It's heartbreaking to see your beloved canine companion in pain. But it's likely to happen at some point over the course of your dog's life.
Pain can be caused by injury or illness, or it can simply be due to the normal aches and pangs associated with aging. Plus, many older dogs suffer from arthritis, which causes joint pain.
Generally speaking, you can treat dog pain in one of two ways: With pain reliever medications that have been approved or prescribed by your veterinarian, or with natural remedies. Either method might work for you and your dog, based on your particular circumstances and the cause of your dog's pain.
Let's take a closer look at the signs of pain in dogs, as well as your options for pain relief and pain management through medication and natural remedies.
Common Signs of Pain in Dogs
First, it's important to be aware of some of the most common signs of pain in dogs. Since many of these signs could also be caused by other health issues — disease, parasitic infestation, viral or bacterial infections, and more — you'll want to rule out other potential causes of your dog's symptoms in order to get to the bottom of your dog's discomfort.
Work closely with your veterinarian if you think your dog is in pain. Call them right away if you see signs of pain like:
- Excessive licking, biting, or chewing on an area of the body
- Unusual vocalizing, like snarling, growling, howling, or yelping
- Mobility issues
- Constant restlessness
- Loss of appetite
- Aggressive or antisocial behavior
- Changes in drinking habits (drinking more or less water than usual)
- Shaking or trembling
Your veterinarian will give your dog a full examination in order to find out what's causing the pain, or whether another health problem is to blame for the symptoms. Then, you can move forward with a treatment plan that helps your pet feel more comfortable.
Pain Medications for Dogs
There are several pain relief medications that can be given to dogs, but use caution: A painkiller should only be given to your dog if it's been approved by your vet. Never, ever, give your dog over-the-counter pain medication designed for humans because the results could be deadly. We'll learn more about that in a moment.
When it comes to dog pain medicine, your pooch may be prescribed an NSAID (a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) or an alternative type of medication if an NSAID isn't appropriate in your case.
NSAIDs are very common, both in human healthcare and veterinary medicine. They're used for short-term reduction of joint pain, stiffness, and swelling, and they work by blocking the enzymes that cause pain.
NSAIDs that are prescribed to pets include:
- Rimadyl (known generically as carprofen)
- Previcox (known generically as firocoxib)
- Deramaxx (known generically as deracoxib)
- Metacam (known generically as meloxicam)
Only give your pet an NSAID that has been approved by your veterinarian. Giving your dog an NSAID made for humans can result in serious side effects, including vomiting and diarrhea, kidney failure, damage to the stomach lining, bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract, liver damage, and more. Common names of human NSAIDs include Ibuprofen, Advil, and Aleve — again, do not give these to your pet.
Other Pain Medications
Certain types of dog pain require medications that work differently from NSAIDs. These medications include:
- Tramadol, which is a mild opioid usually given to dogs suffering from chronic pain
- Gabapentin, which can be used for pain relief or as a mild sedative
- Amantadine, which blocks neural transmitters and is sometimes prescribed to treat arthritic dogs
Acetaminophen (known more commonly by the brand name Tylenol) is sometimes given to dogs as well. Acetaminophen is not an NSAID, but it can also prove very hazardous to your dog's health if given in the incorrect dosage. Never give your dog Tylenol unless it's been prescribed and directed by a veterinarian.
Natural Pain Relief for Dogs
With all of the potential side effects and health risks associated with pain medication, many pet parents turn to natural remedies to help their dogs feel more comfortable. And many of these natural solutions have proven very effective. Here’s a look at some of the options.
Many dogs suffering from chronic pain have arthritis, especially our older canine companions. Both over-the-counter and prescribed joint supplements can help your dog experience less pain and greater mobility. Even dogs who aren't suffering from arthritis pain can benefit from a joint supplement.
Glucosamine supplements are the most common type of joint supplement for dogs. They work by helping to repair the cartilage in your dog's joints, resulting in less inflammation and therefore less pain.
Other ingredients in dog joint supplements include chondroitin and methylsulfonylmethane, or MSM. Often, you'll find supplements that have a combination of two or more of these ingredients. There are also natural anti-inflammatories like fish oil and turmeric that can benefit dogs as well.
To be safe, check with your veterinarian before starting your dog on a joint supplement regimen.
CBD Oil and Hemp Seed Oil
In recent years, cannabis-derived treats, supplements, and oils have become more and more popular for dogs. CBD comes from the flowers, leaves, and stalks of the hemp plant and contains high levels of cannabinoids, the main chemical found in cannabis.
Hemp seed oil, on the other hand, is extracted from the seeds of the hemp plant and contains only low levels of CBD. Both these items may be able to help your dog feel more comfortable. And don't worry — both CBD and hemp seed oil products contain virtually no THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, so you're not giving your dog a drug.
To date, there is not a lot of formal research regarding CBD or hemp seed oil products and their benefits for dogs. But many dog owners have seen positive results, so it may be a good option for dogs experiencing pain. Your best bet, as with any new product, supplement, or medication, is to talk to your veterinarian.
There is another side to natural pain relief for dogs that doesn't involve medication or supplementation. Alternative therapies may be able to improve your dog's quality of life and help them feel less pain. Examples include:
- Acupuncture. The strategic placement of acupuncture needles is thought to release natural anti-inflammatories in the body and enhance blood circulation.
- Massage therapy. Massage isn't just for humans. Dogs can benefit from massage therapy, resulting in relaxed muscles, better blood flow, and lower stress levels.
- Aromatherapy. It's possible that essential oils and other scent sources can help encourage healing and relieve stress.
- Heat or cold therapy. Applying an ice pack or a hot gel pack to your dog’s aching joints can also help them feel relief, just like it would for you. Ask your vet whether a hot or cold pack would be best for your dog’s situation.
If you're interested in having your dog try alternative therapies like these, make sure to consult your veterinarian or a holistic veterinarian near you. Alternative procedures should be performed by a licensed professional, like a veterinary acupuncturist or veterinary massage therapist.
Don't forget that plain old, good pet parenting can do a lot to prevent pain before it begins. That means feeding your dog a high-quality diet that's right for their age and making sure they get regular exercise to stay in shape. After all, a pet with too much body weight puts undue pressure on their joints, causing inflammation and pain.
My Pup Is Hurting. What Can I Give My Dog for Pain?
As dog owners, we can't stand to see our beloved pups in pain, and they don't have to be. Whether it's through medication prescribed by a veterinarian, natural remedies given at home, or a combination of the two, there is a way for your dog to live a good life without suffering from severe pain.
Never give your dog a painkiller made for humans, and only give pain medications in the proper dosage prescribed by your vet. Consider giving your dog supplements or trying out natural therapies like acupuncture or massage, but remember to always check with your veterinarian first.
Once you have your vet's approval, you can start getting your dog back to their old self through your pain-relief methodology of choice. And remember to do your part to prevent pain in the first place — feed your pet a high-quality dog food and exercise them daily.
For more great tips on your dog's health and wellness needs, check out Pet Honesty's blog.