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What Can I Give My Dog For Pain Relief? Your Question Answered

Lily Velez

By

Medically reviewed by

Ivana Crnec, DVM

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One of the most common questions that veterinarians are asked is, “What can I give my dog for pain?” In this article, we are answering this question and saving you the trip to the vet’s office.

Seeing your dog in pain is a distressing situation, but before you start rummaging through your medicine cabinet for over-the-counter pain medications, let’s take a deeper look into how to tell whether your dog actually is in pain, which drugs are safe and which are dangerous, and what the best holistic options for treating your dog. 

Traditional Pain Medications for Dogs

Traditional Pain Medications for Dogs

Giving your dog pain medications is not something you should decide on your own. You need the approval of your trusted veterinarian as well as guidance in terms of usage instructions (dosage and frequency). Here are some of the more frequently used meds for managing pain in dogs. 

Aspirin for Dogs. Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) is an NSAID with fever-reducing, pain control, and anti-clotting properties. In addition to managing pain, inflammation, and fever, Aspirin can also be used for certain eye problems and anti-cancer strategies. It can be given in doses ranging from 10 to 40 mg per 2.2 lbs of body weight. However, the use of Aspirin in dogs needs to be carefully monitored by a veterinarian. 

Tramadol for Dogs. Tramadol is a synthetic opioid used for managing moderate and severe pain of either acute or chronic nature. Tramadol is a schedule IV controlled substance and must be used with extra caution. The top three causes for prescribing Tramadol in dogs include chronic osteoarthritis, cancer pain, and postoperative pain. The Tramadol dosage is between 0.45 and 1.8 mg per pound of body weight.

Gabapentin for Dogs. Gabapentin is a structural analog of the inhibitory neurotransmitter named GABA. The exact working mechanism of Gabapentin is poorly understood. What we know is that this drug is helpful for managing pain, seizures, and anxiety in dogs. In pain management, it has an adjunctive role meaning it is used to boost the anti-pain properties of other medications. The recommended dosage is around 2.5 mg per pound of body weight. 

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Pain Medications to Never Give Your Dog

Not every human pain medication can be used in dogs. In fact, most traditionally used human pain meds can do more harm than good when used to dogs and in incorrect dosages. Here are some of the pain medications you must never give your dog. 

NSAIDs: Anti Inflammatory for Dogs. Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) is the number one most common toxicosis in dogs. However, it is not just Ibuprofen that is dangerous to dogs. All non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs formulated for humans have narrow safety margins and are potentially toxic to dogs. 

Members of the non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs group work by inhibiting an enzyme called cyclooxygenase. This enzyme is critical for the production of prostaglandins – hormone-like chemicals responsible for various functions – some good and others bad. 

The severity of the situation following NSAID ingestions depends on the dog’s size and amount of consumed human medication. Generally speaking, these are the side effects of NSAIDs you can expect:

  • Digestive upset (vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, stomach ulcers)
  • Kidney failure (the risk is greater in dogs with pre-existing issues)
  • CNS problems and deficits (depression, seizures, coma)

We should note that there are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs explicitly formulated for dogs. They are perfectly safe but require a veterinary prescription. The most popular NSAIDs for dogs are:

  • Carprofen (Rimadyl)
  • Meloxicam (Metacam)
  • Deracoxib (Deramaxx)
  • Firocoxib (Previcox

Acetaminophen. Acetaminophen is one of the first pain relief choices in people. However, it must not be used in dogs because of its toxic effects. This active ingredient in dogs causes irreversible kidney and liver damage. Plus, to make things worse, Acetaminophen is fast-acting and exerts its harmful effects soon after ingestion. 

Aleve. Aleve (Naproxen) is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug available over the counter. Sadly, it is extremely toxic to dogs even when given in relatively small doses. In addition to stomach ulcers and intestinal perforations, Naproxen is associated with anemia, neurological problems, liver, and kidney failure. 

Opioids. There are only two opioids approved for use in dogs – butorphanol and buprenorphine. However, veterinarians often prescribe human opioids. While opioids are not universally bad for dogs, they are definitely not something you cannot use without veterinarian instruction – even slight miscalculations can result in overdoses, extreme sedation, and breathing depression. 

Can You Give a Dog Tylenol for Pain?

No, you must not give a dog Tylenol for pain. Tylenol is not an NSAID because it works via different mechanisms and is ineffective against inflammation. 

Tylenol’s active ingredient, Acetaminophen, is classified as a non-aspirin pain reliever, and in people, it is used to manage pain and fever. 

However, Tylenol is toxic for pets and must never be given. High Acetaminophen doses, in dogs, can cause irreversible damage to tissues and organs (liver and kidneys) throughout the body. Cats are more sensitive – just one regular strength Tylenol tablet can be lethal. 

