What Can I Give My Dog for Pain Relief?


Bryan Huynh

- Updated February 23, 2024

Key Takeaways

  1. Recognizing dog pain signs is crucial, including behavior changes, altered eating, vocalizations, aggression, excessive licking/biting, etc.
  2. Prescription pain options include NSAIDs, opioids, gabapentin, steroids, tramadol, and amantadine, used under vet guidance.
  3. Human pain relievers like ibuprofen and naproxen are toxic to dogs; even aspirin and acetaminophen have risks and should only be given under vet supervision.
  4. Alternative pain relief options encompass joint supplements (glucosamine, chondroitin), St. John's wort, turmeric, and cannabinoids (CBD), with effectiveness and safety requiring further study.
  5. Therapeutic laser, acupuncture, and physical therapy offer pain relief when medications fall short; certified professionals should administer them, and costs may vary.
What Can I Give My Dog for Pain Relief?

Dogs now have a higher quality of life and live longer lives thanks to advances in canine healthcare. However, longer lifespans can increase the likelihood of discomfort and health issues, potentially leading to pain.

We can now detect signs of pain in dogs quickly thanks to significant research progress. This means they have numerous options to help alleviate their suffering.

Dive into this helpful guide to learn how to spot signs that your dog is in pain. In addition, learn about safe pain relief designed specifically for dogs. Discover the various types, their functions in pain management, and whether they require a veterinarian's prescription or can be purchased over the counter. This article will help you understand how to best care for your dog when they are in pain.

Recognizing When Your Dog is in Pain


As a pet parent, it is important to be aware of your dog's well-being and to notice any signs of discomfort or pain. Dogs, like humans, can experience different types of pain, and recognizing these signs early on can make a significant difference in their overall quality of life. Here are some key indicators to help you recognize when your pet is in pain:

Changes in Behavior: Keep an eye out for sudden shifts in your dog's behavior. If your usually active and playful pup becomes unusually lethargic or withdrawn, it could be a sign of underlying pain. Altered Eating Habits: A dog in pain might exhibit changes in their appetite. This could include a decrease or complete loss of appetite, reluctance to eat, or difficulty in chewing. Vocalizations: Pay attention to any vocal cues your dog might give. Whimpering, yelping, or excessive barking could indicate that they are experiencing discomfort. Aggression or Irritability: Pain can cause even the friendliest dogs to become irritable or aggressive, especially when touched in the affected area. Licking, Chewing, or Biting Themselves: Excessive licking, chewing, or biting of a specific body part might be your dog's way of trying to relieve pain or irritation. Changes in Posture or Movement: Notice if your dog is moving differently. They might walk with a limp, have difficulty getting up, or avoid putting weight on a certain leg. Restlessness or Pacing: Restlessness, pacing, or inability to find a comfortable position could be indicative of pain. Changes in Grooming Habits: Dogs in pain might neglect their grooming routines. You might notice a decrease in self-grooming or a lack of interest in staying clean. Excessive Panting: While panting is normal for dogs, excessive and persistent panting, especially when not associated with physical activity or heat, could be a sign of pain. Changes in Sleep Patterns: Pain can disrupt your dog's sleep. Look out for changes in their sleep patterns, such as difficulty settling down, restlessness during sleep, or sleeping in unusual positions.

Prescription Options for Pain in Dogs

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) When it comes to providing pain relief for your dog, there are several NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) options that have been approved for use. These options can make a significant difference in your furry friend's comfort. Here is a list of FDA-approved NSAIDs for dogs:

Carprofen (Rimadyl) Deracoxib (Deramaxx) Etodolac (Etogesic) Firocoxib (Previcox) Meloxicam (Metacam) Robenacoxib (Onsior) Mavacoxib (Trocoxil)

Grapiprant (Galliprant) is a bit of an exception in the mix. It does not fit the NSAID mold because it does not target COX enzymes. Nonetheless, it rises to the occasion by addressing pain and inflammation in a manner reminiscent of NSAIDs.

It's important to note that the cost of these medications varies depending on factors such as your dog's size, whether you choose generic or brand-name versions, and the type of medication. To give you an idea, a week's worth of NSAID pain relief for a smaller dog on generic carprofen could cost $5 to $20, while a larger dog on a name-brand treatment could cost $100 to $150.

As you consider these options, a discussion with your veterinarian can help you identify the best option for your dog - one that meets their needs while also being affordable.

  • Opioids Opioid medications act on the brain's receptors to provide pain relief ranging from moderate to severe. They're frequently present after surgery or as a piece of the puzzle during anesthesia.

It is important to note that opioids are somewhat sensitive in the human world due to their potential for abuse. This means there are rules, limits, and keeping an eye on things. Your veterinarian is the one who prescribes them, and because these are controlled substances, your veterinarian keeps a log that the DEA can look at if necessary.

