Choosing the right dog pain relief is an important part of helping your pet heal and feel better.
Pain can be the result of a number of different conditions, and it’s important to know how to recognize the symptoms of pain in your dog so that you can get him the treatment he needs.
Not all pain treatment options fit all dogs, and sharing your own pain killers with your pooch can be dangerous, even deadly.
On this page I’m going to take a look at the whole range of treatments, products and drugs which can be used to treat pain in dogs, safely and effectively.
This information will help you understand your vet’s recommendations, ask the right questions, and be aware of the risks & benefits of your dog’s treatment plan.
Use these links to jump directly to a specific section or scroll down to learn everything you need to know about dog pain relief options…
- Prescription Pain Relief
- Over-the-counter Pain Relief
- Natural Pain Relief Products
- Complementary Pain Relief Therapies
Finding a safe and effective way to treat your dog’s pain is best done with the help of a veterinarian.
I wouldn’t recommend giving any type of medication, even a natural product, to your pet without first discussing it with your vet because ANY product has the potential to interact with existing medical conditions or current medications in a negative way.
Prescription Pain Relief For Dogs
If your dog is injured, has had surgery, or has a chronic health problem which is causing him pain, your vet will most likely prescribe him pain medication.
In older dogs the most common reason for taking pain medicine are chronic conditions such as Arthritis or degenerative conditions.
These are usually treated with a NSAID’s (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).
Pain relief for post-surgery pain or other serious conditions may include narcotic or opiate drugs.
All of these medications have side-effects, some of which can be serious, and should only be given when prescribed by your vet for YOUR dog.
Never use a drug prescribed for another dog (or a person).
Dosage needs to be calculated according to your dog’s weight and other considerations such as age and pre-existing health conditions need to be accounted for.
NSAID Pain Relief For Dogs
Different NSAID’s can contain one of several active ingredients.If one doesn’t seem to help your dog, or he doesn’t tolerate it very well, it’s possible that another one will.
Most vets are happy to try more than one medication in order to find the right ‘fit’.
Before prescribing an NSAID for your dog, your vet will want to do blood work and know all about his current health and an pre-existing conditions.
This is to make sure that the pain relief prescribed is as safe for him as possible.
There will also be regular blood tests and health checks to make sure that the medication isn’t causing any side-effects or adverse reactions.
Side effects or adverse reactions can sometimes occur even without noticeable symptoms.
In the United States, Carprofen was the first non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug approved specifically to treat dogs.
Carprofen is an effective, and popular, choice for treating arthritis and some other inflammatory joint conditions, but there are those potential side-effects.
Drugs containing Carprofen should NOT be given to:
- Puppies under six weeks of age
- Pregnant or nursing dog
Carprofen should also NOT be given to dogs who have:
- Bleeding disorders (including stomach ulcers)
- Liver or kidney disease
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- An allergy to Aspirin or any other NSAID
Deracoxib is the active ingredient in Deramaxx, another NSAID which is FDA approved for the treatment of pain and inflammation in dogs.
Deramaxx is also often prescribed by veterinarians to help ease post-operative pain.
As an NSAID it has the same potential side-effects and the same prescription restrictions as the ones for Carprofen listed above.
If your dog is taking any type of steroid medication your vet needs to know if he is considering prescribing this drug for your dog.
Firocoxib is the active ingredient in the NSAID Previcox which is FDA approved to treat inflammation and pain in dogs.
It works in a very similar way to Deracoxib and has similar potential side-effects and restrictions, including the need to notify your vet if your dog is taking any steroid medications.
Meloxicam is the active ingredient in the NSAID Metacam (or Mobic).
This drug isn’t FDA approved for use in dogs but many veterinarian’s are comfortable prescribing it for their canine patients.
Meloxicam is prescribed for pain relief in dogs when that pain is due to arthritis and other similar conditions,
It is also subject to the same risks and restrictions as the other NSAID’s listed above.
The most common side-effects of NSAID’s on dogs can include:
- Loss of appetite
- Eye irritation
More rare, and more serious, side-effects of NSAID’s can include:
- Increased thirst
- Increased urination
- Black or tarry stools
- Pale gums (or tongue)
- Yellowing of gums, tongue or whites of the eyes
- Dizziness or disorientation
- Paralysis or seizures
The second group of reactions could indicate a serious problem such as internal bleeding or liver damage.
