What Pain Medicine Is Safe For Dogs?

Upset ill sick dog is lying on the floor with a sad look, suffering from pain, disease.

As pet parents, nothing hurts us more than seeing our precious pooch in pain. Watching our dogs suffer discomfort and hearing them whimper or whine is enough motivation to do something- anything at all- to make them feel better fast. Even if it means giving them painkillers out of our medicine cabinets.

However, doing this could be a grave mistake. Before you run off to get Tylenol or Ibuprofen for your pet, it is essential to remember that not all painkillers are safe for your dog. While some meds may help you feel better, some do more harm than good to your dog. So, what pain medicines are safe for your dog, and which ones should you steer clear of?

Upset ill sick dog is lying on the floor with a sad look, suffering from pain, disease.

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How To Know When Your Dog Is In Pain?

We think we know our dogs in and out, but we often miss the apparent shift in their behaviors and will mostly never notice them until it is too late. This is probably one primary reason why many dog owners do not know when their dog is in pain. Unlike humans, dogs cannot be vocal about their pain, especially when the source of pain is not evident to the human eye.

While your dog will do their best to communicate its suffering to you with yaps, whines, growls, and other vocal sounds, these sounds are normal to dogs, so it is normal for pet parents to think their dog is, well, just being a dog. Unless you can quickly spot their injuries by tell-tale signs like bleeding and swelling, dogs often suffer in silence.

Since our canine friends cannot outrightly communicate where they feel pain and what they feel, it is our responsibility to be able to tell that something is wrong with our pooch from their body language. Several glaring signs tell if your dog is sick, in pain or suffering. Some of these signs include:

  • Antisocial and aggressive behavior: is your dog a naturally aggressive breed, or has it just begun showing signs of being antisocial? Is your pooch avoiding eye contact or hiding away from you? If your pup, who used to enjoy being around family members, now seems to shy away with a miserable look on its face, something might be wrong.
  • Lack of appetite: a change in eating habits is another sign that your pup might be sick or hurt. Like humans, sick dogs eat lesser servings or dread eating at all. A loss of appetite and an unusual reluctance to drink as much water as it is used signify that your dog might be in pain.
  • Change in sleeping habit: Pain often alters a dog’s sleeping habit, forcing them to sleep more or less.
  • Making excessive vocal sounds: if your dog is being more vocal than it usually is, it might be trying to tell you something. Since we don’t have the magical power to translate a dog’s growls, yelps, snarls, cries, and howls to a language we can easily understand, it might be a wise decision to take your pup to the vet for a quick check-up.
  • Mobility problems: a noticeable change in your dog’s ability to walk is a tell-tale sign of injury. Limping, a shaky gait, a reluctance to climb stairs, or a reduced interest in exercises that require excessive movements could mean your dog is in pain.
  • Restlessness: if your dog looks uncomfortable or easily distracted, it might be suffering in silence. Shifty eyes, avoiding eye contact, and constant pacing are red flags.
  • Excessive grooming: although grooming is a usual habit among dogs, if the grooming appears excessive, it might be a sign that your pet is trying to soothe itself. Excessive skin biting, paw licking, rubbing, or scratching is several behaviors you need to look out for.

Can Your Dog Use Your Pain Meds?

A little dosage can’t hurt, right? After all, your pup is already in so much pain that there is nothing that half a tablet of regular over-the-counter painkillers cannot solve. For many pet parents who do not know any better, painkillers are painkillers and can be used to cure pet pains, as long as they are used in moderation.

However, many pet parents are unaware that even the smallest dosage of regular painkillers can leave their pets with worse debilitating illnesses. Every species is different and has different biological processes. What we consider safe for humans can be fatal for dogs.

Hence, to relieve your dog’s pain with painkillers that you think are harmless, you could end up poisoning your dog. While some medications are safe for humans and dogs, they must be prescribed with a specific dosage by a vet. Essentially, don’t give your pup drugs without your vet’s approval.

Advil, Tylenol, Paracetamol, and Ibuprofen are some common painkillers that work wonders for pains in the human body. However, a human’s metabolism is way different from that of pups, and these drugs can be very toxic to dogs, even when administered in small doses.