Now, onto the pet side of things. Opioids can cause side effects such as heavy panting or slowed breathing, drooling, nausea, vomiting, being more vocal, feeling groggy, or being extra jumpy. So, while opioids can provide relief, there must be a balance struck.

Some examples of opioids include: Morphine Buprenorphine Codeine Butorphanol Fentanyl

  • Gabapentin Gabapentin, which was originally developed as a seizure medication, has been shown to be effective in treating neuropathic pain in dogs. Because this type of pain is caused by nerve problems, gabapentin is a targeted solution, though its use is more limited than NSAIDs and opioids. Gabapentin typically costs between $20 and $40 per pill.

This versatile medication can provide much-needed relief for dogs suffering from nerve pain, improving their overall well-being. If your pet is experiencing neuropathic pain, gabapentin may be an option to discuss with your veterinarian. Steroids Steroids, scientifically known as glucocorticoids, are important in combating inflammation rather than directly addressing pain. They shine in situations where there is a lot of inflammation. A prime example is spinal cord compression or slipped discs. Steroids are used to relieve the intervertebral disc's inflammation-induced pressure on the spinal cord.

However, it is critical to highlight that NSAIDs and steroids cannot be used at the same time. When they are combined, they can have serious gastrointestinal consequences, including potentially dangerous ruptured gastric ulcers. This word of caution is especially important for pet owners who have attempted to self-medicate their dogs at home. This could unintentionally set the stage for a dangerous situation.

  • Tramadol Tramadol is a medication that is used to treat pain in dogs by targeting pain receptors and altering how their bodies perceive discomfort. It is classified as an opioid-like analgesic, which means it can help with moderate to moderately severe pain. Tramadol can be especially beneficial for dogs suffering from chronic pain, post-surgical discomfort, or pain caused by injuries or medical conditions.

When determining the cost of tramadol for your dog, keep in mind that prices can vary depending on factors such as the dosage, the quantity prescribed, and the source from which the medication is obtained. Tramadol for dogs can cost anywhere between $20 and $50 per tablet. However, this is only a rough estimate; actual costs will vary depending on your location and the specifics of your dog's treatment plan.

  • Amantadine Amantadine is a pain reliever that can be used in dogs, particularly in cases of chronic pain and nerve discomfort. It is classified as an NMDA receptor antagonist, which means it aids in the regulation of the nervous system's perception and processing of pain signals.

Amantadine works by targeting NMDA receptors in the brain and spinal cord, which are involved in pain signal transmission. By blocking these receptors, the medication can help reduce the nervous system's sensitivity to pain, ultimately providing relief for dogs suffering from chronic pain conditions like osteoarthritis or neuropathic pain.

Are Over The Counter Medications for Humans Safe for Dogs?


When it comes to treating your pet's pain, it's important to avoid using over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers designed for humans. Medications such as naproxen and ibuprofen, which you may be familiar with, should never be given to dogs. Even in small quantities, these can cause life-threatening issues such as gastrointestinal ulcers, liver failure, and kidney damage. The dangers can quickly escalate, and it's upsetting to know that even a single dose can be fatal to pets.

Some medications, such as certain heart medications, thyroid medications, and antibiotics, can be taken by both humans and dogs. Even if a specific human medication is safe for dogs to take, the dosing is usually different.

A human's metabolism differs significantly from that of a dog. That means that some medications that are safe for humans can be toxic or even fatal to dogs.

While some over-the-counter pain relievers, such as aspirin or acetaminophen, appear to be safer for dogs, they still pose significant risks. Their safety margin is narrow, which means they can be dangerous even when administered correctly. These options are only appropriate in certain circumstances, such as arthritis or non-bleeding joint injuries. However, they can be dangerous when combined with other types of pain, such as gastrointestinal problems, infections, or herniated discs.

It is necessary to emphasize that you should “never give your dog aspirin or acetaminophen without first consulting with a veterinarian”. An accurate diagnosis of the cause of the pain is required to ensure proper use of these medications. In most cases, safer and more effective prescription medications for dogs are available. These canine-approved options are available and offer a better alternative, significantly reducing the risks associated with using OTC medications.

Alternative Pain Medications for Dogs

When it comes to arthritic pain in dogs, joint supplements containing ingredients such as glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM can be beneficial when used consistently. Although they do not directly relieve pain, these supplements focus on maintaining joint health, ultimately contributing to pain reduction over time by preventing joint issues from worsening.

Joint supplements are available in a variety of forms, including chews (e.g., Cosequin), capsules, liquids, and injectables (e.g., Adequan). Oral supplements typically cost $30 to $60, while injectable supplements, administered once every four weeks, cost a similar amount per shot.

