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Pain Relief for Dogs: 6 Causes and Solutions for Pet Parents

Medically Reviewed by

Tracy Isenberg, LVT

As a pet parent, it can be scary if your dog starts to show signs of pain. That’s why it's important to find out the root cause of your pup's pain before choosing a treatment plan.

But, learning your dog is in pain does not mean there isn't hope for recovery. From over-the-counter medications to physical therapy, there are plenty of solutions to manage pain in dogs.

In this article, we'll cover:

  • What you can give your dog for pain relief
  • What does pain look like in dogs
  • Causes of chronic pain in dogs and suggested treatments

What can I give my dog for pain relief

What can I give my dog for pain relief

There are plenty of options for pet parents to help their dogs control pain like dog pain medications, supplements, and therapy. The best option for treating your dog's pain depends on your dog’s age, overall health, and the source of their pain.

Are human pain meds safe for dogs

Are human pain meds safe for dogs

If you have a medicine cabinet full of human pain medications at home, you may wonder if you can give your dog over-the-counter human pain relievers. The truth is, you should not give your dog any human pain medication.


What does pain look like in dogs

What does pain look like in dogs

It's important to identify signs of pain from moderate to serious injury quickly. Dogs show they are feeling pain in different ways. And, different sources of pain have different symptoms.

Some common signs of pain include:

  • Whimpering or vocalizing
  • Aggression
  • Tucked ears
  • Excessive licking
  • Loss of appetite
  • Reluctance to walk, run, climb stairs, jump, or play
  • Stiffness or limping
  • Personality changes
  • Panting
  • Restlessness

6 causes of chronic pain in dogs

6 causes of chronic pain in dogs

Finding the root of your dog's pain is important. Once you know where your dog's pain is coming from, you will be more prepared to treat it. Chronic pain can occur for many reasons, including:

  • Aging
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Arthritis
  • Injury
  • Surgery

Depending on your dog's condition and overall health, treatment options can differ. Here are six causes of pain, and suggested treatments for each.

1. Aging

Aging

Aging is something that all dogs experience. But, the effects of aging are different for every dog.

The most common type of pain from aging is joint pain. A good way to combat joint pain associated with aging is to supplement your dog's diet with key vitamins and minerals.


SUGGESTED TREATMENT: SUPPLEMENTS

Joint supplements and other vitamins may help relieve pain in your dog's hips and joints as they age. Pet parents can buy joint supplements, probiotics, and multivitamins over-the-counter through online retailers.

Before you choose a hip and joint supplement for your pup, be sure it has these key ingredients:

  • Chondroitin sulfate
  • Collagen
  • FruiteX-B (calcium fructoborate)
  • Glucosamine
  • MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane)
  • Omega fatty acids
  • Vitamin E

2. Obesity

Obesity

Excess body fat and weight cause pressure and stress on your dog's joints. This can lead to nerve pain, sore muscles, and other types of pain in your dog's body.

If your dog isn’t fed a healthy diet or lacks regular exercise, they may be at risk of developing obesity.

SUGGESTED TREATMENT: LIFESTYLE CHANGES

Changes to your dog's exercise routine and diet can help them maintain a healthy body weight. Your dog’s daily meals should have the vitamins and nutrients they need to stay healthy.

Most dog food labels explain how much food your dog should have per day based on their body weight. But, talk to your vet about how much food is right for your dog.

Daily moderate exercise through walking, jogging, and fetching is great for dogs trying to lose weight. Schedule at least 30 minutes of daily exercise to keep your dog active and healthy. As your dog loses weight and grows their stamina, increase their exercise time to at least one hour per day.

3. Hip and joint problems

Hip and joint problems

Problems with the joints and hips can significantly impact the well-being of your pet. Furry friends grappling with achy joints may show signs signs like:

  • Painful inflammation
  • Limping or difficulty moving
  • Joint stiffness
  • Decreased appetite

Depending on the joint issue your dog is facing, your dog may show different signs. If your dog’s signs are more severe like lethargy and limited mobility, it may be a sign of a more serious condition.

Hip dysplasia

Hip dysplasia occurs when a dog's hip joint grows abnormally. Large dog breeds are more prone to developing hip dysplasia.

Bunny hopping, lameness, and decreased activity are the most common signs of hip dysplasia in dogs. Dogs with hip dysplasia should start treatment as soon as possible.

