Pain Meds For Dogs: The Complete Guide to Pain Relief for Dogs

Pain Meds For Dogs: The Complete Guide to Pain Relief for Dogs

Alpha Paw Sale

Jun 19, 2021
AUTHOR Dr. Jo de Klerk, DVM

Reviewed by Dr. Jo de Klerk, DVM

Dr. Jo de Klerk is a board-certified veterinarian, who earned her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the prestigious Royal Veterinary College in London. Dr. de Klerk is also a professional pet author who has published ten books and hundreds of pet and veterinary articles.

  • What pain meds can I give my dog? There are many options available for pain medicine for dogs, but you should only give them if recommended by your veterinarian.
  • At home, you can help relieve your dog’s pain by heat or cold packs, massages, nutritional dog supplements, and weight management.
  • Alternative therapies such as acupuncture and hydrotherapy are available. Just ask your vet for a referral.
  • Don’t give your dog ibuprofen or any other over-the-counter medication. Ibuprofen for dogs is toxic, and so are many other human medications.

Pain Relief for Dogs

As a loving pet parent, seeing your dog in pain can be hard to handle. Since you want your dog to feel better as soon as possible, you’re probably wondering: what pain meds can I give my dog? But it’s not always as easy as popping a pill, like us humans do.

There are many excellent pain medications for dogs, but if your dog has an underlying illness or is taking other medications, giving them may be contraindicated. Luckily, there are several great options that provide pain relief for dogs and can be administered at home.

It’s important that if you think your dog is experiencing pain, you take him for a clinical examination at your local vet. It could be a serious condition, and without proper treatment, your dog’s pain might be prolonged.

How can I tell if my dog is in pain?

Dogs show pain and discomfort in a number of ways, some of which are very subtle and easy to miss. Since our dogs cannot tell us they’re in pain and they hide their pain very well, it’s important to be vigilant pet parents and pay attention to the signs and symptoms that your dog is in pain.

These are the most common signs that indicate pain in dogs:

  1. Limping
  2. Antisocial or aggressive behavior
  3.  Vocalizings, such as whining or yelping
  4.  Licking a focal area of the body, such as a joint
  5.  Excessive panting
  6.  Difficulty lying down and settling
  7.  Changes in eating, drinking, or sleeping habits
  8.  Excessive drooling
  9.  Lowered tail
  10.  Reluctance to jump, play or climb stairs

If your dog is experiencing any of these symptoms persistently, it’s time for a visit to the vet, and find out when and what pain meds to give your dog.

Common Pain Medications for Dogs

If your dog is experiencing pain, your vet is likely to prescribe oral pain medication for him. Some of these you can buy from a pharmacy, but it’s imperative that you do not give your dog any medication without discussing it first with your vet. Pain meds for dogs have to be administered very carefully. This is because giving the wrong dose, or giving a medication when your dog has an underlying condition, could be fatal to your dog.

NSAIDs: Anti Inflammatory for Dogs

NSAIDs stands for ‘non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs’. They are the most common first-line choice of pain relief and anti-inflammatory for dogs. The most common active ingredients include meloxicam, carprofen, firocoxib and deracoxib.

NSAIDs are the same class of drugs as ibuprofen and aspirin, however, ibuprofen is highly toxic to dogs and should never be given. Aspirin for dogs is rarely prescribed by vets, as there are much more effective NSAIDs that are not ‘off-label’ (in other words, licensed for use in animals).

NSAIDs should always be given with food, unless your vet advises otherwise, as they can cause dangerous gastrointestinal side effects, including vomiting, diarrhea, and gastric ulcers.

Nevertheless, despite the potential side effects, they are extremely effective at reducing pain, inflammation and temperatures, so they are usually what your vet will reach for to deal with your dog’s pain.

 Pain Meds For Dogs: The Complete Guide to Pain Relief for Dogs

Tylenol for Dogs (Acetaminophen)

Can dogs take Tylenol? It depends. Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers can endanger your dog’s health. Unless under the direction or supervision of a veterinarian, dogs should not be given human medications like ibuprofen (Advil), acetaminophen (Tylenol), or aspirin.


Opioids are potent pain-relieving medications and are extremely effective, however, side effects such as sedation and nausea are common.

Several years ago, tramadol was a popular medication for when NSAIDs just weren’t good enough. However, more recent research has proven that tramadol is extremely variable and doesn’t work like an opioid as originally believed. Due to the common side effects of it, such as sedation, a change in mentality, and constipation, coupled with the uncertainty of it working, it has gone out of favor with most vets.

Gabapentin for Dogs

Gabapentin is a medication that is commonly used to control seizures in dogs. However, at lower doses, it is also effective as a pain relief. It works better if given in combination with another pain-relieving medication and is not particularly effective on its own. Nevertheless, it is usually the second-line medication of choice for most vets.

Gabapentin is particularly good for neurological pain in the brain or spinal cord, for example, if your dog has a slipped disc in the back.

Sedation is a common side effect of gabapentin; however, many dogs seem unaffected at the lower end of the dose range, which is what is used for pain relief.