Giving your sick puppy these drugs can have significant side effects like severe bleeding, gastrointestinal ulcers, and kidney failure. So, what should you do when your pet is in pain? A pain reliever for you will not always be the best solution for your pup. Visit the vet and get them to recommend the necessary painkillers to your sick dog. 

What Pain Medicine Is Safe For Dogs?

Although human medicine has developed faster than animal medicine, there have been notable milestones in veterinary medicine that have helped animals enjoy healthier and longer lives. One of these many milestones is the creation of animal-specific drugs for specific health conditions.

Today, dogs- like humans- have painkillers to cater to their needs without the toxic side effects that human pain medicines often have on them. These drugs are safe, readily available and are bound to help your poor pooch feel better in no time as long as you stick to the dosage your vet recommends.

There are numerous medications your vet might recommend to your dog, depending on how severe the pain is and other symptoms. The different drugs also vary with your dog’s health history, age, and other physiological factors. These different medications include:


NSAIDs stand for Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs and refer to the group of drugs commonly used for human and animal patients. NSAIDs are most used as an anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving, and anti-fever drugs.  NSAIDs work as a pain medicine by being cyclo-oxygenase or COX inhibitors. The COX enzymes- COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes- produce prostaglandins which cause inflammation, pain, and fever. 

When cell damage occurs due to an irritation or injury, the COX is activated, producing prostaglandins. Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory drugs block the COX enzymes to limit the production of prostaglandins. Some NSAIDs are also used to block the activity of certain prostaglandins instead of all.

Regardless of what NSAID is administered, the overall result is reduced pain and inflammation for quick relief. However, since prostaglandins are also necessary for protecting the stomach lining, platelet function, and blood flow to the kidneys, using NSAIDs has side effects. Some adverse effects of NSAIDs include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Decreased appetites
  • Diarrhea 
  • Lower activity level
  • Some extreme effects like stomach ulcers, intestinal perforations, and kidney and liver failure- especially when it is abused.

Some examples of  FDA-approved NSAIDs for your pup include:

  • Carprofen
  • Deracoxib, e.g., Deramaxx
  • Etodolac
  • Firocoxib, e.g., Previcox
  • Meloxicam, e.g., Metacam
  • Robenacoxib, e.g., Onsior
  • Gapiprant, e.g., Galliprant

NSAIDs are either administered orally or by injections. ‘But Aspirins are NSAID. Why can’t my dog use Aspirins?’ is a common question many pet owners often ask. 

Aspirin is an over-the-counter (OTC) NSAID that humans and dogs can use. However, it has to be according to your vet’s dosage, and for a short period, it poses severe risks. These risks include gastrointestinal irritation, acute stomach ulcers, and bleeding in the stomach or intestines.

2. Opioids

Opioids and opioid-like drugs are drugs used to reduce pain. Although they relieve dogs’ pain, they do not soothe inflammation like NSAIDs. Opiates are potent drugs and are undoubtedly one of the most vital pain medications for dogs and are often reserved for dogs with acute or severe pain. Opioids and opioid-like drugs are often used for dogs in surgical pain, to control arthritis pain or some instances of dog cancer.

Opioids are sometimes referred to as narcotics and are not available as over-the-counter drugs. Because certain opioids are being abused as recreational drugs by people, opioids and opioid-like drugs are usually scrutinized and operated with a tight fist. Before your dog can get an opioid drug for its pain, it has to be prescribed by a vet.

Opioids work as pain blockers. They attach to specific proteins known as opioid receptors on the nerve cells of parts of the body like the brain, spinal cord, and gut. When this cellular interaction happens, the opioid drug blocks pain messages sent from the body to the brain.

Some potent pain-relieving opioids for your dog include:

  • Morphine
  • Fentanyl
  • Buprenorphine
  • Codeine
  • Hydromorphone

Tramadol used to be one of the most effective opioids for dogs. However, studies have shown that it might not be as potent as many vets think.