Osteoarthritis

Canine arthritis is the largest cause of chronic pain for dogs. Arthritis can affect a dog’s hip, leg, and back joints and causes inflammation and degeneration.

Moving around and exercising is difficult and painful for dogs experiencing severe arthritis pain. But, some treatments can help lessen your dog's arthritic pain.


SUGGESTED TREATMENT: THERAPY

If you aren’t interested in trying pain medication right away, therapy is a great option for dogs recovering from hip dysplasia and arthritis. Many different types of therapy can treat severe hip and joint pain, including:

  • Heat therapy
  • Laser therapy
  • Cold therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Massage therapy
  • Acupuncture

To choose the best method for your dog, talk to your vet about their condition.

4. Allergies

Allergies

Dogs may develop allergies from many things, including foods, fabrics, and allergens in the air. Serious allergies can cause pain through skin infections, coughing, and stomach ulcers.


SUGGESTED TREATMENT: ANTIHISTAMINES

While it's not possible to completely get rid of pet allergies, you can use antihistamines to relieve pain caused by allergies. Here are the most common types of over-the-counter antihistamines:

Allegra

Allegra is an antihistamine that is safe to give to dogs. The standard Allegra formula contains only fexofenadine hydrochloride as the active ingredient. Allegra D and Allegra for children are not safe for dogs.

Benadryl

Your vet may suggest diphenhydramine to treat your dog’s allergies. Known by the name Benadryl, this medication is completely safe for dogs if dosed correctly based on their body weight.

Claritin

Some forms of Claritin contain decongestants that can be toxic to dogs. Read the ingredients and only give your dog Claritin if the only active ingredient is an antihistamine.

Zyrtec

Cetirizine (Zyrtec) is another antihistamine used to treat allergies in dogs. Keep in mind that the dose for humans and dogs is completely different. Talk to your vet about what the right dose is for your dog's weight.

VET TIP

Be sure that the product only contains antihistamines. Talk with your vet before giving your dog allergy medication — each is dosed according to your dog's body weight.

5. Injury

Injury

Accidents happen, and sometimes they result in injury. Injuries can range from moderate to severe.

Moderate injuries may require supplements or physical therapy. Serious injuries may require strong pain medications and surgery.


SUGGESTED TREATMENT: NONSTEROIDAL ANTI-INFLAMMATORY DRUGS (NSAIDS)

NSAIDs are prescription medications that have anti-inflammatory properties. They are effective at supporting platelet function. This means they help with decreasing inflammation in your dog’s body. Common NSAIDs for dogs include:

VET TIP

NSAIDs are only available by prescription from a vet. A vet's expertise is needed to decide if pain medications are appropriate for your pet and to monitor their health while they are on the drug.

NSAIDs have anti-inflammatory properties and are effective at supporting platelet function. This means they help with decreasing inflammation in your dog’s body. Common NSAIDs for dogs include:

  • Carprofen (dog ibuprofen)
  • Galliprant
  • Previcox
  • Dog aspirin

Pet parents should avoid baby aspirin and buffered aspirin that may be marketed for veterinary use. Only use the aspirin prescribed by your vet, and give your dog the correct dose.

Some side effects of NSAIDs include:

  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Gastrointestinal upset

In serious cases, kidney failure, liver failure, and even death may occur. If you notice any of these reactions to NSAIDs, contact your veterinarian for a dog check-up immediately.

6. Surgery

Surgery

Some severe injuries and other health conditions require surgical treatments. As a dog recovers from a surgical procedure, they may experience pain. But, there are ways to help them stay comfortable and keep their pain under control.

Recovering from surgery looks different for every dog. Always talk to your veterinarian about their suggested treatment plan post-surgery for your dog's unique case.


SUGGESTED TREATMENT: OPIOIDS FOR DOGS

Opioids prescribed by your vet are the best option for more severe pain after major surgeries. Opioids have stronger pain control than other drugs and medications because they work on pain receptors.

Some common opioids for dogs include:

  • Morphine
  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl
  • Hydromorphone
  • Buprenorphine

Opioids come in oral forms and injections. To get opioids for your dog, you'll need to visit your veterinarian for a prescription.

You should avoid long-term use of opioids for your dog's pain. If your vet suggests opioids for a long period, they may recommend regular check-ups and blood tests to monitor your dog's health.


If your dog is in pain, know there are plenty of ways to keep them comfortable while they heal. Always keep your dog's condition, age, and source of pain in mind when choosing a pain management plan.

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