What Painkillers Are Safe for Dogs?

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Regardless of age, breed or sex, all dogs experience pain at one point or another. Whether your dog seems to be slowing down gradually, has an acute injury or just doesn't seem to be quite themselves, you may have wondered, "What can you give a dog for pain relief?" Let's take a look at some of the painkillers for dogs.

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

If you've ever scanned through your own medicine cabinet when your dog developed a limp, you may have been tempted to reach for ibuprofen or acetaminophen to alleviate your dog's pain. However, it's very important to note that over-the-counter human NSAIDs, including baby aspirin, are not safe to give to your dog.

So what can you give a dog for pain relief? While you can't give human NSAIDs, veterinarians often prescribe NSAIDs to relieve a dog's pain. Some popular choices among veterinarians include:

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  • Carprofen
  • Meloxicam
  • Deracoxib
  • Firocoxib

NSAIDs have been prescribed for dogs for decades and remain generally well-tolerated and safe. However, they must always be used under veterinarian supervision. NSAIDs can have side effects in both humans and dogs which may include kidney or liver problems, or gastrointestinal issues, such as stomach upset. So be sure to let your vet know about any unusual signs your dog might develop while taking these, or any, medications.

Joint Supplements

Some scientific evidence supports giving glucosamine hydrochloride and chondroitin sulfate to dogs to prevent and aid in treating degenerative joint conditions, such as osteoarthritis and these remain among the most popular natural health products dog parents turn to and trust. Many dog foods already contain glucosamine hydrochloride and chondroitin sulfate, so consult with your veterinarian before adding this supplement to your dog's diet or consider feeding a food designed to support joint health.

According to the Open Veterinary Journal, glucosamine helps regulate collagen synthesis within the cartilage, and it is also believed to have some mild anti-inflammatory properties. Chondroitin helps prevent destructive enzymes from damaging cartilage, an important tissue within joints. While joint supplements take weeks to achieve adequate levels in the dog's body, dog parents may note a positive response and report improved pep in their dog's step when adding these supplements into their daily regimen.

Alternative Therapies

With most dog-safe specific medications requiring a prescription, what can you give a dog for pain relief yourself? It turns out a multimodal treatment plan is the best way to help relieve stress on your dog's joints, instead of one single magic pill.

  • Weight loss: When a dog has arthritis, the cartilage that normally functions as a billowy pillow within their joints begins to wear down. This causes painful bone-on-bone rubbing, swelling and inflammation. While you can't do anything to halt this process of degeneration, you can slow it. The less weight your pup bears on their joints, the less of a beating the cartilage takes. Reducing your dog's weight is an important way to manage their joint pain.
  • Exercise: Maintaining strength and flexibility is a cornerstone of a dog's health, from the early puppy days through the senior years. As a dog ages, it's important to prevent muscle loss, which places more stress on joints because muscle helps stabilize them. A non-weight-bearing exercise such as supervised swimming is a wonderful way to maintain muscle tone when dealing with other painful issues, from degenerative bone disease to recovering from orthopedic surgeries. Your veterinarian may know of a dog physical therapist that they can refer you to.

Determine What's Causing Your Dog's Pain

What can you give a dog for pain relief if you aren't sure what will help them? The answer is don't give painkillers for dogs without talking to your veterinarian first. The most effective way to relieve your dog's pain is to first figure out what's causing it. Bringing your dog to the vet for a professional exam is the best place to start.

Remember, pain can be caused by many different conditions. Many dog parents believe that their dog isn't necessarily in pain if they're limping, because carrying the limb off the ground prevents the painful step, but this is false. Dogs limp because they're in pain. Lyme disease is one condition that can cause limping and joint pain, and it's an infection that requires antibiotics. It is one that cannot be treated by you at home and requires a veterinarian to diagnose and prescribe the appropriate treatment. Bone cancer can also cause pain, and requires a veterinarian for diagnosis. If your dog is in pain, it's important to get an accurate diagnosis to address the underlying issue and determine the appropriate action to help treat the pain.

Paying attention to signs that your dog is in pain, and acting on them promptly rather than waiting to see if the problem resolves on its own, is always the best option. Not only does taking action decrease additional pain and suffering, but it can help keep smaller aches and pains from developing into larger ones.

Contributor Bio

Dr. Laci Schaible

Dr. Laci Schaible

Dr. Laci Schaible is a small animal veterinarian committed to advancing the use of technology for the independent veterinarian. She graduated from Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine in 2006 and Wake Forest University School of Law in 2020.