Risks of Conventional Pain Treatment for Dogs

Risks of Conventional Pain Treatment for Dogs

If your dog’s situation calls for it, the veterinarian may recommend certain pain medications. Novox (typically prescribed by a veterinarian to treat inflammation, arthritis-related pain, and postoperative pain), Tramadol, and Gabapentin (usually recommended by a veterinarian for older dogs that are dealing with neuropathic pain, chronic pain, or seizures) are three common medications used in pain management for dogs.

While giving your dog these medications will help with pain, it is also important to be mindful of their potential side effects. As a good rule of thumb, it is always best to visit the official website of the drug that your veterinarian prescribes to get more information about how the medication may affect your pet.

Some reported side effects of traditional pain medications for dogs include:

  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Depression
  • Lethargy
  • Sedation
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Loss of Coordination
  • Convulsions or seizures

Veterinarians are well aware of the potential side effects associated with conventional pain medications. Therefore, before writing a prescription, they carefully evaluate the dog’s overall situation to determine whether the pros of the medication outweigh the cons. 

Natural Pain Relief for Dogs

As more and more pet owners are turning to natural, holistic pain management options, you might be wondering if they are a good fit for your dog. Here is a short review of some of the most popular holistic methods for managing pain. 

CBD Oil for Dogs. CBD oil can help dogs deal with pain and discomfort on various levels. Plus, while managing pain, Cannabidiol will support the dog’s overall health. We suggest using the Honest Paws CBD oil and treats

Green Lipped Mussels for Dogs. Green Lipped Mussels are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and therefore excellent for managing pain associated with inflammation. The most common cause of such pain in dogs is arthritis. Try the Honest Paws Joint Powder – in addition to Green Lipped Mussels, it contains chondroitin, glucosamine, hyaluronic acid, MSM, vitamin C, and fish oil. 

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Boswellia for Dogs. Although known for years, Boswellia serrata became popular recently, when its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties were thoroughly researched. You can get the Honest Paws Mobility Chews as they contain anti-inflammatory and health-boosting levels of Boswellia serrata powder. 

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Turmeric for Dogs. Another popular, praised, and old natural anti-pain nutrient is turmeric. Since dogs are not big fans of turmeric’s spicy taste, it is best to use supplements rich in this ingredient. We recommend the Honest Paws Mobility CBD oil, which, in addition to full-spectrum hemp, contains added organic turmeric.   

These are just examples. There are many natural ways of ensuring your pet is comfortable and pain-free. Which option is best depends on the dog’s underlying painful condition.

For example, if your dog is suffering from arthritis, the veterinarian may recommend one or more of the following approaches:

  • Healthy diet and maintaining ideal body weight
    • Anti-inflammatory foods (ginger)
  • Tailored exercise regimen and physical therapy
    • Acupuncture
    • Massage 
    • Hydrotherapy 
  • Joint supplements with all-natural ingredients.

How to Tell if a Dog is in Pain

When it comes to masking pain, dogs are real masters. Hiding pain is instinctual for canines and goes back to their wild ancestor. Namely, when living in the wild, showing signs of pain is dangerous and makes the dog vulnerable to attacks and losing its social rank within the pack. 

Therefore, by the time a dog starts exhibiting signs of pain, the underlying condition causing the distress is probably progressed. That said, pet owners need to be able to recognize when their dog is in pain. The good news is that you do not have to be a mind-reader to detect distress in your pup. 

Here are the tell-tale signs that your dog is likely in pain:

  • Decreased energy level and disinterest in everyday activities 
  • Loss of appetite and decreased water intake 
  • Notable swelling, inflammation, limping 
  • Vocalizations (howling, whining, whimpering, grunting, groaning, yelping)
  • A sagging tail or a tail tucked between the legs
  • Dull, droopy, or tired-looking eyes
  • Behavioral changes (usually excitability and increased aggressiveness)

Our Final Thoughts on What Can I Give My Dog for Pain?

What Can I Give My Dog for Pain

Now that you are familiar with the best and safest OTC medications for pain management, we suggest stocking up and including them in your dog’s first aid kit. Just like you have a medical cabinet, your dog needs one too. 

Finally, keep in mind that treating the pain is treating the symptom. After you have provided first-aid pain relief, make sure your dog gets examined by a veterinarian so that you can start addressing the underlying cause of the pain. 

Sources

Acetaminophen toxicosis in a Dalmatian (nih.gov) 

(PDF) Diagnostic studies on acetaminophen toxicosis in Dogs (researchgate.net) 

Pharmacokinetics of Acetaminophen after intravenous and oral administration in fasted and fed Labrador Retriever dogs (wiley.com) 

Treatment of a massive naproxen overdose with therapeutic plasma exchange in a dog (nih.gov)

Toxicology Brief: Ibuprofen toxicosis in dogs, cats, and ferrets (dvm360.com) 

untitled (aspcapro.org) 

The Opioid Epidemic: What Veterinarians Need to Know | FDA