Amantadine is an antiviral medication that complements NSAIDs well. It is particularly good for ‘wind-up’ pain, when things that shouldn’t be painful become uncomfortable. For example, if your dog exhibits signs of pain from a light touch on an area, or you notice the area is swollen.

If you’re wondering what you can give a dog for pain and swelling, this might be for you. It is a relatively safe medication, but it’s very expensive. Talk to your veterinarian about it and see if Amantadine is right for your dog.

Natural Pain Relief for Dogs

There are several home remedies for pain that might help your dog, and many of them act as natural anti-inflammatories for dogs. If your vet approves, you can provide all of these home remedies for pain alongside any medication he wants you to give your dog:

Heat therapy (cold/heat packs)

Heat packs are great for muscle pain and joint stiffness, and ice packs are useful for reducing inflammation and pain associated with an acute injury. Remember to wrap the packs in a towel so that you don’t make your dog uncomfortable when applying them.


Massaging gently helps to stimulate the blood flow to the affected area, which reduces inflammation and speeds up healing. You can use your hands in a stroking motion, or a rubber brush in gentle circular motions.

Joint Supplements for Dogs: 

If your dog is uncomfortable due to a joint injury or osteoarthritis, supplements containing omega oils, glucosamine and chondroitin have been scientifically proven to help reduce inflammation in the joints. Our Omega Chews are packed with Omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids and other essential nutritional supplements that help support your dog’s healthy hip and joint function, immune system, brain and cardiac health.

You should also consider buying vet-approved supplements made with the addition of Devil’s Claw and Turmeric to reduce inflammation, especially for joint pain. Our premium joint supplements for dogs contain the powerful natural anti-inflammatory ingredients turmeric, glucosamine hydrochloride, chondroitin and MSM to support mobility, reduce discomfort and relieve your pup’s pain.

Alpha Paw’s dog supplements are USA manufactured in a GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) certified and FDA registered factory. Our chews are non-GMO and are free from corn, wheat and artificial preservatives.

Weight Management:

Ensuring your dog is lean is vital for reducing pain in the legs and back. The less gravitational force there is on the sore area, the less it will be aggravated.

Alternative Therapies for Pain

If you want to think about pain relief for your dog without using medications, there are also several other complementary therapy options which can help.

Veterinary acupuncture is becoming more recognized as a Western treatment. Acupuncture originated in China, but Western medical research has now discovered exactly how it works, leading to it becoming widely accepted by most vets. Acupuncture is a potent pain-relieving modality, as the insertion of needles triggers the nervous system to release endorphins, which are the body’s natural opioids. It also improves blood flow, leading to increased healing. Veterinary acupuncture can legally only be performed by a vet.

Hydrotherapy is not commonly thought of as a pain relief modality, but sessions improve fitness and mobility, without aggravating joints. As a result, your dog’s compensating body can better support itself in the face of discomfort, reducing the amount of pain. Hydrotherapy sessions include shower massages and therapeutic warm water, which provides pain relief for dogs too. Hydrotherapy is usually performed by a canine hydrotherapist or veterinary physiotherapist.

Dangers of Pain Medications for Dogs

Not all pain meds for dogs are suitable for your pup. Medications must be metabolized by the liver and excreted by the kidneys. As a result, if your dog has underlying conditions which affect these organs, the use of medications could compound the problem. This is one of the main reasons it is important that you only give your dog medications that have been approved by your veterinarian.

There are many medications that cannot be given to your dog at the same time. For example, NSAIDs and corticosteroids cannot be given to your dog concurrently, as they can lead to life-threatening gastrointestinal ulcers and bleeding.

It’s easy to think that you can just give your dog a pain relief tablet from your medicine cabinet to tie him over until the morning when you can see a vet. This is one of the main causes of ibuprofen toxicity in dogs. You might mean well, but you can do more harm than good. It will not cost you anything to phone the emergency vet on call to ask over the phone what you can give your dog. If you can’t get hold of your vet, there are many home remedies for pain relief that don’t involve giving your dog medications. While reducing your dog’s pain may seem like the number one goal, remember that keeping him safe and healthy is the most important part.

Alpha Paw Sale
author image

Dr. Jo de Klerk, DVM

Member of Alpha Paw’s Board of Pet Experts

Dr. Jo de Klerk is a board-certified veterinarian, registered with both the RCVS and the SAVC. She graduated with an honors degree in Veterinary Medicine from the prestigious Royal Veterinary College in London in 2014. She then went on to complete a Master's degree in Tropical Animal Health through the Institute of Tropical Medicine, and she’s now pursuing a PhD in Life Sciences with the University of Warwick.

Dr. de Klerk is a professional writer alongside her clinical vet work and academic studies. To date, she has published ten books and hundreds of pet and veterinary articles, many of which can be viewed from her writing social media page. She is also a regular contributor to Veterinary Practice Today. Her clinical interests include pain management, rehabilitation, and global disease management.

Dr. Jo is also a loving pet parent to a rescue pup called Raven, who she describes as a cat in a fluffy dog’s body. Thanks for everything you do to support our mission, Dr. Jo!

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