Pain assessment in dogs can be challenging. Dogs instinctively hide their pain as a mechanism to stop potential predators from targeting them when they have an injury. There can be huge variations in the outward display of pain between dogs.
Just because a dog does not limp, whimper, or show other obvious signs of suffering does not mean they are not in pain.
Find out the best ways to recognize pain and the safest treatments available as we examine painkillers for dogs.
How Can I Tell if My Dog Is in Pain?
If your dog has an obvious injury or just experienced a surgical procedure, you can assume your dog is suffering from pain. Sometimes the signs can be subtle and require a bit of careful observation on their owner’s part.
Most dogs experiencing pain will change their behavior. For instance, they may not want to climb stairs, jump into the car, and may resist letting you pick them up. Arthritic pain is common in older dogs. Like humans, dogs can struggle to stand up after lying or sitting down. Common signs of pain can include:
- Vocalizing feelings by whimpering
- Holding the ears flat against the head
- Stiffness of the limbs and limping
- Loss of appetite
- A reluctance to play or go for a walk
- Lagging behind during a walk or stopping completely
- Increased, panting and licking of a painful area of the body
- Being quiet, withdrawn, and less sociable
- Displaying unusual aggression when approached or touched
- Personality changes
The Dangers of Human Painkillers for Dogs
All species are different. What is safe for humans can be fatal for our pets. Painkillers for dogs are not necessarily safe for other species like cats.
Even if medications appear to be the same or similar to those that humans use, you must always consult a vet. If you don’t, you could cause your pet further suffering and even death. The bottom line is never to medicate an animal without checking with a vet first.
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Ibuprofen and Paracetamol
Ibuprofen is highly toxic to dogs. A single tablet ingested by a large dog can cause serious illness. Toxic effects spread quickly and can damage the kidneys, stomach, and intestines. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea with blood, excessive thirst, and, in severe cases, seizures and comas.
It is possible to treat a dog with paracetamol. But, dogs need different doses compared to humans. Paracetamol can be highly toxic to dogs if the dose is too high. Some forms of human paracetamol contain artificial sweeteners such as xylitol, which are poisonous to dogs.
Even infant medications like Calpol contain paracetamol. You should never give Calpol to your pet without first checking with your vet.
Also – remember than paracetamol is very toxic to cats. You should never give paracetamol to cats!
How to Treat Pain in Dogs
If your dog is going through a surgical or dental procedure, you should ask what pain management treatments are available. The type and duration of treatment will vary depending on the procedure. Your dog would typically receive pain-relief medications before, during, and after the procedure.
There are many kinds of painkillers for dogs used to stop or reduce aches and swelling. Your vet will choose the most appropriate drugs based on your pet’s needs.
Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
- Carprofen: reduces pain and inflammation
- Deracoxib: eases pain after orthopedic or dental surgery
- Firocoxib: for pain relief and to treat a fever
- Meloxicam: relieves pain and inflammation in rheumatic diseases and osteoarthritis
- Grapipant: analgesic and anti-inflammatory drug for pain relief related to osteoarthritis
At the right doses, NSAIDs are typically safe for dogs and don’t tend to have many side effects. However, in certain instances, they can cause or make digestive, kidney, or liver problems worse. It’s therefore very important to consult a vet about the correct dose and length of treatment.
It’s possible to tell if your dog is having a bad reaction to an NSAID by spotting any of these common signs:
- Behavioral changes
- A loss of appetite
- Skin redness or scabs
- Tarry stools, diarrhea, and/or vomiting
If your dog is experiencing any of these symptoms, you must stop giving them the drug and contact your vet.
Aspirin is an over-the-counter NSAID. It’s possible that your vet may recommend giving aspirin to your pet for a limited length of time. This is normally if they have an injury or another short-term condition.
You should only ever use the type of dog aspirin a vet prescribes and not a medication that you store for yourself. Long-term use of dog aspirin can be dangerous due to the greater risk of side effects, such as gastrointestinal bleeding. Again, always check with a vet about doses and length of treatment.
Other Safe Medications and Supplements
Since NSAIDs are usually safe and effective in relieving pain, other types of painkillers are used less commonly. If your dog needs more options, perhaps because they have an adverse reaction to NSAIDs, your vet may discuss the possibility of gabapentin or tramadol.
Gabapentin is often used to treat neuropathic pain in dogs – it may make your dog sleepy for a few days. Tramadol is a painkiller that works a bit like mild opioids. Vets occasionally prescribe it to aging dogs in constant discomfort. Side effects can include stomach issues, vomiting, and dizziness.
Supplements, such as glucosamine and chondroitin, are popular alternative treatments. There is insufficient evidence that they always help as painkillers for dogs. Some research suggests that they may reduce swelling and encourage cartilage to repair itself. They may also protect and lubricate existing cartilage. Always discuss giving your dog any medications, including supplements, with a vet.
What to Do if Your Dog Eats Human Painkillers
You must always treat this as a medical emergency. Never delay if you’re worried about your pet. Contact your vet whatever the time of day with as much information as possible about the medication your pet has ingested.
Always Seek the Advice of a Vet
Ask for a written copy of any treatment plan, along with instructions for administering medication to your pet. Never share medications between dogs. What’s good for one pet may not be right for another – especially if switching between cats and dogs!
If you have any concerns about painkillers and your dog, get in touch with us. One of our highly experienced vets is always available to help.