and pain associated with injuries. Off-label Deramaxx use may be effective against certain forms of canine cancer when used in combination with chemotherapy treatment.
  • Grapiprant (Galliprant). Most commonly prescribed in oral tablet form, grapiprant manages pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis pain in dogs. While traditional NSAIDs work by suppressing inflammatory chemicals known as prostaglandins, grapiprant only blocks the prostaglandin receptor responsible for triggering pain and inflammation. By not suppressing prostaglandins altogether, bodily functions like blood clotting,  blood vessel constriction, and muscle contraction can preserve normal function.
  • Meloxicam (Metacam). Indicated for osteoarthritis treatment in dogs and cats, meloxicam is also used to relieve fever and post-operative pain. Medications like meloxicam help improve your dog’s mobility by relieving joint pain and inflammation.

Other pain medications for dogs

Dogs with underlying liver or kidney disease, gastrointestinal problems, blood clotting or bleeding disorders , or low blood pressure may have adverse reactions to NSAIDs and news alternative medications for pain management. In other cases, dogs may require a medication that’s stronger than traditional NSAIDs.

Other pain relief meds for dogs include:

  • Gabapentin. This drug is prescribed to treat pain associated with nerve damage in dogs and humans. It’s also particularly effective at easing anxiety and treating refractory seizures. Never give your dog liquid gabapentin made for humans, as it’s often mixed with xylitol, which is toxic to dogs.
  • Amantadine (Symmetrel®). Vets prescribe amantadine to treat chronic pain and any associated changes to a dog’s nervous system caused by osteoarthritis, osteosarcoma (bone cancer), and neurologic conditions like disc disease.
  • Tramadol. A mild opioid used to treat moderate to severe pain in dogs and cats resulting from anxiety, spinal diseases, post-operative pain, osteoarthritis, cancer, and pain related to lameness/difficulty walking. Like other opioids, tramadol doesn’t treat the root cause of your dog’s pain — it just makes them more comfortable by altering their perception of the pain.
  • Buprenorphine. This opioid is used to treat mild to moderate pain in dogs and cats. It’s not approved for use on pets by the FDA, but vets commonly prescribe it for off-label pain relief. Potent and fast-acting, the effects of buprenorphine injections and oral sprays are usually felt 15 to 30 minutes after being administered, lasting about 6 to 8 hours in total.

Alternative therapies for pain

Pain management isn’t just about medications — it’s also about exercise and therapy programs that work in tandem with the meds to relieve symptoms as much as possible.

Supplements and other non-pharmaceutical treatments are natural alternatives to drugs with potentially harmful side effects to dogs, and they’re worth considering when it comes to your dog’s recovery.

Integrative medicine can make a huge difference for pets with main. It is a combination of Western medicine and other therapies like acupuncture and Chinese herbal supplements.

Dr. Erica Irish

Massage therapy

Cost: $35 to $50 per session

When to consider it: Dogs suffering from arthritis or sore muscles could benefit from massage therapy.

Laser therapy

Cost: $25 to $50 per session

When to consider it: Consider laser therapy if your dog has arthritis, hip dysplasia, ear infections, non-cancerous wounds, lick granulomas, back pain, or a torn ACL (cruciate disease).


Cost: $60 to $300 per session

When to consider it: Acupuncture treats arthritis, intervertebral disk disease and chronic back pain, neurologic disorders, and hip dysplasia.

Chiropractic therapy

Cost: Cost varies depending on location and dog’s condition, but usually between $50 and $200 per session

When to consider it: Chiropractic care can benefit dogs with arthritis, intervertebral disk disease, gastrointestinal disorders, and certain types of bone cancer.

Physical therapy

Cost: Initial exam fees range from $100 to $150, follow-up visits $60 to $120 (actual price varies depending on services needed)

When to consider it: Physical therapy is essential after surgery for any orthopedic condition, but it can also provide pain relief to dogs with arthritis, hip dysplasia, intervertebral disk disease, degenerative myelopathy, and dogs with a torn ACL.

Water therapy

Cost: About $36 for initial consultation, $30 for a single pool treatment, $20 for a fitness swim with a certified hydrotherapist. For underwater treadmill hydrotherapy, the initial consultation runs about $47, and a single treatment is $35.

When to consider it: Hydrotherapy aids post-op recovery times, but it can also benefit dogs with neuromuscular disorders, arthritis, degenerative myelopathy, intervertebral disk disease, and dogs with a torn ACL.

Cold therapy

Cost: $10 to $50 for specialized ice packs made to fit on a dog’s limbs. Cost may increase if vet appointments are needed to assess injuries.

When to consider it: Cold applications relieve the immediate effects of swelling, pain, and inflammation and offer good short-term relief until a dog can receive proper medical attention.

Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy (PEMF)

Cost: $30 to $60 per 30-minute session, or you can buy your own PEMF system for around $8,000.

When to consider it: PEMF is commonly used to treat pain, arthritis, inflammation, stiffness, bone injuries, and wounds.

Weight management

Cost: Because this technique is about changing up your diet, you shouldn’t pay any more than you already do for dog food.

When to consider it: Dogs with osteoarthritis can benefit from maintaining a healthy weight and keeping unnecessary pressure off their joints.


Cost: $100 per bottle

When to consider it: There has been some evidence that CBD oil can help with decreasing the pain caused by joint inflammation, such as in the case of arthritis.


Cost: Usually between $20 to $50

When to consider it: Compounds like glucosamine and chondroitin have been shown to support cartilage repair and lower inflammation. These are commonly available as soft chews.

Dogs can frequently benefit from a combination of treatments, and their treatment plan will likely change to incorporate different things over time.

Medications to avoid giving your dog

Do not give your dog any over-the-counter (non-prescription) human-grade pain pills from your medicine cabinet without consulting a veterinarian. Most of them are toxic to dogs. Depending on the size of your dog, just a small dose can cause permanent damage to their kidneys, liver, or gastrointestinal tract, and even lead to death.

🚨 Never give your dog the following medications:

  • Aspirin (even baby aspirin). NSAIDs like aspirin can sometimes be toxic to dogs at relatively small doses, and may have adverse effects on a dog’s immune system if they suffer from a pre-existing medical condition.
  • Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). Ibuprofen causes severe gastrointestinal and kidney issues for dogs. Many dogs experience Ibuprofen poisoning after getting into pills their owners have at home. Puppies and older dogs are more sensitive to medications and at increased risk of developing symptoms.
  • Naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn). High doses of naproxen can result in the formation of ulcers, gastrointestinal bleeding, and kidney failure.
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol). Dogs and cats have a reduced ability to metabolize acetaminophen, which can lead to potentially toxic concentrations in the body that decrease the red blood cells’ ability to carry oxygen and can result in liver damage.

If you feel your dog is in pain, the best thing to do is to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. If they’re unable to see your dog as quickly as you like, consider asking them to prescribe a safe pain medication you can use to relieve your dog’s discomfort in the meantime.

You may not be able to completely get rid of your dog’s pain, but you should be able to make them feel well enough to get them through the first few days as you work out a long-term treatment plan with the vet.

Frequently asked questions

What painkillers do vets prescribe?

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the most commonly prescribed pain medications for dogs suffering from both short and long-term pain. If they’re being used to treat chronic pain tied to a condition like arthritis, the vet will likely want to check yearly bloodwork on your dog to make sure their liver and kidney values remain stable.

Dogs who can’t take NSAIDs or require additional pain relief may be prescribed a medication that is also used for humans, such as gabapentin, amantadine, tramadol, and buprenorphine.

👉 Only use these medications with your vet’s okay. You may have some laying around the house, but you should never give them to your dog without running it by a professional first. 

Can I give my dog baby aspirin for pain?

Vets sometimes prescribe aspirin and lower-dose baby aspirin to dogs to reduce pain associated with osteoarthritis and other musculoskeletal issues. While you can technically use baby aspirin under your vet’s instruction, we recommend opting for aspirin specifically made for dogs.

Human aspirin is made with a coating designed to prevent the stomach from irritation, but dogs can’t digest this coating. This may prevent them from feeling the full effects of the medication. Dogs who eat too much aspirin may develop aspirin toxicity, characterized by fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, and difficulty walking which can make them appear “drunk.”

Is Tylenol OK for dogs?

Also known as acetaminophen, OTC Tylenol can be toxic and even deadly to animals. Cats are more sensitive to Tylenol than dogs, but dogs may still exhibit poisoning symptoms like vomiting, stomach pain, lethargy, and rapid breathing.

🚨Take your pet into an emergency veterinary clinic right away if they’ve ingested any amount of Tylenol. 

What are some effective options for strong pain relief for dogs?

Dogs suffering from severe pain caused by traumatic injury or certain cancers may require more powerful narcotics for pain relief. Drugs like morphine, fentanyl citrate (fentanyl), and butorphanol tartrate (butorphanol) should only be used under strict veterinary supervision, but when they’re used correctly, they can significantly reduce your dog’s pain and speed up their recovery time .

What kind of over-the-counter pain reliever can you give a dog?

No over-the-counter NSAIDs for dogs and cats are FDA-approved, and you should always consult a vet before starting your dog on any new medication. For those reasons, we don’t recommend you give any OTC pain relievers to your dog. Popular pain meds like Rimadyl and Previcox are formulated to be safe for dogs, but you need a veterinarian’s prescription to get it.