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My dogs Ralph and Radar are getting old and creaky. They still love to take long walks, but they often end up sore the morning after. Thankfully, there are good pain relievers available for dogs! But before you give your best friend a pill, it’s important to research the right kind of medication to give dogs for pain.
Dog pain can be caused by injury, infection, disease, or just the aches and ailments of old age. With a few exceptions, dogs shouldn’t take human medication (Ibuprofen and Tylenol are especially unsafe for dogs). There are great, dog-specific options available, however. Do consult with your vet before giving medication to your dog.
Signs of pain in dogs
Though we feel deeply connected to our dogs, it’s sometimes hard to tell when they’re in pain since they can’t talk to us about it. If you see any of the following signs of pain in your dog, it’s time to call your vet to determine the cause of pain and find a safe remedy.
- Antisocial or aggressive behavior
- Changes in drinking water (way more or way less than normal)
- Loss of appetite
- Increased sleeping
- Increased barking, yelping, snarling, growling, or howling
- Excessively licking themselves
- Heavy panting or erratic breathing
- Mobility issues
- Shaking or trembling
Human medications dogs can’t have
Before we get into what you can give your dog for pain, let’s talk about the human medications you should never give your dog. These OTC (over-the-counter) human pain medications are not safe for dogs:
- Ibuprofen (found in Advil, Motrin, and Nupren)
- Acetaminophen (found in Tylenol and many decongestants)
- Naproxen (found in Aleve)
Always consult a veterinarian before giving your dog over-the-counter medications.
Some over-the-counter medications, like aspirin, are safe for dogs only in the appropriate dosage. Dosage depends on the weight, size, and health history of the dog, and unfortunately, it can be very easy to give them too much. You should always consult a veterinarian before giving your dog over-the-counter medications.
Veterinary NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
One of the most common pain medication types in the world, NSAIDs are used for short-term reduction in swelling, stiffness, and joint pain. They’re especially helpful for dogs with arthritis, or dogs recovering from injury or surgery.
NSAIDs work by blocking the effects of pain-inducing enzymes, easing pain and inflammation and allowing your dog to move more comfortably. These should only be prescribed by a vet. Common NSAIDs for pets include:
- Rimadyl (generic name novox carprofen). Note: can have strong side effects, especially for the GI tract. Be sure to consult with your vet about this.
- Deramaxx (generic name deracoxib)
- Previcox (generic name firocoxib)
- Metacam (generic name feloxicam)
Although NSAIDs are commonly used by humans to relieve pain, you can’t just run to the medicine cabinet and give your dog the same pills you take. Human NSAIDs like Ibuprofen and Naproxen are toxic for pets, even in very small doses.
The following could occur if your dog takes human NSAIDs:
- Severe, painful intestinal issues
- Kidney problems
- Kidney failure
- Bleeding of the gastrointestinal tract
- Liver dysfunction
- Liver failure
Instead, talk to your vet about prescription NSAIDs specially formulated for dogs.
Vets will sometimes recommend over-the-counter aspirin or baby aspirin for dogs, particularly those with osteoarthritis or musculoskeletal inflammation. However, aspirin can have serious side effects if given incorrectly, so you should still talk to the vet first to determine whether or not it’s the best choices for your dog’s health.
Other pain medications
NSAIDS really are the most popular types of medication to treat pain in dogs, but some types of pain require different types of medication. Some of the most commonly prescribed pain medications for dogs include:
- Amantadine is a medication that blocks certain neural transmitters and is prescribed to treat arthritis, disk disease, and cancer in dogs.
- Gabapentin treats nerve pain and is often prescribed to dogs as a mild sedative or for seizure management, in addition to being used for pain relief.
- Tramadol is a mild opioid medication sometimes prescribed to aging dogs with constant pain.
All of these medications have potential side effects that you should read up on and consult with your vet about.
Increasing numbers of dog owners swear by pet-safe cannabis-derived treats that have a calming effect without the compound THC. You can read more about marijuana for dogs here, and about one owner’s experience with CBD treats here.
In terms of administering CBD to your dog, follow the manufacturer’s guidelines. You can purchase dog treats formulated with CBD from brands like Canna-Pet and PetHealthCBD, both of which maintain high-quality sourcing and testing standards. CBD oil for dogs is also a great option as you can add a few drops to their dog food or treats.
As always, consult with your vet before giving a new supplement or medication. Keep in mind that because of laws that vary state by state and lack of formal research, many veterinarians will not take a stance on CBD for pets. A holistic vet is more likely to have expertise in the area.
For dogs with chronic pain from arthritis and other joint ailments, over-the-counter or prescribed supplements can help lessen pain and improve mobility.
Glucosomine is the most common joint supplement for dogs (humans use it, too) and can be purchased over-the-counter. While glucosamine does not directly stop the pain, it is believed to alleviate the symptoms of joint damage by boosting the repair of damaged cartilage.
You can purchase joint supplements at your local grocery or pet supply store, or directly from your vet. It’s still a good idea to consult your veterinarian before starting a course of joint supplements, and you should purchase supplements designed specifically for dogs.
In addition to prescribed and over-the-counter medications, some dog people swear by natural remedies for pain. Known as complementary or alternative treatments, natural remedies show mixed results but can be a great help when used alongside western veterinary medicine.
Here are some of the most popular and effective approaches to natural pain relief for dogs:
- Massage encourages healing by improving blood flow, stimulating nerves, relaxing muscles, and relieving stress. You can read a book to learn how to do it at home!
- Aromatherapy reduces stress, encouraging healing and relieving pain.
- Acupuncture may relieve dogs of arthritis pain, encourage healing after trauma or surgery, and even treat the symptoms of diabetes and cancer. Always consult a trained, licensed animal acupuncturist.
Whatever the source of your dog’s pain, there is a treatment out there to help them feel better. Often, a combination of prescription medication and at-home healing treatments can keep them feeling their best.
As for me, I give my dog a combination of veterinarian-approved joint supplements, prescription pain medication as needed, and a regular moderate exercise routine that keeps them in good shape as they get older. Speak to your vet about a pain management treatment plan for your dog.