One of the worst feelings that a pet owner can experience is knowing that their beloved four-legged friend is in distress.
Dogs are notorious for hiding pain. By the time a pet owner can detect their pup’s pain, their pup is probably hurting pretty badly.
Therefore, it makes sense that one of the most common questions that veterinarians are asked is "what can I give my dog for pain?"
A quick Google search will come up with all sorts of pain medications that will claim to cure your pup's pain. However, let this serve as a warning: not every pain remedy for pups that you find online is effective, let alone safe.
In fact, some of these “cures” can be extremely dangerous.
In this article, we will shed light on precisely what dogs should be given for pain and why pet parents should keep their fur babies far away from medication for human consumption, despite what Google may tell you.
How To Tell If a Dog is in Pain
We touched on dogs’ ability to hide their pain. It's instinctual for them. Thus, if your dog is showing any amount of distress, you should act right away.
Often by the time a dog begins showing signs of pain, whatever condition they are suffering from may be relatively progressed.
Before being able to help heal their dogs, pet owners first have to be able to recognize that their fur baby is in distress.
Of course, once you realize that your pup is hurting, more often than not, a trip to the veterinarian is probably in order.
Thankfully, dog owners don't have to develop mind-reading abilities. There are several tell-tale signs that your furry friend is likely in pain.
The first notable sign that Fido is in distress is a significantly decreased energy level. First, pet owners need to know their dog's "normal" energy level.
All dogs are different. For example, if your four-legged companion tends to be on the lazy end of the energy spectrum, a little extra lethargy may not be something to worry about.
However, if Fido is typically bouncing off the walls and is now glued to the couch, it is likely a sign that they are in pain or combating some other health issue.
When you’re in pain, you probably don’t feel like getting up and going to the fridge. Likewise, when our pups are in pain, their appetite usually goes down. If you notice that your pup is isn’t eating or drinking as much as they used to, pain may be the reason.
Another sign of pain or distress is biting, including biting themselves or biting others. A clear indication of pain is when the dog doesn't want anyone near them or touching an area that may be sensitive.
If your dog generally doesn't nip at others or themselves and suddenly begins doing so, there is likely something more serious going on than a case of the Mondays.
Remember this: even the sweetest, most lovable pup can bite and nip when they’re in pain.
Dogs can make quite a racket when they’re in pain. Howling, whining, whimpering, grunting, groaning, and yelping are all sounds that dogs can make when they are experiencing pain.
If your pup is keeping you up at night with their whining or other vocalizations, it’s time to figure out what’s causing so much discomfort.
The most visually noticeable sign of pain and distress is swelling. Swelling and inflammation are tell-tale signs that something isn't right, whether it's disease or injury.
Pet owners should make sure that they are always keeping a close eye on any changes in their pup's behavior and body.
Your Pup's Telling Tail
Another telling sign that your furry friend might be in some kind of pain is their tail’s position.
If your dog's tail is usually upright and is now either between their legs or sagging a bit, it's typically a sign that they aren't feeling like their best selves, often due to pain or distress.
Lastly, Fido's eyes can be very telling. Dogs that are experiencing pain will often have dilated pupils or bloodshot eyes.
Your pup may also have loopy-looking, sick eyes (the same way that human's eyes get when we are feeling under the weather).
The Absolute NO's!
We will go into a thorough explanation as to why, but just in case our readers don't make it through the entire article, here are the absolute NO's when answering "What can I give my dog for pain?"
The following over-the-counter (OTC) human medications are DEFINITE NO-NO's for dogs. Trust us, these medications will do much more harm than good and, instead of easing pain, will ultimately cause a lot more distress.
NEVER EVER Give Fido:
- Ibuprofen – found in Advil, Motrin, and Nuprin
- Acetaminophen – found in Tylenol and many decongestants
- Naproxen – found in Aleve
Hopefully, we've gotten your full attention. Now we can explain why and how these human medications should stay far away from Fido.