St. John's wort, turmeric, and cannabinoids (CBD) are some other supplements that may help with pain relief. While preliminary research suggests they have pain-relieving properties, larger studies are needed to establish their effectiveness and determine appropriate dosages. Given that the Food and Drug Administration does not fully regulate supplement production, determining how well a supplement is metabolized by a dog and what additional ingredients may be included is difficult.

Furthermore, some supplements may cause complications when combined with other treatments or specific health conditions. St. John's wort, for example, has drug interactions that could impair the efficacy of other medications. While CBD is gaining popularity in pain management, optimal dosing and effectiveness for various pain types are still being determined.

Alternative Therapies for Pain in Dogs

Alternative treatments are used when traditional medications do not provide the desired pain relief or are not an option. One option is to use a therapeutic laser. It employs a laser that has been classified to reduce pain and speed up the healing process. If medication isn't working, this is something to think about.

Acupuncture by a certified veterinary specialist is another option. When pain relievers aren't cutting it, acupuncture comes into play. It's especially useful for pets suffering from chronic pain, but it can also help with other types of pain.

But what about the price? The costs of laser therapy and acupuncture vary. A laser session may cost $50 to $150, whereas an acupuncture session may cost $75 to $150. It's worth noting that Embrace's complementary treatments include acupuncture.

Physical therapy can be a game changer for pets who have injuries to their muscles, bones, or joints. Having a veterinary specialist on board, however, is critical to ensuring that the therapy does not backfire. Physical therapy can cost anywhere from $50 to $200 per session.

What Can You Give a Dog for Pain Relief at Home?


When your pet is in pain, there are practical steps you can take at home to relieve their discomfort while you wait for your veterinarian's advice. Here's a quick guide to helping your dog find relief within your own four walls:

Rest: Rest is essential, especially for pain arising from injuries. Even if your pup seems eager to move, encourage them to take it easy. Rest accelerates the healing process.

Ice: An ice pack wrapped in a towel can offer relief for certain injuries. However, avoid using ice packs on open wounds or internal pain sources like belly discomfort. If your pet resists the ice pack, respect their response—forcing it might worsen their condition. If your furry friend is amenable, you can apply the ice pack for around 5-10 minutes, twice daily.

Heat: Heat therapy can be beneficial, but it's wise to avoid it for recent injuries, wounds, or areas showing inflammation. When using heat, wrap the heating element in a towel to ensure it's not too hot. Conventional heating pads are often too intense for your dog's skin, even on the lowest setting. Consult your vet before using heat therapy, as its suitability varies based on the specific injury.

Distraction: Providing a diversion can go a long way in soothing your pet's discomfort. A beloved chew toy, a squeaky plaything, or a Kong filled with peanut butter can occupy your pet's attention and alleviate minor discomfort.

How to Comfort a Dog in Pain

Working together with your veterinarian is essential for developing a pain management plan that is tailored to your pet's specific needs. Here are some home remedies and adjustments you can make to help your dog feel better. These measures frequently supplement pain medications, ensuring your pet's maximum comfort.

Maintain Healthy Weight: Take steps to manage your pet's weight, minimizing strain on their joints and reducing the risk of concurrent conditions like diabetes or heart disease.

Customize Diet and Exercise: Consult your vet to adapt your pet's diet and create light exercise routines that they can handle. Gradually working towards goals over time can have a positive impact.

Encourage Movement: Incorporate daily walks, swim therapy, or gentle exercises that are easy on your dog's body. These activities not only keep muscles and joints healthy but also stimulate their mind and trigger the release of natural endorphins for pain control.

Home Tweaks for Comfort: Make your home more accessible for your furry friend. Consider using carpet runners, dog boots, or gripped socks to aid their movement.

Assess Entry Points and Spaces: Evaluate areas like dog doors, stairs, or spots that might pose challenges for your dog to navigate. Sometimes, ramps or restrictions might be necessary to enhance comfort and safety.

Elevated Food and Water Bowls: For dogs experiencing neck or joint pain, elevated food and water bowls can be beneficial. These prevent discomfort while bending to eat and drink.

Bottom Line

It is valuable to consult with your veterinarian before administering any pain relief supplements or treatments to your dog. Because of their experience, they can tailor treatment recommendations based on your dog's symptoms and overall health.

Finally, following your veterinarian's advice is the most effective way to relieve your dog's acute or chronic pain, as well as addressing any underlying issues that may be causing the discomfort. Professional guidance and care are the best ways to ensure your pet's well-being.

About The Author

Bryan Huynh

Bryan Huynh

Product Tester & Writer

Bryan Huynh is a dedicated Product Tester & Writer. Just as insurance has your back, Bryan works to review and inform you about the wide range of insurance products available, ranging from business, auto, health, home, pet, to life insurance.

The Latest Articles

Read Articles