What Can I Give My Dog For Pain?


Nobody wants to see their pet in discomfort, but to make them comfortable it can be confusing to know what to give dogs for pain and which drugs are safe to use. The trouble is canine and human metabolisms differ, and so medications that are safe for people may actually be dangerous to dogs.

When considering what to give a dog for pain, always speak to your veterinarian first. This could avoid you making a costly mistake that results in an gravely ill dog and a large vet’s bill.

Signs Of Pain

Each dog is an individual and reacts to pain in his own way. However, you know your pet so if he’s acting oddly and instinct tells you he’s in pain, then you could well be right.

Dogs express discomfort is the following ways:

  • Whining
  • Restless and unable to settle
  • Unable to sleep or disturbed sleep patterns
  • Obsessive licking at an area
  • Limping or lameness
  • Lack of appetite
  • Unusual aggression

Causes of Pain

Pain comes in many forms from the sudden intense pain of a bone fracture, to the nagging throb of low grade arthritis. All individuals have different pain threshholds, so what is excruciating for one dog, may be wagged off by another, so be aware a wagging tail does not necessarily mean he’s pain free.

Let’s take a brief look at some common causes of pain.


Sometimes the cause of pain may be obvious, such as a recent surgical procedure. These days it is usual for a veterinarian to use a bespoke pain regime designed to reduce each animal’s pain. This means giving pain-killing injections before the operation, and supplying an oral form of pain relief for dogs go home with.

The peak time for discomfort after surgery, is when the anesthetic wears off on that first night home. Always follow your veterinarian’s advice about the dose of pain medication and how often to give it. However if your pet is still in pain, do not hesitate to phone the clinic for advice.

Short Term Strains And Sprains

Dogs will be dogs, and charging around, getting into mischief goes with the territory. A common reason to provide pain relief for dogs is to alleviate the discomfort of the sprains and strains of an active lifestyle.

Long Term Conditions

Perhaps the most common cause of long term pain and discomfort is arthritis. However, joint pain is not the exclusive domain of older animals, and relatively young dogs can suffer discomfort as a result of hip or elbow dysplasia.


Arguably one of the most distressing forms of pain is that associated with certain cancers. It takes some of the strongest pain meds for dogs in order to control it. Providing sufficient relief balanced against not over-sedating the dog can be difficult, and you must keep a close eye on your pet in order to respond to his needs.

Options For Pain Relief

Drugs which are fine for most people to take, can be dangerous to dogs, which means it is difficult for you to know which pain medication for dogs are safe. With this in mind, always speak to your veterinarian before giving a pain reliever to your pet.

You should know if your dog is on medication, or has problems with his liver, kidneys, blood clotting or digestive upsets, then you must never give any drug except without your veterinarian’s express permission.

The Rules Of Safe Pain Med Use

  • Give the lowest possible dose
  • Always give with or after food
  • Use in the short term only
  • Check with your veterinarian before use
  • Special caution is needed if your dog has health issues or on medication

The Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatories (NSAIDs)

The name may seem imposing but you will already be familiar with this family of drugs, because aspirin (acetyl salicylic acid) is a member. These medications combat pain by decreasing inflammation and blocking the messengers of pain (prostaglandins) from doing their job.

NSAIDs in general have a high safety margin but should still be treated with respect. These painkillers do not mix well with other drugs, which could result in catastrophic consequences such as gastric ulcers and bleeding into the bowel. When given on an empty stomach they can damage the stomach lining, and so must always be given with or after food. If your pet stops eating, vomits, or has diarrhea, especially if blood is present, stop the medication immediately and contact your veterinarian.

Because of their safety profile for long term use, NSAIDs are commonly prescribed by veterinarians to treat arthritis and other long term conditions. Those in wide use include Carprofen (Rimadyl), Meloxicam (Deramaxx, Metacam), and Tepoxalin (Zubrin).

At low doses aspirin can be used as a pain reliever in dogs, but is only suitable for healthy dogs not on other medications (especially other NSAIDs or steroids).

Over The Counter Drugs

When dosing a dog, human over the counter drugs should be approached with caution. It is best to assume a drug is not safe, unless told differently by a professional. Even for drugs which can be given, the recommended dose is lower, because dogs are more sensitive to their effects and prone to accidental overdose.

  • Codeine can be used in dogs at low doses. The potential side effects of codeine use include sedation, constipation, and breathing difficulties.
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) should be given with extreme caution and only at a low dose, since the safety margin is very low. Do not use acetaminophen at all if the dog has liver disease or is already on other medications.
  • One human painkiller that is a total no-no for dogs is ibuprofen. Even a small dose can be toxic, with the haemorrhagic vomiting and diarrhea developing two hours after administration and kidney failure two to five days.


A nutraceutical is a food supplement that has a pharmaceutical like benefit (but without the side effects!) Whilst they do not directly contain pain relief, some neutraceuticals reduce inflammation and are of benefit to dogs suffering from arthritis.

Top of the list when it comes to arthritis are neutraceuticals containing chondroitin and glucosamine. This supplement conditions the joints by helping repair damaged cartilage, increasing lubrication in the joint, and removing toxins associated with inflammation. These supplements are widely available in tablet, liquid, or even in chewable form.

Heat Therapy

For our pets, heat is often overlooked as a means of pain relief. Whilst sprains and strains can benefit from cold compresses, arthritis can be eased by the application of heat.

Making simple changes such as using a heated pad under the dog bed or gently placing a microwaveable wheat bag over a sore joint can provide relief to sore and aching joints.

TENS Machines

Last but not least, veterinary physiotherapists often work with TENS machines in their arthritic patients. These machines use small electrical impulses to stimulate natural pain relief in the body. Small, sticky pads are attached to the skin and the device used for ten minutes a couple of times a day. The beauty is this option is medication (and hence side effect) free, and can be combined with other therapies.

And Finally

Pain relief is something every responsible owner should provide when their dog is in discomfort. However, if you are wondering what can you give a dog for pain, remember, always seek advice from your veterinarian before medicating your pet.

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