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the essentials

  • Don’t give your dog over-the-counter human pain medications. Most non-prescription human pain medications are toxic to dogs. Always contact your vet if you think your dog is in pain.
  • 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 on 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.
Guide to dog pain meds

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Pain relief medication for dogs

Do not give your dog any over-the-counter (non-prescription) human-grade pain pills from your medicine cabinet without first consulting with 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
  • Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
  • Naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn)
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol)

If you feel your dog is in pain, the best thing to do is to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. If you are not able to have your pet seen as quickly as you’d like, when scheduling the appointment, you can ask if they can prescribe a safe pain medication for you to give your pet in the meantime.

Depending on what is causing your pet’s pain, your veterinarian may prescribe a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) pain medication that is formulated to be safe for dogs. There are many options available, but the most common ones are:

  • Carprofen (Rimadyl)
  • Previcox
  • Deramaxx
  • Galliprant
  • Meloxicam

These NSAIDs can be useful for short-term pain, such as in the case of a bone fracture or torn toenail. They can also be given long-term for more chronic pain, such as in the case of arthritis and other joint injuries or abnormalities. If they are being used long-term, your veterinarian will likely want to check yearly bloodwork on your dog to make sure their liver and kidney values remain stable.

Other pain medications that can be used in dogs include prescription medications that are also used in people, such as:

  • Gabapentin
  • Amantadine
  • Tramadol
  • Buprenorphine

These may be prescribed for your dog if your dog cannot take NSAIDs, or if they need additional pain control. Even though these are human medications and it may be tempting to give your dog one of your prescription pills, always call your veterinarian’s office first. This is so they can let you know if the medication is safe for your individual dog and what dose to give.

If you are considering trying CBD oil with your pet, make sure to only purchase products that are labeled for use in dogs and to follow the administration guidelines carefully as instructed on the label. It’s always a good idea to call your veterinarian’s office first to make sure they think your pet may benefit from it and to confirm proper dosing. 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.

Alternatives for pain management

Pain medications are no longer the only option for controlling pain in our dogs. Alternative, non-pharmaceutical options are available at most of your up-and-up veterinary clinics.

Natural pain management for dogs

Alternatives to painkillers

Method Cost When to consider it
Massage therapy $ Older dogs with sore muscles, arthritis
Laser therapy $$ Arthritis, Hip Dysplasia, Ear Infections, non-cancerous wounds, lick granulomas, back pain, torn ACL (cruciate disease)
Acupuncture $$ Arthritis, Intervertebral Disk Disease and chronic back back, neurologic disorders, Hip Dysplasia
Chiropractic therapy $$ Arthritis, Intervertebral Disk Disease, certain types of cancer, gastrointestinal disorders
Physical therapy $$$ Arthritis, Hip Dysplasia, Intervertebral Disk Disease, after surgery for any orthopedic condition, torn ACL (cruciate disease), Degenerative Myelopathy
Water therapy $$$ Arthritis, Degenerative Myelopathy, Intervertebral Disk Disease, Cruciate Disease, neuromuscular disorders

These options are can get costly, but they’re super effective for arthritis and back/joint pain when paired with typical pain medications. Your veterinarian will work with you to develop a pain management plan for your dog, which may include two or more of these therapies. Oftentimes you can even do these things in the comfort of your home.

Signs of pain in dogs

Just like people, different dogs have different levels of pain tolerance and may display signs of pain in unique ways.

Signs of pain in dogs, from least obvious to most obvious:

  • Not doing the things they usually like to do
  • Having less energy
  • Being reclusive, being less social
  • Decreased appetite
  • Being irritable
  • Constantly licking or chewing a body part
  • Being very slow to sit down or stand up
  • Refusing to go up or downstairs, jump, or get into the car
  • Avoiding walking on slippery surfaces
  • Holding head and neck down low
  • Walking with a hunched posture (back arched up)
  • Limping or favoring a limb
  • Holding a limb up, refusing to walk on it
  • Yelping or crying out, whimpering
  • Biting when being touched or moved

Causes of pain in dogs

There are so many reasons why your dog can experience pain. The more common and obvious causes of pain in dogs are traumatic injuries, such as being hit by a car, injuring their leg or paw while playing, running, or jumping, or tearing a toenail off. But, just like humans, they might also hurt due to some sort of internal condition or illness.

Arthritis is a very common cause of pain in middle-aged to older dogs, which can be difficult to detect at first. With long-term pain management, these dogs can be kept comfortable and maintain a good quality of life if their pain is recognized and addressed properly. Back pain, often referred to as Intervertebral Disk Disease is another common condition that can cause on and off long-term pain in dogs, especially for Dachshunds and Basset Hounds.

Other conditions that can cause pain in your dog include bite wounds, skin infections, broken teeth, and tooth root infections, ear infections, eye conditions (corneal ulcers, glaucoma), urinary tract infections, pancreatitis, among others.

Dogs will also be painful after any surgery, including standard surgeries such as spays or neuters. Your veterinarian will likely give you pain medication to give to your dog after these procedures.