What Can I Give My Dog for Pain?

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Dogs play an essential role in our families, whether they motivate us to get out for walks, provide companionship and support, or make us laugh with their crazy antics. But what should you do when your bundle of energy loses their spark?

As a veterinarian, I’m often asked what causes pain in dogs, how to tell if a dog is in pain, and what to give a dog for pain. Grab your leash as we walk through some pertinent points about pain in dogs and how we can soothe our painful pooches.

1. What Are Some Causes of Pain in Dogs?

If Benji scarfs down his breakfast but remains a no-show for dinner, he may be hurting. But why? Acute pain is the kind we expect with an injury or severe infection. Chronic conditions, such as osteoarthritis, typically cause pain lasting three months or longer.1 Here are some conditions that will cause some serious ouch for your pooch:

  • Panosteitis (growing pains in puppies)
  • Intestinal obstructions or other gastrointestinal distress
  • Bone and tooth fractures
  • Ligament tears such as anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury
  • Severe ear infections
  • Urinary tract infections or stones
  • Pancreatitis
  • Cancer
  • Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD)
  • Gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV, or bloat)
  • Corneal ulcers
  • Glaucoma
  • Autoimmune or infectious diseases
  • Burns
  • Torn toenails
  • Hip and elbow dysplasia
  • Osteoarthritis

2. How Can I Tell if My Dog Is in Pain?

When your enthusiastic exercise partner punks out before his paws hit the sidewalk, pain may be to blame. Behavior changes such as depression, hiding, excessive licking, restlessness, or even growling may indicate that your dog is suffering. From traumatic bone fractures to Lyme disease, limping may indicate a number of painful conditions.2 Here are some other signs to watch for:

  • Impaired mobility, stiff gait, or reduced range of limb motion
  • Body language (low tail and head, flat ears, prayer position)
  • Poor appetite
  • Excessive panting or pacing
  • Whining
  • Trembling
  • Evidence of a wound, injury, broken tooth, or bleeding
  • “Slowing down” with age

3. What Should I Do if My Dog Is in Pain?

If you suspect your dog is in pain, call your veterinarian. Veterinarians are medical detectives uniquely trained to identify pain in our non-verbal furry friends. Be prepared to describe your dog’s behavior, duration of the problem, medical history, and any possibility your dog could have eaten something inappropriate. By considering breed, age, gender, and history, your vet will begin to narrow the list of possibilities.

4. What Can I Do at Home for My Painful Dog?

First and foremost: Do not give human pain relievers to your dog.

This includes aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, acetaminophen, or any other over-the-counter or prescription human medicine. Just because you know people who have done this with no (apparent) ill effect does not mean it’s safe for your dog. Although some human medications are prescribed for dogs, they should only be given under the direction of a veterinarian to avoid toxic effects to the kidneys, liver, and stomach.3

If you can’t get to the vet right away, there are comfort measures you can perform in the short term until your appointment.

  • Provide a quiet, comfortable resting spot away from family activity
  • Bring food and water to your dog
  • Apply a cool compress for an acute injury, or warm compress for osteoarthritis
  • Help them outside with a sling if a hind limb is hurt, or carry small dogs
  • Offer soft food if oral pain is suspected
  • Keep children away to avoid unwanted touch and dog bites

5. What Can My Veterinarian Do for Pain?

First, your vet will need to make a diagnosis. They will further narrow the list by observing posture, attitude, and performing the crucial physical exam. They may recommend lab work, radiographs, ultrasound, CT scan, or cytology to make a final diagnosis.