If you notice any of them you must stop giving the medication and get your dog to a veterinarian as soon as possible.
NSAID’s should never be given on an empty stomach as this can increase the likelihood of bleeding and other risks.
Always give your dog this type of pain relief medication with food. Either added to his meal, or right after eating.
Adequan is the brand name for a naturally-derived prescription medication used to treat the inflammation and pain from arthritis and other degenerative bone/joint conditions in dogs.
It’s also used for pain control after joint surgery.
It is not an oral medication, but is given by injection. It is not an NSAID.
Adequan not only relieves pain, but it reduces damage to joints and stimulates the repair of cartilage. It’s currently the only FDA approved treatment of it’s kind.
There are still side-effects which could be potentially serious including excessive bleeding and liver or kidney damage.
Adequan should not be given to pregnant or nursing dogs, or dogs in a breeding program.
Other Prescription Pain Medications for Dogs
If an NSAID isn’t the right choice of pain relief for your dog and/or his condition, there are other options your veterinarian can try.
Opioids (also known as narcotics) do not have anti-inflammatory properties and are commonly used to treat dogs with severe pain, post surgery pain and for extra relief in certain situations.
These are usually a safe, well tolerated and extremely effective way to manage a dog’s pain and can be used as an alternative to an NSAID (for pain only) or in conjunction with one (under vet’s recommendation only).
There are side effects to using an opiate drug for your dog, these include:
- Drowsiness or lethargy
- Slow heartbeat
- Slow or labored breathing
- Weakness or dizziness
There is also a risk of addiction with this type of pain relief, and dosage needs to be carefully monitored by your veterinarian.
Opiate drugs should not be given to dogs who have:
- Seizure disorder
- Kidney or liver disease
- Stomach disorder
or who are taking an:
- Muscle relaxant
- Anti-nausea or anti-emetic
Tramadol is the most commonly prescribed opioid pain relief for dogs.
Although well tolerated, generally considered safe, and with a low incidence of serious side-effects, Tramadol is still a very strong medication and needs to be used with care.
An overdose can easily be fatal, and some side-effects can be serious. Severe adverse reactions in dogs to Tramadol can include slow or abnormal heartbeat or breathing problems.
Overdose can cause hallucinations and severe anxiety or agitation. Possibly followed by collapse, which can lead to death.
Codeine is an effective pain killer for use in dogs and is usually absorbed quickly and well tolerated.
Side-effects and overdose reactions are similar to those given for Tramadol (above)
Gabapentin is the active ingredient in the Neurontin which is as an anti-seizure medication.
It is not FDA approved for use in animals, but many veterinarian’s routinely prescribe it to treat seizures in their patients.
It’s also regularly prescribed to treat chronic pain in dogs (and cats) from conditions ranging from arthritis to cancer.
Side effects of Gabapentin in dogs can include:
- Drowsiness or lethargy
- Loss of balance
- Swelling of limbs
If possible Gabapentin should be avoided in dogs who:
- Are pregnant or nursing
- Have kidney disease
It should not be used in conjunction with narcotic or opiate drugs, and it is not safe to take give your dog an antacid within 2 hours or giving Gabapentin as they can interact badly.
Non Prescription Dog Pain Relief Medications
Non prescription drug options for dog pain relief are few and far between.
Although they can be purchased over the counter (OTC), it’s still important to discuss their use with your veterinarian before giving them to your pet.
Aspirin is the most commonly used OTC medication for dog pain relief.
The correct dosage of Aspirin for dogs is:
- 5 – 10 mg per lb of body weight
- Given at 12 hour intervals
Given in the correct dosage, and with consistent monitoring for adverse reactions, Aspirin may be a safe short-term pain relief option for your dog.
Aspirin thins the blood and interferes with blood clotting so it is not safe for dogs with bleeding disorders of any kind.
It also contains acetylsalicylic acid which can damage cartilage over time – making it a poor choice for long term treatment of inflammation due to conditions such as arthritis.