NSAIDS for Dogs
One of the commonly purchased human OTC medications for pain relief is naproxen. Naproxen is an NSAID that is found in common medications, such as Aleve.
NSAID stands for Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug. NSAIDs are known to treat a wide array of ailments, including joint pain caused by arthritis. Anti-inflammatory medications also help to reduce fever and decrease swelling.
To be clear, though, human NSAIDs are not safe for dogs. In fact, NSAIDs like Aleve are incredibly toxic for dogs and should never be given to dogs to help with pain.
Instead of fighting your pup's fever, human NSAIDs will ultimately cause a slew of additional health issues.
Aspirin for Dogs
Aspirin and baby aspirin are two human medications that typically come up first when the "What can I give my dog for pain?" question arises.
It is true that your veterinarian may prescribe aspirin or baby aspirin for short-term pain relief from minor injuries or conditions.
If advised by a veterinarian, dog owners should give their pup coated aspirin, as it is easier on the stomach.
Additionally, aspirin and baby aspirin should always be given with food.
We want to make sure that our readers know that aspirin, even baby aspirin, should never be given long-term or for chronic pain.
Aspirin poses a high risk of internal bleeding and kidney damage. Dog owners should always follow the dosage for dogs advised by their vet.
Ibuprofen for Dogs
Ibuprofen is another NSAID that is typically harmless for human consumption (when used as directed, of course).
This NSAID is used to treat a wide range of ailments, including fever, arthritis pain, and inflammation.
However, pet owners should never give their dog ibuprofen for pain management, as it can cause many serious health problems, including stomach ulceration (which can lead to a fatal stomach rupture), kidney failure, seizures, and coma.
You can see how critical it is for dog owners to recognize that a medication that is safe for humans can have devastating consequences for their pups.
Aleve for Dogs
As we previously mentioned but want to reinstate, Aleve is an absolute no-no in terms of treating pain in dogs.
Aleve is an NSAID that can cause terrible side effects for your already distressed pooch. Stay far away from Aleve when considering the question, "What can I give my dog for pain?"
Potential Side Effects of NSAIDs
If your dog accidentally ingests NSAIDs for human consumption (of any dose), the side effects can be severe and tragic.
Even the mild side effects aren't much better than the initial distress that you may have been trying to aid in the first place.
Side Effects of Fido ingesting human NSAIDs include:
- Liver failure
- Kidney failure
- Kidney problems
- Liver dysfunction
- Vomiting (with or without blood)
- Diarrhea (with or without blood)
- Severe, painful intestinal issues
- Bleeding of the gastrointestinal tract
As you can see, human NSAIDs should never be given to dogs as pain management.
Can I Give My Dog Tylenol
In high doses, Tylenol (also known as acetaminophen) has the likely potential of causing irreversible damage to the liver, kidneys, and tissues throughout a dog's body.
Again, even though OTC medications are generally regarded as safe for humans, they can be fatal for dogs.
Furthermore, cats are even more sensitive to the dangers of Tylenol. In fact, tragically, even one regular strength Tylenol tablet can lead to sudden death in cats.
Is Tylenol an NSAID
So is Tylenol an NSAID? No, it is not. Even still, it is just as dangerous as an NSAID and should not be given to your dog for easing pain of any kind.
Pain Meds for Dogs: The Downside
There are certain OTC medications that your vet may consider to be "okay" for dogs. However, we want to stress that these medications should be used with extreme caution.
To be frank, we recommend not using them at all. However, since your vet may recommend them, we want our readers to know as much information as possible about these pain meds for dogs.
Novox for Dogs
Novox (carprofen) is an NSAID that is formulated for dogs. It is typically prescribed by a vet to treat arthritis-related pain and inflammation and post-operative pain.
Because Novox is formulated for dogs, it is obviously significantly safer than any of the human OTC NSAIDs that we have previously discussed.
