If you suspect that your dog is in pain, you're likely wondering what you can give them to make them feel better. You may be inclined to find a quick fix and give your dog a human pain reliever, but those can be very toxic to dogs.
So what can you give your dog for pain? Let's take a look at commons signs your dog is in pain, why over-the-counter (OTC) medications pose a danger to dogs, and what pet parents can safely give their pups for pain.
If you notice any of the following signs, it may indicate that your dog is in pain.
Before you give your dog anything, you should always consult a vet. Giving your dog over-the-counter medications, for example, can be extremely dangerous.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is harmful to dogs since they do not metabolize the drug in the liver as well as humans. A very small dose or even a portion of a tablet can cause toxicity within 1-4 hours.
Acetaminophen toxicity in dogs causes changes to the red blood cells and therefore inhibits the cell’s ability to sufficiently carry oxygen to the tissues and organs in the body. Dogs are more likely to have liver damage with acetaminophen toxicity than cats. The signs of liver damage include a yellowing of the skin, eyes, and gums, and results in changes to the red blood cells, causing them to be unable to sufficiently carry oxygen to all the tissues and organs in the body. This results in blue or brown gums, weakness, increased heart rate, increased breathing, difficulty breathing, open mouth breathing, and ultimately death if not treated immediately. An acetaminophen toxicity can occur with a very small dose and signs can start to develop as quickly as four hours.
Similar to acetaminophen, ibuprofen should never be given to a dog for pain or inflammation. Small doses can cause damage to the GI tract by irritating the tissues and causing gastric ulcers. Dogs do not metabolize ibuprofen well, and because of this, the drug is cycled through the liver and back into the bloodstream repeatedly, causing toxicity.
Signs of ibuprofen toxicity include vomiting with or without blood, diarrhea with or without blood, abdominal pain, lethargy, dark and tarry stools, and pale gums. Dogs can also stagger when walking, have a yellow color of the skin, whites of the eyes and gums, tremors, seizures, and even become comatose.
Aspirin can cause some of the same toxic signs as acetaminophen and ibuprofen. The most common side effects are bleeding in the GI tract, stomach and intestinal ulcers, and abdominal pain. The additional signs are similar to ibuprofen toxicity.
Now that we know what not to give a dog for pain, let's look at the variety of safe options that pet parents have at their fingertips.
Several prescription pain relievers have been tested and proven safe and effective for dogs. These medications include NSAIDs, opioids, and other pain medications such as gabapentin and tramadol. A veterinarian should always prescribe and monitor any use of pain medications.
Fortunately, there are several supplements that are safe to give your dog for chronic pain and inflammation that stem from issues like arthritis. A glucosamine supplement can help relieve joint pain and inflammation around the joints. When considering a glucosamine supplement, look for products that are veterinary recommended and include glucosamine, MSM, and chondroitin. Brands that are veterinary approved include Nutramax, VetriScience, and Vetoquinol.
CBD and CBDA are newer products that have limited safety and quality control, but there are a few scientific studies that show the benefits of CBD and CBDA as pain relief for dogs. If you're interested in using one of these products, please discuss if your dog is a candidate for hemp-derived CBD products with your vet. Be very cautious with any products that claim to be safe and effective, and always use a THC-free product. ElleVet is one product that has been tested and is recommended by some veterinarians. Please speak with your veterinarian before ordering and giving ElleVet or any other brand of CBD.
Acupuncture can be very helpful for dogs with chronic pain. The treatment includes inserting very fine needles in specific areas of the dog’s body to produce a healing response. This should only be administered by a veterinarian that has been certified in acupuncture therapy.
Laser therapy is a process by which a Class IV infrared laser machine is used to target areas of pain on the dog’s body. It stimulates a healing process at the cellular level, thereby decreasing inflammation and pain. This type of therapy has also been used to treat wounds, hotspots, and even as a post-surgical healing method. Laser therapy should only be administered by a veterinarian or veterinary nurse that has completed laser therapy training.
Dogs who are experiencing chronic pain or need to have their mobility increased from an injury or surgical procedure can benefit from physical therapy. This can be done with your veterinarian, a veterinary nurse, or at home through instruction by a veterinary professional. If you feel that your dog could benefit from heat therapy, cold therapy, massage, or mobility exercises, please consult with your veterinarian to discuss the best method for therapy either at home or in the veterinary hospital.
If you suspect your dog is in pain and need help determining next steps, the team at Pawp is here to help 24/7.
Reviewed and fact-checked by
Mika, RVT at Pawp