No one wants to imagine their beloved pup in pain. We know that dogs can (and do) feel pain, although they don’t always show it in the same way a human would.
A dog’s instinct is to hide the fact that it’s in pain, which can make it tricky to identify when our dogs are hurting and get them the relief they need.
Often, if your dog is showing clear signs of being in pain, it either means there’s been a sudden and intense injury (such as a broken limb) or there’s a source of pain that has been developing for a while — and has now progressed past the point that your dog can hide it effectively.
The good news is that thanks to modern veterinary medicine, we understand how our dogs feel pain, how it impacts their bodies, and how to use medications like carprofen to alleviate pain for our furry friends.
Here’s what you need to know about identifying when your dog is in pain and some of the most common medications and treatments to help relieve pain for dogs.
Signs your dog is in pain
The pain symptoms in dogs are often very subtle because dogs instinctively try to hide their pain from those around them.
If you pay close attention, most dogs will display at least some behavior change when experiencing pain or discomfort.
This could be as subtle as observing your dog struggling to stand up from lying down or having begun walking with a stiff, disjointed motion.
Your pup’s pain may manifest as a reluctance to jump into the car or climb stairs. Your dog may display visible discomfort with being picked up or touched.
As the pain worsens or intensifies, a dog may show more easily notable signals.
Symptoms of pain include:
- Crying, whimpering, or other vocalizations
- Becoming withdrawn or anti-social
- Keeping ears flattened against the head
- Excessive licking, chewing or biting of a particular area of the body
- Decreased appetite
- Stiffness or limping when moving
- Uncharacteristically lagging or stopping on walks
- Excessive panting, restlessness, or an inability to “settle.”
- Signs of aggression when touched or approached
You know your pet best. If your dog is acting out of the norm in any way (whether described above or not), it’s worth paying attention and monitoring how long the abnormal behavior continues.
Your dog may be giving you subtle signs that it is experiencing pain or discomfort. If you suspect your dog is in pain, contact your veterinarian.
Can you give human pain medication to dogs?
Never give human pain medication to dogs. In general, always consult a veterinarian before giving your dog anything intended for human use.
Some of the most common human pain relief drugs can be dangerous or toxic to dogs, causing stomach bleeding, kidney or liver failure, and even death.
In particular, the following three human medications are highly toxic to dogs. Never give your dog:
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- Ibuprofen (Advil)
- Naproxen (Aleve)
Fortunately, there are other effective pain relief medications that dogs can take.
Always consult with a veterinarian before giving your dog any medicine or supplement.
Pain medications for dogs
Most pain medications for dogs fall into the category of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
The FDA has approved several NSAIDs and other medications for use in dogs.
One of the most popular NSAIDs prescribed for pain relief in dogs is carprofen (Novox, Rimadyl), in addition to meloxicam (Metacam), deracoxib (Deramaxx), and aspirin.
How do carprofen for dogs and other NSAIDs work?
NSAIDs work by interfering with the production of inflammatory molecules (those that trigger pain and swelling).
This can reduce inflammation — and therefore treat pain — in joints, muscles, tissue, and other body parts.
NSAIDs can treat anything from mild discomfort to moderate pain.
Veterinarians may prescribe NSAIDs as a short-term treatment to reduce pain and inflammation after surgery.
They are also commonly prescribed for long-term use to help manage symptoms of hip dysplasia, osteoarthritis, and other chronic conditions.
NSAID dosage for dogs
The dosage of carprofen and other common NSAIDs for dogs is 2 mg per pound or 4.4 mg per kilogram of body weight.
The daily dose may be administered all at once or split in half and administered at two points in the day. When prescribed for post-surgical pain relief, administer the medication two hours before the surgery.
NSAID side effects in dogs
Because NSAIDs control pain by blocking the body’s production of specific molecules, they can also block normal body functions in the stomach, intestines, and kidneys, which may negatively impact a pet’s health.
Carprofen and other NSAIDs for dogs can cause side effects ranging from changes in appetite and lethargy to vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach ulcers. In many cases, adverse side effects caused by NSAIDs can be easily reversed by simply discontinuing the medication and treating the problem.
In some extreme cases, NSAIDs can cause more severe side effects, including liver or kidney failure.
Some pets may be at higher risk of adverse side effects, such as older dogs with multiple health conditions at play and pets who have recently undergone anesthesia for surgery.
In particular, if your dog is taking an NSAID or other pain medication, watch for signs of adverse reactions including:
- Decreased appetite or lack of interest in eating
- Red and irritated skin or scabs
- Behavioral changes
If you notice any sudden or extreme changes in your dog’s health or behavior after taking a medication, stop the course and seek a veterinarian’s expertise immediately.
What are other ways to relieve pain for dogs?
While NSAIDs are the most common type of pain reliever prescribed for dogs by veterinarians, a few other medications that a vet may prescribe, as well as many alternative pain relief strategies that you can use to help your furry companion feel more at ease.
Gabapentin for dogs
Gabapentin is a medication commonly used to relieve pain caused by damaged nerves. It is approved for use in both humans and dogs. While drowsiness is a common side effect of gabapentin, it is safe and generally effective overall.
Opioids for dogs
Tramadol is a mild opioid medication that may be prescribed for senior dogs who suffer from arthritis or other chronic conditions.
Opioids typically offer more potent pain relief than NSAIDs and help keep senior dogs more comfortable in their old age. Tramadol and similar opioids for dogs may cause side effects, including vomiting, stomach upset, and dizziness.
Sometimes, a veterinarian may prescribe one of these medications alongside an NSAID for more robust pain management.
Supplements for dogs
In addition to prescribed medication, supplements can provide a gentle and natural way to ease pain and support healing in dogs.
Some of the dogs’ most common supplements used for pain relief include glucosamine, fish oil, chondroitin, CBD oils, balms, and chews. CBD supplements can have the added benefit of reducing anxiety and promoting relaxation.
Alternatives to medication
Several alternative pain relief strategies for dogs can be helpful if your dog isn’t responding well to medication or if you want to complement medicine with additional pain management methods.
These include physical therapy, laser therapy, acupuncture, pulsed electromagnetic field therapy, and neuromuscular stimulation.
You can ask your veterinarian about these options to help manage acute or chronic pain and improve your dog’s quality of life.