Mild to moderate side effects of using Aspirin in dogs include:
- Loose stools
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal Pain
- Dark or tarry stools
- Internal or excessive bleeding
Serious side effects of Aspirin in dogs can include:
- Vomit which looks like coffee grounds
- Dark, black or ‘tarry’ stools
* Either of the above could be a sign of internal bleeding and your dog needs veterinary attention immediately.
Aspirin should not be given to dogs who have:
- Liver or kidney disease
- Bleeding disorders
- Stomach ulcer
- Vitamin K deficiency
- Von Willebrands’ Disease
Aspirin is also not suitable for:
- Puppies of less than 8 weeks of age
- Dogs who are due to undergo (or have recently had) surgery
- Dogs who are taking corticosteroids
Safest Aspirin Formula for Dogs
The safest Aspirin for dogs is either ‘Buffered’ or ‘Enteric Coated’.
Either of these formulas help protect the digestive tract and stomach from being irritated by the medication.
Buffered Aspirin is the best choice as it is also absorbed easily. Enteric coated formulas may pass through your dog’s digestive tract before being fully absorbed. This can make them less effective, but it’s still a safer option than regular uncoated aspirin for your dog.
Aspirin which has been manufactured for dogs is often flavored, or chewable, or both, which makes it easier to give to your dog – plus correct dosage is clearly marked.
If you use a Buffered Aspirin specifically formulated for Dogs then you’ve made the best choice.
Tylenol is not generally recommended for use in dogs because it can be highly toxic.
Tylenol (whose active ingredient is Acetaminophen) is also not a very effective pain relief option for dogs.
However, your veterinarian MAY approve of you giving Tylenol to your dog for pain in certain circumstances.
If this happens, be extremely careful to follow his/her instructions about dosage and NEVER give Tylenol to your dog without a veterinarian’s express recommendation.
Available 24 hours. $65 charge per call.Pet Poison Hotline: 1-888-764-7661
Available 24 hours. $49 charge covers all calls related to single incident
Natural Pain Relief for Dogs
The search for natural pain relief for pets is increasing in popularity.
There are several products natural products or supplements which can help reduce your dog’s inflammation and pain.
Not all situations are a good ‘fit’ for a natural product and some conditions need stronger medications or pharmaceuticals such as the prescriptions drugs discussed above.
These include severe pain and inflammation, immediate post-surgical pain management and serious conditions such as cancer.
Natural Supplements & Vitamins
Chronic degenerative bone/joint conditions such as arthritis is one of the most common causes of pain in dogs, especially older dogs.
Take an in-depth look at the world of natural supplement for pets which can be a safe and effective option for treating a wide range of health problems…Senior Dog Supplements.
Natural supplements for these conditions tend to concentrate on minimizing cartilage damage and improve joint mobility. This in turn alleviates pain.
The most popular ingredients in their arsenal are Glucosamine and Chondroitin, these are often combined in a single product but are also available individually.
Other natural dog pain relief options include herbal, homeopathic and flower essence remedies.
Most natural pain relief products for dogs can be used safely in conjunction with veterinary treatments and prescription medications BUT it is very important to get your vet’s approval before giving your dog anything.. natural or otherwise.
Nutramax Cosequin DS
Nutramax Cosequin DS is the most popular natural dietary supplement recommended by veterinarians for joint health support in dogs.
Nutramax Dasuquin with MSM
Nutramax Dasuquin with MSM is a complete joint support supplement, and is available in two strengths to suite small to medium, and large, dogs.
Vetri-Science Glycoflex III
This Glycoflex formula is the most powerful of the three-stage program of joint support supplements by Vetri-Science.
Vet’s Best Aspirin Free Pain Formula
Designed to relieve mild or short-term pain due to stiff joints, sore muscles, over-exercising and so on.
Herbal Healing Liniment
An organic healing liniment which can be rubbed onto painful areas to reduce pain, discomfort and stiffness.
Pet Essences Pain Relief
A blend of flower essences designed to treat the pain of cuts and bruises, as part of post-surgical care regimen and injury recovery.
Complementary Dog Pain Relief Therapies
Prescription, OTC and natural supplements or products are the most commonly thought of treatment for pain in dogs.
There are other/additional options and therapies that can bring relief, including Chiropractic Care, Hydrotherapy, Massage and Acupuncture.
