What Can You Give a Dog for Pain?

Updated on July 4, 2019
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James Livingood has been a dog sitter for several years. He has written numerous articles and a book about the topic because he loves dogs.

Dog looking sad / in pain
Dog looking sad / in pain

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if dogs could speak? If they could just look us in the eyes and say, “Houston, we have a problem. My back hurts, like, A LOT. Can you take me to me the vet, please? Pleeeeeaaaaaase?” Maybe they wouldn’t ask to go to the vet, let’s be honest, but they would be able to tell us if something was wrong. Well, the truth is . . . dogs do communicate to us when they are in pain! In fact, dogs use their actions and body language to communicate, and behaviors suggestive of pain are often used to diagnose injuries and disease. Most owners can tell if their dog isn't feeling well or is suffering from pain.

Lethargic Shar Pei
Lethargic Shar Pei

How to Tell If Your Dog Is in Pain

Imagine Mr. Wrinkles, your beloved Shar-Pei. Let's say Mr. Wrinkles is obsessed with Mr. Pooh, his Winnie the Pooh stuffed toy, and he could play with it for hours! One day you notice something has changed: Mr. Wrinkles seems to have lost interest in Mr. Pooh; he hasn’t played with it in two days. You encourage him to interact with the toy, but it’s useless. Since this is such an abnormal behavior for Mr. Wrinkles, you decide to take him to the vet.

On your way there, you wonder if you made the right decision. After all, what are you going to say to Dr. Sarah? “Hello, Mr. Wrinkles doesn’t want to play with Mr. Pooh anymore, so I think he should be seen by a vet.” It may sound ridiculous, but you know something’s wrong. You know your dog! In the end, you’re happy you followed your gut: Mr. Wrinkles was suffering from neck pain.

How can you tell if your dog is in pain? If you notice significate behavioral changes, it may be a sign of pain. If your dog is very energetic and loves to run, he may be in pain if he suddenly chooses to stay on his bed during an entire day. If your dog is an obedience champion but won’t sit, no matter how many times you ask him to, he may be suffering from pain. Apathy, decreased appetite, lethargy, changes in the dog’s behavior, changes in the dog’s interests, sudden onset of aggressive behaviors and decreased tolerance levels are a few behavioral indicators. Physiologic parameters include changes in the heart rate, respiratory rate, pupil dilation and blood pressure.

How do you make your dog feel better if you think they are in pain?

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Vet examining dog
Vet examining dog

Veterinary Medications Used to Help Relieve Pain

If you suspect your dog may be suffering from pain, the first thing you should do is take him to a veterinarian; he’ll be able to determine the pain’s cause, severity and location. He will also be able to establish a treatment protocol and prescribe an appropriate medication such as:

  • Dog-approved NSAIDs
  • Unique opioids that work on dogs
  • Tramadol

What kind of analgesics are there?

The veterinarian can choose between opioids, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids and others.

  • Opioids: Opioids are extremely effective in treating acute pain, since they combine with pain receptors in the dog’s brain, spine and peripheral nerves, thus altering its transmission and perception. Butorphanol, buprenorphine and morphine are a few examples. Remember, these should never be administered without the veterinarian’s consent! They can cause sedation, euphoria and dysphoria.
  • Tramadol: Tramadol is an increasingly popular analgesic drug in the veterinary world and it can effectively help reduce pain. However, if your dog is on any behavioral modification medications, please make sure to inform your veterinarian beforehand. Tramadol will increase the dog’s serotonin levels and if used in conjunction with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, there’s an increased risk of developing serotonin syndrome.
  • NSAIDS: NSAIDs are often used for inflammatory pain; where there’s inflammation, there’s pain! These medications will block the pain-inducing molecules. Meloxicam, firocoxib, carprofen, robenacoxib are a few NSAIDs approved for dogs, but they should be used with caution. These should not be administered to animals suffering from preexisting hepatic, kidney, coagulation or gastrointestinal problems.


Pain Medications That Are Not Approved by a Veterinarian

  • Never use NSAIDS (ibuprofen, aspirin, etc.) on dogs
  • Look into diet changes (more glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate)
  • Ask a vet about acupuncture and physiotherapy

What about paracetamol, ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen? These NSAIDs are commonly used in human medicine; in fact, they can quickly and efficiently provide relief for many different types of pain. “Does your head hurt? Here, have an aspirin. Oh, are you suffering from menstrual cramps? No problem, have this paracetamol pill and you’ll be fine in a few minutes.” Unfortunately, they can also be just as quick and efficient when it comes to causing problems in our pets! Paracetamol and other human NSAIDs are toxic if given to dogs.

Ibuprofen is quickly absorbed in dogs. If ingested orally, it can cause:

  • gastric ulcers
  • gastrointestinal irritation
  • renal damage
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • nausea
  • abdominal pain
  • ataxia
  • seizures
  • depression
  • coma

Aspirin can also be extremely dangerous to dogs; it can cause:

  • depression
  • fever
  • increased respiratory rate
  • seizures
  • liver necrosis
  • increased bleeding time

Naproxen ingestion by a dog can cause:

  • melena (blood in the dog’s stool)
  • vomiting
  • abdominal pain
  • ulcers
  • weakness
  • anemia
  • pale mucous membranes

Remember, even a small pill can be fatal! These medications should never be administered to dogs; make sure you keep them out of your dog’s reach. If you suspect your dog may have ingested these medications, take him to a veterinary hospital, immediately.

Consider Acupuncture and Physiotherapy for Your Dog

When dogs suffer from chronic pain, medication is not the only tool we can use. Acupuncture and physiotherapy can significantly increase the animal’s wellbeing. Arthritis and many other musculoskeletal pathologies can be better managed if the veterinarian recommends a few acupuncture sessions, in conjunction with the prescribed medication. Changing the dog’s diet can also be of help; glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate-rich diets can contribute to the improvement of the dog’s joint’s structure; as a consequence, the dog may feel less pain and discomfort.

If you think your dog may be suffering from pain, don’t second doubt yourself. Ask your veterinarian for help and remember: stay away from human over-the-counter medications!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

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