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What Can I Give My Dog for Pain?

5 min read

Updated - Jun 14th, 2022

There’s nothing worse than seeing your beloved pooch in pain. Whether they’re limping around the room or laying in bed with a gloomy expression, you want to do everything in your power to help them.

When you’re suffering from a headache or joint pain, you reach for one of the medications in your bathroom cabinet. You think that might work for your dog as well, but it actually may do more harm than good. Here’s what you should do – and what you definitely shouldn’t do – when your dog is in pain.

Can I give my dog human pain medications?

You may wonder if it’s alright to give your dog the same painkillers you would use for your own symptoms. The short answer is: no. 

Regardless of whether or not a medication is a controlled substance, requires a prescription, or can be bought over-the-counter, giving it to your dog poses significant risks. Human pain medications can, when given to dogs, cause stomach ulcers or organ failure, with lethal effects that onset so quickly you may not have time to get to a veterinarian. Even medications that aren’t by themselves toxic to dogs – like aspirin and acetaminophen – should be avoided unless you consult with a vet. Technically, these can be used to treat pain in dogs, but in practice the risk of an overdose is too severe to do it without supervision. 

What drugs can dogs take for pain?

The pain relievers available to dogs fall into a few categories, based on the pathways by which they work in the body. Each category has its own particular uses and risks.

NSAIDs

NSAIDs, or non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs, like Carprofen, are the most common pain relievers often prescribed for dogs with arthritis or recovering from surgery. They provide pain relief as well as reducing inflammation and fevers. They work by blocking the enzymes which cause inflammation, and have been shown to be effective in reducing pain, particularly with diseases like osteoarthritis.

However, they can have some serious side effects, including vomiting, low appetite, lethargy, diarrhea, ulcers, and liver or kidney failure. They should be used cautiously with animals that already have problems with their liver or kidneys. NSAIDs which have been approved for pain relief for dogs include Carprofen, Naproxen, Grapiprant, Firocoxib, Deracoxib, Previcox, and Meloxicam.

Opioids

Opioids, such as Tramadol, are prescribed for very severe pain. They work directly on the nervous system to reduce the sensations of pain. The particles attach to receptors on nerve cells and block pain messages sent from elsewhere in the body. Effectively, they press the mute button on painful sensations: the body is in pain, but the brain doesn’t know it.

Unsurprisingly, opioids are difficult to obtain because they are often abused by humans, leading to addiction. Your vet probably won’t prescribe opioids to your dog unless they’re suffering truly extreme pain – and even then, the risks may outweigh the benefits.

Before giving any pain medication to your dog, ask your veterinarian if they can perform a blood test to identify any potential complicating factors, such as liver or kidney disease. As always, if your veterinarian advises you against a course of action, you should follow their advice. 

A thankfully safe solution comes from fatty acid supplements, like Omega-3 and Omega-6. They can reduce pain in dogs suffering from osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as some skin conditions. Even better, there are no side effects. Antioxidants are also effective in reducing pain from arthritis.

Other drugs used to treat pain in dogs include gabapentin, an anti-seizure medication; glucosamine; and chondroitin, the latter two of which can help with chronic pain.

What about CBD?

Cannabidiol, commonly known as CBD oil, has also been used to treat pain in dogs. Because this is a highly publicized treatment method, your mind may go right here when you know your dog is hurting. But, just as with medications, caution is the key word. 

Research has shown that CBD inhibits a chemical in the body which helps metabolize medications. Without that chemical reaction taking place, it may take a long time for those medications to break down in the body, potentially causing negative side effects.

That’s why you should still consult a vet before giving your dog CBD. You should absolutely never give other cannabis products to your dog, because THC is highly toxic to canines. CBD by itself should be fine, with the caveats above.

What options are there besides medication?

Just as with humans, there are simple, homespun remedies to help your dog recover from injury, illness, or surgery. The first and most obvious is rest. Just like people, dogs need to recover from difficult moments, and spending time in bed recuperating is the first step. Both ice and heat are also potentially helpful in reducing pain. Applying ice to swelling and heat to points of stiffness are both effective natural methods.

Pet acupuncture, like CBD, is becoming an increasingly popular treatment among pet owners for dogs in pain. However, you should consider that it won’t be effective for all conditions, and that your dog may have trouble holding still for the treatment. 

One of the final methods is simple: distract your dog from the pain. Whether it’s cuddling on the couch or providing toys and entertainment, so long as you don’t create risk or injury or inhibit healing, you can take your dog’s mind off of their injuries and let them instead enjoy one of their favorite hobbies: spending time with you.

Once you’ve recognized the signs of pain in your dog, your first step should be to talk to your vet about potential causes. When you know what’s wrong, it’s easier to figure out what you should do next.

Similarly, when you know you have great coverage, it’s easier to say “yes” to the best care. With Pumpkin Pet Insurance plans, you can get 90% cashback on eligible vet bills should any unexpected accidents or illnesses arise in the future.

George is a copywriter who has lived alongside cats his entire life.