These therapies are often called ‘Alternative Therapies’ but I prefer to call them ‘Complementary’ as they can be used in addition to, and to complement, both veterinary and natural remedies and treatment options.
Here are a few that you might want to try if your dog is suffering:
Obviously whether or not exercise will work as pain relief for your dog depends on what is causing his pain in the first place.
It is most helpful for dogs who are experiencing chronic arthritis or age-related stiffness and pain.
Movement helps keep joints mobile and also releases endorphins which help him feel better physically and mentally.
Gentle, low impact exercise is what you’re aiming for – in other words walking. Not running or jumping.
Also, soft surfaces are best for exercise in this situation. Try to avoid concrete if possible. Grass is the best choice.
Gentle exercise after surgery (for whatever condition) can be a good idea – once your dog has recovered enough and your veterinarian gives you the go-ahead to get him mobile and gently active.
Always consult your veterinarian before making any changes to your dog’s exercise regime… you want to be sure it’s going to be helpful not harmful.
Hydrotherapy uses water to help heal and to reduce pain.
It’s suitable as a pain relief option for dogs with arthritis, spinal problems, hip or elbow dysplasia, certain injuries or traumas and orthopedic problems, and as part of a post-surgical recovery plan.
While swimming in your pool or hot tub, or for small dogs in your bathtub can be fun and beneficial for a healthy dog, for one who is in pain or has mobility issues it can make things worse. Even be dangerous.
Canine Water Therapy centers can offer a number of options including underwater treadmills, whirlpools and of course swimming pools.
Water has wonderful benefits for a dog in pain, including supporting his weight, taking stress of his joints.
When the water is heated to the right temperature it also helps to relieve pain, reduce inflammation and relieve stiffness.
The IAAMB (International Association of Animal Massage& Bodywork and the Association of Canine Water Therapy) website has a comprehensive list of Canine Water Therapy Centers (both national and international). You can find this list here… ACWT Member DirectoryYour vet may also be able to recommend complementary therapists for your dog, or you can search online for the particular therapy you’re looking for in your area.
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese therapy which involves inserting tiny needles into certain, specific points in the body.
These points are often located close to major nerve centers and the needles seem to stimulate the release of certain natural chemicals in the body which restores balance to the body and help reduce pain and promote healing (among other things).
Studies have shown improvement in pets with spinal disease, arthritis and other joint problems.
University Veterinarian Andrea Looney believes that acupuncture can be as effective as NSAID’s for pets with arthritis-related pain – but is much safer.
Find a Veterinary Acupuncturist in your area here… AAVA Veterinary AcupuncturistsOr ask your veterinarian for recommendations or suggestions.
Canine chiropractic care involves ‘adjustments’ to the skeletal framework of your dog’s body.
These adjustments can improve the alignment of bones and joints, release pinched nerves, reduce muscle tension and restore balance throughout the body.
It’s a good choice for dogs with joint or spinal problems, muscle problems, injuries and as part of post-surgical care.
Usually your dog will need a series of adjustments, but pain relief can often be seen quickly.
Canine massage can do so many things including:
- Relax and/or strengthen muscles
- Relieve tension or soreness
- Increase flexibility
- Reduce inflammation
- Improve mobility
- Reduce or relieve pain
Massage is a good choice for reducing pain in dogs with arthritic joints, hip or elbow dysplasia, mobility issues.
It can also be helpful if your dog is recovering from an injury or surgery.
There are other, whole body, benefits of massage for dogs including lowered anxiety levels, improved immune system function and promoting good circulation (both blood and lymphatic systems).
For older dogs, the good news is that massage can also slow the progress some degenerative conditions.
There are two ways to find a Canine Massage Therapist in your area:IAAMB Animal Massage & Bodywork & ACWT Member Listings
So, as you can see there are many, many different dog pain relief options that you can use to help your best friend feel better.
In many cases it’s not an ‘either/or’ situation, and medications may be combined with natural products and/or complementary therapies to produce the best, and most effective pain relief for your dog.
However, don’t forget that you for safety reasons it’s vitally important to make sure you have your veterinarian’s approval for ANY product or treatment prior to using it on your dog!
Good luck to you both.