Effective Pain Relief for Dogs: Learn the Pros and Cons

Share on

Learn the options for relieving your dog's pain.

Developing aches and pains is an unfortunate part of your dog’s aging process. But dogs can't tell us when they are hurting and may even try to hide their pain. If you suspect your dog is in pain, visit your veterinarian to see what's ailing them, and keep reading to learn more about dog pain relief options and what to give dogs for pain. 

An owner petting their fluffy white dog that is in pain lying on the floor.

What Dog Pain Relief Options Are Available?

NSAID Pain Relievers for Dogs

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) pain relievers are the most common type of pain relief available for dogs. But that doesn’t mean you should reach into your own medicine cabinet — human-safe NSAIDs aren’t suitable for canines. Instead, your veterinarian can recommend an NSAID designed and tested just for dogs, such as carprofen, a common active ingredient used in veterinary medicine for pain control.  

Pain relievers for dogs that contain NSAIDs reduce inflammation and swelling within your pet’s body. They require a prescription from your veterinarian. 

Pros:

  • NSAIDs are especially helpful with inflammatory causes of pain like osteoarthritis, injuries and post-surgical pain.
  • These medications usually provide quick pain relief for dogs.
  • NSAIDs are available in a variety of forms, including savory soft chews that make dosing easy for the dog and owner.
  • NSAIDs are regulated by the FDA and have undergone numerous safety studies.

Cons:

  • NSAIDs may cause side effects, including vomiting, diarrhea or ulcers.
  • If a dog takes NSAIDs over a long period of time, this may require periodic checkups with a veterinarian to monitor liver and kidney function.
A golden retriever sitting on a vet’s table with a pink cast on its leg.

Other Prescription Pain Relievers for Dogs

In addition to NSAIDs, veterinarians sometimes prescribe other types of pain relievers for dogs, such as gabapentin. 

Pros:

  • Prescription medications can help relieve pain quickly. 
  • These pain relievers may be used as part of a multitiered therapy approach.

Cons:

  • Gabapentin may make dogs sleepy. It can also cause side effects like sedation and loss of coordination.
  • Others may cause drowsiness, stomach upset and vomiting in dogs. 
  • If given in a larger dose than prescribed, these medications are dangerous.

Remember that you should never give your dog a human medication unless your veterinarian has prescribed it, and always follow the dosing recommendation.


Weight Management and Special Diet 

One of the most effective steps you can take for the long-term health of your dog is to help them maintain or achieve a healthy body weight. Extra weight puts unnecessary pressure on the joints, which can increase inflammation and pain. Plus, fat tissue itself can lead to more inflammation.  

To help ease your dog's pain, your veterinarian may prescribe a prescription diet designed to reduce joint pain. This entails feeding your dog a pet food containing increased levels of ingredients such as omega-3, glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate that may help soothe aching joints and protect against cartilage breakdown. Additionally, fish oil is a popular dietary supplement that may help support dog joint health. It's a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, which may help ease pain by decreasing inflammation in the body. Fish oil may also provide heart health and immune system benefits. 

Pros:

  • It can be simple to implement a diet and exercise routine for your dog at home. 
  • Simple changes like feeding fewer treats or table scraps go a long way. 
  • Some prescription diets have a low-calorie formulation, which can help overweight dogs. 
  • Gentle, low-impact exercise is extremely good for your dog and can help keep their joints moving. 
  • Regular exercise is a great way to bond with your dog. 

Cons: 

  • High-impact activities such as too much jumping or running could make the pain worse, so be sure to stick to lower-impact activities. 
  • Switching diets can cause gastrointestinal upset if the transition isn’t gradual enough. 
  • There are a lot of options when it comes to dog supplements, diets and exercise regimens, which can become overwhelming. Plus, not all dogs respond the same way to each diet or weight management program. Consulting your vet can help you choose the best option for your dog’s unique needs.  


Exercises, Acupuncture and Cold-laser Therapy

A relaxing massage can do wonders for pain in humans, and for dogs, there can be a benefit, too. Physical pain-relieving therapies are usually available for dogs through your veterinarian. They include massage, electrical stimulation, physical therapy exercises, acupuncture and cold-laser therapy. 

Pros:

  • Physical therapy services can be performed on dogs of any age.
  • They work safely with other types of pain relief.
  • You can do some exercises and massage techniques with your dog at home.
  • Physical therapies can improve mobility and range of motion as well as relieve muscle tension.

Cons:

  • Therapy sessions can be costly for owners and require multiple treatments.
  • Pain relief isn’t always immediate from physical therapy.
  • Some dogs may not sit still for procedures like massage or acupuncture and could become stressed by the visits.
  • Pet insurance may not cover therapy sessions.


Helpful Changes at Home

For joint pain, there are other steps you can take at home to help ease your dog's pain: 

  • An orthopedic dog bed can help support your dog's joints when they sleep. Look for beds that are washable for easy cleaning. 
  • Ramps make it more comfortable for your dog when getting on and off the bed and couch, or in and out of the car. 
  • Nonslip rugs and mats can provide extra grip as your dog walks around the house, especially if you have slippery floors like hardwood. 

Pros: 

  • There are a variety of options for owners to choose from. 

Cons:

  • The cost of accessibility items can quickly add up. 

Remember to discuss these potential ways to ease your dog's pain with your veterinarian first and always follow their instructions and dosing recommendations. Learn more about the signs of discomfort in dogs and  supplements for senior dogs.

Share On

EM-US-22-0296

Date of review: December 2022

© 2023 Elanco or its affiliates