No dog owner wants to see their best friend in pain. But, our dogs will experience pain throughout their lives — with about the same frequency that we experience pain and for many of the same reasons. And much like how we reach for Tylenol and Advil when we're in pain, pain relief for dogs can help our furry friends.
Like people, dogs experience two kinds of pain: acute and chronic. Acute pain is short-term and comes about because of an illness, infection, and injury. For example an earache is a common cause of acute pain in dogs. Chronic pain is long-term. It's the result of an underlying health condition like osteoarthritis, which causes chronic joint pain. In either case, providing pain relief for dogs can help with their treatment.
Take for example a dog with an ear infection. If your vet tries to examine your dog's ear when your dog is in severe pain, your pet will suffer and could develop a fear of the vet's office as a result. If you ask your vet to give your dog painkillers before they look at the ear, the exam will go more smoothly for both your pet and the vet.
If your dog has a chronic condition, like osteoarthritis, a long-term pain management strategy can help your best friend continue to enjoy their daily activities. But, you and your vet will need to more carefully consider a medication's side effects before giving it to your dog long-term.
To become the best possible advocate for your dog's health, learn to recognize the signs of pain in dogs and understand your options when it comes to pain relief for dogs.
Signs of Pain in Dogs
As pet parents, it's hard to see our dogs suffer. But, the painful reality is that our dogs are likely in pain more often than we realize. When dogs are sick or injured, they have a tendency to hide their symptoms.
In the past, this behavior often protected dogs from larger predators — if the predators viewed the dog as weak or injured, they would be more likely to try and pick them out from the pack.
In modern times, this can keep our furry friends from getting timely treatment. So, it's important to be able to recognize both the subtle and not-so-subtle signs of pain. These include:
- Loss of interest in daily activities
- Loss of appetite
- Slowness to come when called
- Struggles to get up or down
- Redness or inflammation
- Withdrawing from petting or physical touch
- Whimpering or whining when touched
- Rubbing, scratching, or licking a part of their body
If you notice signs of pain in your dog, the first step is to take them to the vet.
Treating Pain in Dogs
Pain is typically caused by an underlying illness or injury. While pain relievers can make your dog more comfortable, your vet will need to diagnose the underlying condition in order to effectively treat your dog's pain.
Often, the treatment will include a combination of medications or therapies. For example, a dog with an infection may need antibiotics to eliminate their infection and pain meds for short-term pain relief. A dog with a broken leg may need a cast to treat the injury and short-term medication to treat the pain. And a dog with joint pain caused by osteoarthritis may need physical therapy and a combination of holistic remedies for their chronic pain.
In addition to identifying the cause of your dog's pain, you'll need a doctor of veterinary medicine (DVM) to prescribe most pain medications. Here are the veterinary and holistic options for treating your dog's pain.
Prescription Pain Relief for Dogs
Depending on your veterinarian's philosophy, they may advise you on a variety of pain relief options, including alternatives to pain meds, like acupuncture and physical therapy. But, in this section, we're going to look specifically at the drugs your vet could prescribe to relieve pain.
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
The most common prescription pain medications for dogs are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs. NSAIDs are a category of drug, not the name of a specific drug. They work by blocking an enzyme called cyclooxygenase, which is responsible for inflammation. By reducing inflammation, NSAIDs also reduce the pain that comes along with it.
Most pet owners will be familiar with NSAIDs because they're the same category of drug as our over-the-counter (OTC) human pain relievers — Advil, Aleve, and Aspirin. However, you should never give your dog anything from your medicine cabinet without consulting your veterinarian first.
Many human medications can lead to toxicity in dogs. Ibuprofen, the active ingredient in Advil, and naproxen, the active ingredient in Aleve, are both extremely toxic to dogs. And while acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, isn't considered an NSAID (it's classified as an analgesic), it's also toxic to dogs.
Instead of giving your dog human pain relievers, you'll need a prescription for a pup-friendly medication from your vet. Here are the NSAIDs your vet might prescribe for your dog:
- Carprofen (brand name Rimadyl or Novox)
- Deracoxib (brand name Deramaxx)
- Firocoxib (brand name PREVICOX)
- Meloxicam (brand name METACAM)
The only human NSAID that your vet might recommend for your dog is baby Aspirin. A daily dose of baby Aspirin can help manage chronic pain in older dogs. However, your vet may still prefer to prescribe Aspirin made specifically for dogs because it's easier to feed. (It doesn't have the funny-tasting coating that human Aspirin often has.)
