Pain Medications for Dogs

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on January 09, 2023
3 min read

If you notice your dog isn't quite themselves lately, it could be because they are in pain. They could have an injury, an infection, or a disease. Or maybe they are starting to feel the aches of aging.

When your pet hurts, you want to help them feel better. But don’t try to guess what their problem may be. Visit your veterinarian to find out what's wrong. 

There are different ways to help ease their pain. Your vet will recommend medication based on what's going on and your dog's health history.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, help reduce swelling, stiffness, and joint pain in humans, and they can do the same for your dog. They can bring relief to a dog with arthritis or one who’s just had surgery.

But don't give your pooch something from your medicine cabinet. Do not give your dog ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

There are some NSAIDs just for dogs:

  • Carprofen (Novox or Rimadyl)
  • Deracoxib (Deramaxx)
  • Firocoxib (Previcox)
  • Meloxicam (Metacam)
  • Grapiprant (Galliprant) 

NSAIDs are usually safe for dogs and have few side effects. But in some cases, they can cause or worsen kidney, liver, or digestive problems.

You may be able to tell if your dog is having a bad reaction to an NSAID. An easy way to remember the signs is with the word BEST:

  • Behavior changes
  • Eating less
  • Skin redness, scabs
  • Tarry stool/diarrhea/vomiting

If you spot these symptoms, stop giving your dog the drug and call your vet.

Because NSAIDs are usually good at relieving pain, veterinarians don't often prescribe other kinds of painkillers. But sometimes, your dog may need more options. Your vet may talk to you about gabapentin or tramadol.

  • Gabapentin treats pain from damaged nerves in humans and dogs. It may make your dog sleepy for the first few days, but that usually goes away. Sometimes your vet will prescribe it along with other drugs.
  • Tramadol is a painkiller that works partly like other mild opioid medications. Vets sometimes give it to aging dogs with constant discomfort. Some side effects that may occur include an upset stomach, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, and dizziness. Talk to your vet if you are concerned.

Veterinarians give stronger opiates only for a short while. They usually don’t prescribe steroids for pain because they can have serious side effects. 

Supplements, like glucosamine and chondroitin, are very popular alternative treatments. It’s not clear if they help, but some research has found that they may make swelling go down and help cartilage repair itself. They also may help protect and lubricate existing cartilage. 

Always talk to your vet before giving your dog any medications, including supplements.

Ask for a written copy of the treatment plan, as well as instructions (and a demonstration) for how to give the medicines to your pet. Be sure to give the drug only as your vet recommends. Too much or too little can cause problems. Don't share medications between dogs. What's good for one animal may not be the right thing for another.

You may not be able to relieve all of your dog’s pain, but you should be able to make them feel better. With your vet's guidance, you may need to try different things to find out what brings the most relief.