If the cause of pain is an intestinal obstruction, fractured bone, or dental abscess, then surgery and intravenous pain medication such as opioids may be indicated.456 Local anesthetic may be used as well. If there’s a urinary tract infection, your vet may prescribe antibiotics and oral pain medication.7 Glaucoma requires medications to reduce eye pressure.8

Whether your dog goes home with a short course of oral pain medication for an infection or injury, or a long-term prescription plan for osteoarthritis, there are numerous options. The most common pain relievers are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDS. These include carprofen, firocoxib, etodolac, meloxicam, and grapiprant. Other pain relievers include gabapentin and amantadine.9 In severe cases, your veterinarian may prescribe an opioid such as morphine, fentanyl, or buprenorphine.10

6. What Alternative Methods of Pain Relief Are Available for Dogs?

Smart pain management includes multiple methods to reduce side effects and match the pain to the plan. Think about it: you may add salt to your foods to improve taste, but you wouldn’t add it to ice cream. With pain management, it’s not one size fits all either.

Many dogs can’t tolerate oral pain relievers. Luckily, there are several effective adjunctive therapies. Many of these are helpful for chronic conditions, and can actually help improve the underlying pathology.

Acupuncture and therapeutic laser must be performed by a trained veterinary professional. With so many alternative choices for pain control, your veterinarian can guide you on the path to developing a well-rounded pain management plan for your four-legged pal.

The Bottom Line on Pain Control in Dogs

When your dog seems painful, beeline to the vet. The key to proper pain control is to diagnose the underlying problem. In many cases, resolving the problem will alleviate the pain. Pain relievers can be given intravenously in the hospital, or sent home in oral or even patch form. Talk to your veterinarian about medications and alternative therapies for ongoing conditions. Together, you can develop a plan to keep your pooch pain-free and catching frisbees for years to come.

Article Sources

Pet News Daily uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

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  2. American Animal Hospital Association. How to tell if your dog is in pain. Aaha.org. Accessed April 12, 2022.
  3. American Veterinary Medical Association. 10 Poison pills for pets. Avma.org. Accessed April 12, 2022.
  4. Gibson TWG. Gastrointestinal obstruction in small animals. Merckvetmanual.com. Updated October 2020. Accessed April 12, 2022.
  5. Harasen G. Fractures in dogs and cats. Veterinarypartner.vin.com. Published February 5, 2007. Updated November 27, 2018. Accessed April 12, 2022.
  6. Hiscox L, Bellows J. Tooth root abscess in dogs. Vcahospitals.com. Accessed April 12, 2022.
  7. Weir M, Downing R. Urinary tract infections (UTIs) in dogs. Vcahospitals.com. Accessed April 12, 2022.
  8. Hunter T, Ward E. Glaucoma in dogs. Vcahospitals.com. Accessed April 12, 2022.
  9. Colorado State University James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital. Pain medications. Vetmedbiosci.colostate.edu. Accessed April 12, 2022.
  10. Allweiler S. Drugs used to relieve pain. Merckvetmanual.com. Updated February 2020. Accessed April 12, 2022.
  11. Gaynor JS, Hagberg S, Gurfein BT. Veterinary applications of pulsed electromagnetic field therapy. Res Vet Sci. 2018;119:108. doi:10.1016/j.rvsc.2018.05.005
  12. Gollakner R. Glucosamine chondroitin combination. Vcahospitals.com. Accessed April 12, 2022.
  13. Purina. Omega-3 fatty acids for dogs. Purina.com. Accessed April 12, 2022.
  14. Kuroki K, Cook JL, Kreeger JM. Mechanisms of action and potential uses of hyaluronan in dogs with osteoarthritis. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2002;221(7):944-950. doi:10.2460/javma.2002.221.944
Dr. Jacqueline Dobranski
Dr. Jackie Dobranski earned her veterinary degree from the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in 1997, and completed her internship at the University of Pennsylvania in 1998. She has practiced in Virginia, Washington, DC, and Maryland, and has been the medical director of two practices. In 2015, she earned a Graduate Certificate in Shelter Animal Medicine. She served on the board of the Humane Rescue Alliance, as an advisor for Earthwatch, and as a volunteer at the National Zoo. In 2016, she created a children’s board game called <a href="https://www.brixiples.com">Brixiples</a> to promote ethics and safety. She resides in Washington, DC with her husband and two sons, rescue dog, and two house rabbits.