Even if your vet recommends human Aspirin, you'll still need guidance to make sure you give your dog the correct amount. Dogs metabolize medicine differently from humans, and any pain medication can be dangerous or even deadly when given in the wrong dose.
Side Effects of NSAIDs
Cyclooxygenase, the enzyme that NSAIDs block, isn't just responsible for inflammation — it also helps protect the stomach lining. So, the most common side effects of NSAIDs include stomach issues like intestinal bleeding and ulcers. NSAIDs can also lead to kidney damage. The risk of these side effects increases with higher doses or long-term use.
Opioids are among the most effective drugs used to relieve pain in animals. They work by blocking pain receptors in your dog's nervous system. But, these drugs have serious side effects and can lead to withdrawal symptoms if they're given to a pet long-term. So, opioids are typically prescribed for short-term use, such as during or after surgery. In rare cases, they may be used to treat severe chronic pain.
Both the side effects and effectiveness of opioids can also vary greatly — not just from species to species, but also from one individual dog to another. This is true regardless of the animal's size. For example, some small dogs might need a higher dose per pound of bodyweight than some larger dogs. Because of this individual variation, your vet may need to adjust your pet's dose or change their medication entirely.
Opioids that are prescribed to dogs or used during surgeries include:
Side Effects of Opioids
There are several serious, well-known side effects associated with opioids. Because these drugs affect each individual animal differently, some of these side effects may seem to contradict each other. For example, opioids can cause both sedation or excitement, depending on the pet. Here are the common side effects of this medication.
- Barking or howling
- Slowed breathing
Tell your vet immediately if your dog is taking opioids and they experience any vomiting or slowed breathing. Your vet may need to change your pet's medication.
Holistic Pain Relief for Dogs
Beyond pain medications, there are also options for providing natural pain relief for dogs. These options are ideal for treating long-term, chronic pain because they have few — if any — side effects, and they're safe for dog owners to use at home. Here are the most promising natural remedies, according to scientific research:
- Turmeric: In scientific studies, this herbal remedy was as effective as ibuprofen and acetaminophen for treating pain in humans. Follow these instructions to make a paste of turmeric for dogs.
- Fish oil: In a meta-analysis of studies on animals with osteoarthritis, omega-3 fatty acids helped protect dogs' joints and prevent pain. Add more omega-3s to your dog's diet with an Omega Oil made from wild-caught salmon and pollock.
- Green-lipped mussels: This powerful, natural ingredient is rich in Omega-3s, glucosamine, and chondroitin. A meta-analysis of studies into canine arthritis found this ingredient showed promise for easing dogs' symptoms.
- Polyphenols: These antioxidants found in many fruits and vegetables have an anti-inflammatory effect. Recent research has found that they have the potential to reduce both neuropathic and inflammatory pain.
- Collagen: Found naturally in bone broth, collagen effectively reduced and prevented joint pain in multiple scientific studies.
- Ice: If your dog gets injured, you can use an ice pack to reduce inflammation, just like you would for your own injuries. Heat therapy can help ease muscle pain.
- Acupuncture: This ancient practice helps reduce pain by stimulating the nervous system. Some veterinarians may even be able to recommend a canine acupuncturist to help your dog.
Many pet parents also turn to joint supplements to help dogs with chronic pain from osteoarthritis. The most common ingredients in joint supplements for dogs are synthetic glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM. While these ingredients are safe for dogs, scientific research into their effectiveness is still ongoing.
Dog owners may get better results from a Relief supplement. With green-lipped mussels to provide the benefits of omega-3s, natural glucosamine, and natural chondroitin at the same time. This formula also contains polyphenols to help reduce inflammation.
Your dog doesn't need to suffer with pain. There are many forms of pain relief for dogs that can address both acute and chronic pain. But the first step toward finding relief for your furry friend is talking to your vet.
Your vet can diagnose the underlying cause of your pet's pain and help you find the right treatment for both the cause and the pain itself. You should always talk to your vet before giving your pet any medications — some pain meds are toxic to dogs.
For short-term injuries and infections, veterinary pain medication can be a safe and effective solution. But for chronic conditions, you'll need an option that reduces both your dog's pain and their risk of long-term side effects.
With your vet's guidance, you can try safer medications like baby Aspirin. For at-home treatment, proven natural remedies like turmeric, bone broth with type II collagen, Omega Oil, cold therapy, acupuncture, and our Relief Chicken Chews with green-lipped mussels and polyphenols can help your pet enjoy life again.To learn more about your dog's health and wellness, check out the Native Pet blog.