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There are many ways that owners can help alleviate their dog’s pain, but it is important to know which methods are appropriate because some pain relievers that are safe only for human consumption and will be dangerous or even fatal if dogs ingest them.
To understand what the problem is, you must first determine if your dog is in fact in pain.
Once you have established that they are in pain, there are medications that you will want to stay away from, no matter how tempted you may be to try them.
The pain your dog is experiencing may be reduced by specifically formulated medications for dogs, holistic remedies, or a change in diet, rather than offering them human medications.
How to Tell if Your Dog is in Pain
Not all dogs will act the same when they are in pain. Some dogs vocalize that when they're suffering, while others internalize it, which is why a dog’s energy level is the first sign that something is wrong.
Dogs whose energy level is decreasing along with a decreased appetite may be experiencing some sort of pain.
The next sign that something is wrong and that your dog might be in pain is biting themselves or biting others.
If your pooch does not typically show this type of behavior, they may be trying to protect themselves from a sensitive area being touched.
Vocalization is one of the most common signs that your pet is in pain. They might whimper, whine, yelp, bark, howl, or groan if they are in pain.
When they are vocalizing their pain through one of these noises, it is best to take them to the veterinarian.
Other signs that your dog may be in pain is by looking at their posture or eyes. When they lower their head and their tail seems to sag, they are often in some sort of distress.
If you look into your dog’s eyes and notice that their pupils have dilated or their eyes are bloodshot, they may be sick or in pain.
What About NSAIDs for Dogs?
Our most commonly used over-the-counter medication (OTC) is in the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs category or NSAIDs.
This includes Ibuprofen, Naproxen, and Aspirin. These popular NSAIDs might be able to treat a variety of human pain, but most of them are dangerous and potentially fatal to dogs.
However, there are some NSAIDs for dogs specifically. They're the most popular pain management option for dogs with arthritic pain (Johnston, et al. 1997).
They are very effective because NSAIDs block cyclooxygenase (COX) in the dog's body, which increases inflammation.
The most popular NSAID for dogs is Deramaxx. The other popular brands of NSAID for dogs are:
- Carprofen (Novox or Rimadyl)
- Firocoxib (Previcox)
While NSAIDs for dogs are most effective for pain, they are also the ones with the most serious side effects, which is why they're prescription-only and should never be given to dogs without consulting with a veterinarian.
Over-the-counter pain meds for dogs that are not NSAIDs include Acetaminophen and Aspirin.
But even with OTC meds, you should always contact your vet prior to giving pets any medication, because the breed, weight, and age will all factor into the amount of medication that can be safely administered to your dog.
Below is a breakdown of the most common pain medicines that might be in your cabinet, and whether or not they are safe for your dog.
Can I Give My Dog Ibuprofen?
No. Ibuprofen, found in Motrin, Advil, and Nuprin is just one type of NSAID that is harmful to dogs. Ibuprofen could cause your dog to experience the following symptoms:
- Diarrhea or vomiting
- Bleeding ulcers
- Loss of appetite
- Liver or kidney problems
- Bleeding disorders
- Ineffective pain relief
Can I Give My Dog Naproxen?
No. Naproxen, commonly found in Aleve, is another type of popular NSAID that is harmful to dogs. Naproxen could cause your dog to experience the following symptoms:
- Gastrointestinal ulcers
- Blood stools
- Liver damage
- Kidney damage
- Loss of appetite
Can I Give My Dog Aspirin?
Yes. Occasionally, a veterinarian may prescribe aspirin, or baby aspirin, to your dog to relieve short-term pain resulting from a minor injury.
Studies showed that aspirin can be very effective and safe for short-term use in dogs (Morton, et al. 1989).
If your veterinarian suggests the use of aspirin to relieve your dog’s pain, you should look for a coated aspirin and feed it to your dog with food.
By using a coated aspirin and feeding it to your dog with the food you are more likely to lessen any digestive issues that may arise.
It is important to note that long-term use is never suggested and aspirin should only be administered by following a veterinarian’s strict guidelines and supervision.
Aspirin can also lead to the following complications if used inappropriately:
- High risk of internal bleeding
- High risk of kidney damage
Can I Give My Dog Acetaminophen?
Yes and no (only to be given by a vet). While acetaminophen, found in Tylenol, is not an NSAID, it should not be used to treat pain in dogs.
Occasionally, a veterinarian may administer acetaminophen for fever or mild pain. The symptoms associated with incorrect dosage or improper use include:
- Liver damage
- Decreased blood oxygenation
- Kidney damage
- Tissue damage
While NSAIDs for dogs are only by prescription, there are some over-the-counter meds that you can buy and give your pooch to alleviate some of that pain.
However, most of these OTC meds didn't perform well in research studies (Wagner, et al. 2013) and NSAIDs – even if with the highest risk of side effects – remain the most effective for relieving pain in dogs.
A veterinarian may recommend a variety of safe pain-relieving medications which have been specifically formulated for use by dogs, and each medication is prescribed by recording the dog's condition, weight, breed, and age.
Some common pain relievers for dogs that a veterinarian might suggest include:
It is important to follow the veterinarian’s guidelines for administering these medications because they too can have serious side effects.
For example, Tramadol can be difficult to properly wean your dog off of.
Holistic Options for Relieving a Dog’s Pain
Making adjustments to your dog’s food may decrease their pain. Your pooch may have inflammation that is caused by something that they are allergic to but ingesting through their food (such as chicken or beef).
In addition to making adjustments to your dog’s food, there are a variety of natural and holistic options for reducing your dogs' pain.
Fish Oil. Omega-3s in dogs have been extensively studied and proven themselves to have many health benefits. It can help with skin irritation as well as inflammation or joint pain in dogs. You can add omega-3s with EPA/DHA to your dog's food simply through fish oil supplements.
CBD. Recently, CBD oil and CBD dog treats became more mainstream for relief and for a good reason. There are a lot of studies showing the effectiveness of CBD on pain and other health problems. This allows dog owners to help ease pain without the harmful side effects of medication.
Some foods. Like oily fish, other foods like turmeric, Boswellia serrata, yucca root, licorice root, cinnamon, and hawthorn are yet another option that could be recommended to reduce inflammation.
It was claimed by owners and holistic vets to be as effective as cortisone but without the side effects; however, there's not enough research to claim its true effectiveness so it remains anecdotal.
Other than foods and medicine you can give your dog for pain, there's a multitude of other holistic and more or less natural options you can consider to alleviate their pain (depending on the source of the pain).
For example, if your pup is in pain due to arthritis, you can try acupuncture, physical therapy, hydrotherapy, laser therapy, cryotherapy, and ultrasonography.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, you should never give your dog any OTC medications because they could be fatal.
Sometimes a veterinarian may suggest an OTC medication for short-term use, but you should follow their instructions carefully.
Supplements are available to decrease the issue that is causing your dog to be in pain, but it is best to seek veterinary care to help relieve your dog’s pain.
READ NEXT: The Guide on Pain Management for Dogs