However, this is not to say that Novox does not have side effects. These side effects include:
- Kidney issues
- Excessive thirst
- Loss of appetite
- Increased urination
- Eye irritation and dryness
- Jaundice (yellowing) or the eyes, mouth, skin, or gums
- Death, in some cases
Although pups can benefit from Novox, this list of side effects can, unsurprisingly, make pet parents wary of giving this medication to their pup.
Tramadol for Dogs
Tramadol is a medication that relieves pain. Although it is commonly prescribed, we have a few issues with it that we want to bring to your attention.
First, veterinarians advise that pet owners must slowly wean their dogs off of Tramadol when the pain has subsided.
This is because this drug has some pretty awful withdrawal side effects that may be just as awful as the pain that it was supposed to be helping.
The withdrawal side effects include:
- Jittery feeling
- Respiratory issues
The side effects of Tramadol itself vary from mild to severe and include:
- Appetite loss
- Slowed heart rate
- Respiration issues
- Rashes and skin irritations
Furthermore, there are certain dogs, including those that are pregnant or nursing, that should, under no circumstances, take Tramadol.
For these reasons, you can see why we don't love the idea of dog owners giving their pup Tramadol for pain management.
Gabapentin for Dogs
Gabapentin is another commonly prescribed drug that vets often recommend for older dogs that are suffering from neuropathic pain, chronic pain, or seizures.
Although gabapentin is prescribed for a wide array of ailments and has been known to treat these ailments rather effectively, it also has its fair share of side effects of which dog owners should be aware.
The side effects of gabapentin include:
- Bulging eyes
- Lethargy or sedation
- Loss of coordination (wobbliness)
For these reasons, among others, we always advise our readers to proceed with caution when it comes to treating their fur babies with conventional medications.
What Can I Give My Dog For Pain: Holistic OptionsIf you are looking for a holistic option, check out the following options.
Feverfew is one of the natural remedies that treats inflammation.
A common remedy for humans who suffer from arthritis and migraines, it has shown to be equally effective and safe in treating symptoms of pain in our pets.
Comfrey is an herbal, natural supplement that has proved to provide natural pain relief associated with joint injury.
Additionally, comfrey also speeds up cell regeneration, making it an effective healing source.
As a word of caution, comfrey can be harmful to dogs if it is ingested in large quantities. It contains substances called pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can cause liver damage. Work closely with your veterinarian to make sure that you are giving your dog a safe, non-toxic dose of comfrey.
You may have heard of turmeric for human consumption. In some parts of the United States, you can even go to a coffee shop and order a turmeric latte.
Now studies show that the anti-inflammatory effect of turmeric for dogs is comparable to that of cortisone, but luckily without the potential adverse reactions.
Other Natural Pain Killers
Additional herbal supplements that pet owners may want to explore include:
- Devil’s Claw
- St. John’s Wort
These supplements, in particular, reduce inflammation and are great for arthritis-associated pain:
- Ruta graveolens (Rue)
- Arnica montana (Leopards Bane)
- Rhus toxicodendron (Poison Ivy)
- Symphytum officinale (Comfrey, Boneset)
- Calcarea carbonica (middle layer of the oyster shell)
What Can I Give My Dog For Pain: Bottom Line
As you can see, whatever pain your precious pup is going through can likely be solved with a natural alternative. Working with a holistic veterinarian can help you determine which natural remedy to give your pup and in what amount.
Everyday studies are continuing to prove how remarkable all-natural supplements can be. Many can safely be used in pups to treat and manage a variety of ailments. Isn’t that ultimately what we all want for our fur babies and for ourselves? We hope that your furry companion feels better soon!
JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM
JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM is a veterinarian and freelance medical writer in Atlanta, GA. After earning her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, she pursued a non-traditional career path as a veterinarian.
JoAnna completed a 2-year postdoctoral research fellowship in neuroscience at Emory University’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center, then became a medical writer. As founder and owner of JPen Communications, a medical communications company, JoAnna is passionate about educating pet parents about pet care and responsible pet ownership.
Although she does not currently have any pets to call her own, she loves living vicariously through other pet parents and watching Nat Geo!