3. Gabapentin

Gabapentin is one of those drugs used by humans and dogs. It is an anticonvulsant and analgesic drug used to control seizures and reduce neuropathic pain. Gabapentin is used to relieve dogs with a damaged nervous system. Unlike NSAIDs and Opioids, Gabapentin is only reserved for cases with dogs suffering from seizures, chronic pain, and anxiety.

Although Gabapentin is approved for human use, it is not FDA-approved for animals, meaning it is often prescribed as an off-label or extra-label drug for dogs. Although the effects of Gabapentin on dogs in pain are good enough to be applauded, like other drugs, it comes with side effects.

Some common side effects include possible allergy and drowsiness. To beat these side effects, vets often recommend a small starting dose that will either increase or decrease depending on how well your dog fares.

Midsection Of Nurse Giving Injection To Dachshund

4. Steroids

Steroids, also called glucocorticoids or cortisone, reduce pain and inflammation. They work by mimicking the actions of the corticosteroid hormone produced in the adrenal glands. Corticosteroids are involved in a wide range of activities in the body, like stress response, nutrient metabolism, immune system response to stimuli, and control of inflammation.

However, steroids have a higher concentration than naturally-produced corticosteroids. Steroids are often reserved for emergencies and inflammations, not specifically for pain. They are incredibly potent with equally severe side effects. Therefore, steroids are only used with a vet’s prescription.

Vets often prescribe steroids in cases where dogs have severe allergic reactions, cancer, or inflammation. They are usually applied topically on the site of inflammation as cream drugs, used orally, or administered as injections. Some side effects steroids may have on your dog include:

Steroids are not used on pregnant dogs as they may result in malformed fetuses or miscarriages. They are also never used as a long-term solution, as long-term use can lead to weakened bones, alopecia (hair fallout), and thin skin.

5. Amantadine

Amantadine is an antiviral drug that doubles as a pain medicine for dogs. It perfectly complements many other pain medicines and is often paired with NSAIDs, opioids, or Gabapentin. Amantadine reduces pain by reducing the sensitization to pain in the central nervous system.

This makes it an excellent drug for treating severe or neuropathic pain. Although it is often administered by many vets when necessary, Amantadine is an off-label drug that has not been FDA-approved for dogs. It is often administered orally in capsule, liquid or tablet form.

Amantadine is a safe pain medicine for dogs without any toxic side effects. However, if your dog shows signs of vomiting, excess saliva production, tremors, and incoordination, you shouldn’t be worried as long as the dosage is exactly as the vet prescribed.

How To Make Your Pup Feel Better

There are natural methods to offer your dog relief from pain. However, it is essential to note that these methods do not provide permanent relief. To be on the safe side and ensure your dog gets the help it needs, remember to visit the vet as soon as possible.

  • Ice packs: Ice packs are a great way to reduce swelling on a site of closed injury. Simply wrap an ice pack in a towel and gently place it on the swollen area for about 5 to 10 minutes. If your dog resists the pack, it might be better to drop this method and try other natural pain relief methods.
  • Hot towels: These are great for stiff muscles and muscle pain. However, hot towels are not recommended for every type of injury. Make sure the towel is warm and clean. Place it over the area for about 5 minutes.
  • Rest: Rest is a great way to give your dog’s muscles a break. Create a comfortable area for your pup to lie down.
  • Massage: Massaging an area stimulates blood flow and, in some cases, reduces inflammation. Ensure you stay away from the site that might be causing your pup to feel pain so as not to make things worse.
  • Visit a vet: Most importantly, it is essential to visit a professional vet that can provide the help your pup needs.
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Sarah Brady

Sarah Brady is an animal lover and the proud dog-mom of a Golden Retriever named Brody and an Italian Greyhound named Jessup. Unfortunately, Jessup developed serious allergies to many different types of dog foods and ingredients when she was just a puppy. Meanwhile, Brody could eat seemingly anything and carry on as healthy as could be. Sarah spent hours of time researching and testing different foods and brands before finding something that worked for little Jessup. She wants Dog Food Care to simplify this experience for future dog-parents who face food allergy or tolerance issues of their own.