Dog Pain Management

Pain Relief and Pain Meds for Dogs

If you’ve turned to the internet because you suspect your dog is in pain, you should take your dog to a veterinarian right away. Your vet can do a thorough check and find the source of the pain in order to eliminate it. Either way, though, at GeniusVets, we believe that pet care information should come from veterinarians and not from Dr. Google, especially when your dog could pay the price of getting bad advice. That’s why we’ve taken dog pain management FAQs, sent these questions to renowned veterinarians across the United States, and compiled their replies to get you useful information that you can trust.

While we've sourced all of the information and recommendations below directly from leading veterinarians across the country, please make sure to seek out the advice of your own veterinarian or find a trusted vet near you using the GeniusVets Directory.

What is the difference between acute and chronic pain in dogs?

Acute pain is often related to injury or trauma. These are dogs that are limping or have swelling all of a sudden, or we've known they've had some type of trauma. Other kinds of acute pain might be from a torn nail, laceration, a dog bite wound, or a fracture. Acute pain generally comes on suddenly and, with rest in some anti-inflammatories, it typically gets better fairly quickly.

Chronic pain has been ongoing for three months or more. This is not necessarily intense pain all the time, but more of a dull, achy type of pain that often affects the nerves. And dogs with chronic pain typically require more than one modality of therapy to help control it. Senior dogs tend to have more issues with arthritis in the spine, the hips, and the knees, and sometimes the elbows. Those are all going to be significant places for them to have chronic pain.

How quickly should I bring my dog in if I suspect that they're in pain?

If you see any of those signs in your pet, then we would like to have them come in as soon as you're starting to notice these things, especially if it's more of an acute injury where they were doing something and all of a sudden they're lame. Those are the injuries we want to see sooner, and they tend to be a lot more painful for the pet and they can lead to more chronic conditions if they're not treated right away.

And we certainly want to see dogs for the chronic issues too because there are many things that we can do to help alleviate some of the pain and treat those things to get that animal in a better position moving forward.

What are some signs and symptoms that my dog might be in pain?

Every dog is different but there will be some commonality in the symptoms of pain.

The most significant signs and symptoms of a dog in pain would be:

  • Slowing down
  • Lack of appetite
  • Not eating
  • Hiding
  • Panting Shaking
  • Decreased activity, such as lying around more than usual

And again, with acute pain, you might experience more swelling, not using the leg, limping, or showing signs of pain when you try to pick them up.

Dogs rarely vocalize. They’re seldom going to yelp unless you stepped on their toe and frightened them more than hurt them. For the most part, they're going to do things that would make them quieter, such as hiding and not behaving like themselves. The most essential thing to consider is that you know your dog better than anyone else, so if they’re acting off and you suspect your dog may be in pain, it’s a good idea to have your veterinarian get to the root of the problem and get the dog pain-free.

Are human pain pills like Tylenol, Aspirin, or Advil okay to give my dog?

You've likely seen aspirin and the like at pet stores, but aspirin along with Tylenol and Advil for your pet are not things we recommend. It's easy to think that since these meds help manage our pain, they could help manage our pet's pain, but what we know about Tylenol and ibuprofen/Advil is they can have some serious side effects mainly related to disrupting the surface of the GI tract. This leads to ulcers which could potentially get bad enough that the dog gets a GI bleed. And if you give these medications over the long term, they can cause kidney or liver issues. We always tell people to avoid those medications and not to use them.

As veterinarians, we choose meds that are appropriate in dosing and also dependent on their breed, age, and health. We use some pain management that humans use, but it depends on the situation, and it's best if you let us decide that for your dog.

What are the medications used for pain management in dogs?

We have many options for pain medication for our canine population. The core foundation is our nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories. Many of those have been around for a long time. They're perfect for bone, joint, and soft tissue pain and dogs can take them short-term or long-term depending upon the pain condition that we're treating. We also have joint supplements that can help control pain or lessen the number of medications we need to give our pets. Aside from that, there are some situations where we need steroids to control pain, and, depending upon whether it's neurologically involved or not, we may need medications that control neurologic pain, like Gabapentin or Tramadol. There are others we can use, but those are the most common.

We also use adjunctive pain management, like laser therapy, physical therapy, and acupuncture. Every pet and condition is treated differently, so let us work with you and your situation at home to figure out the best way to treat your dog along with a medication they can tolerate.

Can a veterinarian help me manage my dog's chronic pain?

Aging is not a disease in and of itself. If you're noticing your dog used to jump up into your car or on your bed and they're no longer doing that, or they can't run as long, or they get tired quickly, then they need a good physical exam. Let's figure out what's going on. Sometimes we take x-rays to determine because dogs won’t tell you that their hip has arthritis and that they’re having a lot of discomfort here. As vets, we often have people tell us, “My dog’s limping but they’re not in pain.” The truth is, limping is a sign of pain. The dog isn’t putting that leg down because doing so hurts the dog.

Your veterinarian will be your best source for coming up with a pain management plan for your dog because we have to take many different things into account. Mainly, what is the cause? What is the progression? How long do we suspect it could go on? And how long do we think we need to stay on medications? Are there certain things that we need to monitor depending upon what the timeline is? Because we need answers to all these questions, your veterinarian will be your best source for a pain management plan, but you should also monitor your dog during the process.

Where's the best place for me to get pain medication for my dog?

The best place to get pain medication for your dog is at your vet clinic. That way, if there are any questions, reactions, or adverse effects, they can be dealt with on a timely basis. And we can adjust the medications depending upon if there are any health changes in your pet's life or not.

The AAHA has a comprehensive list of ways to tell whether your dog is in pain for reference's sake. If you have further questions about dog pain management or you suspect your dog is in pain, reach out to your veterinarian. If you don't have one yet, we can help you find a local veterinarian!