What Can I Give My Dog for Pain Relief?

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There is nothing worse than seeing your dog suffer from pain. Whether he’s been injured, is sick, or there is something else bothering him that you can’t identify, your first reaction is to do anything you can to help – including medicating him. This approach, however, can be dangerous.


What NOT to Give Your Dog

We often think of dogs as human. After all, they’re part of our families and we love them as if they were human. But that doesn’t mean they are – and it certainly doesn’t mean we can give them human remedies for canine afflictions. Common over-the-counter pain relief medications like Advil, Aleve and Tylenol are safe for humans, even in higher than recommended doses.

But these same drugs – even a small dose of them – can be very dangerous, and even deadly if used as medication for dogs. Whenever your dog is experiencing pain – go see a veterinarian. Whether you book an appointment or go to an emergency vet clinic, do not give your dog anything for pain until you consult with a professional first. Failure to do so could be dangerous for your dog – and certainly more dangerous than whatever is causing him pain.

How Can I Tell If My Dog is in Pain?

Obviously, dogs cannot talk. They can bark, yelp, and sometimes even howl, but they can’t tell you if they are in pain, let alone what is causing it. This can be excruciating for owners. When your dog is hurt, you hurt. But it can also lead to rash, and dangerous decisions.

As a dog owner, you must control the impulse to “treat” your dog for pain on your own. First, you should look for the signs of pain in your dog. Some dogs can be quite stoic, and even if they are suffering, they will not show it. On the other side of the coin, some dogs will yelp and howl at the slightest bit of pain. The following signs can help you determine whether your dog is in pain:


Your dog may bite himself or even nip at you if you touch the area he is feeling pain in. If your dog is biting himself or others – and is not normally a biter – this can be a strong indication that he is suffering from pain.

Red and Dilated Eyes

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Your dog’s eyes can be strong indicators of numerous health issues, including pain. If your dog is suffering from pain in his eyes, his pupils make constrict and his eyes will likely be bloodshot. If he is suffering from pain in another part of his body, he may have larger, dilated pupils. While the eyes can’t diagnose exactly what is wrong they can tell you that something is bothering your dog.


You know your dog well enough to notice even small changes in his behavior and actions. Changes in posture can signal pain in your dog’s body. When a dog is in pain, he will likely stand more rigidly than normal, and he may have his hackles up. These both signal an overall discomfort. Your dog may also get into the “downward dog” yoga pose for extended periods of time.

The Tail

In the wild, dogs use their tails to communicate with other pack members when hunting. Like many other dog behaviors, it is hardwired into their DNA. If your dog is in pain, he may communicate with his tail. If you have a dog whose tail is normally erect and he is tucking it between his legs, he may be in pain.


Rapid change in energy level is normally an indication that your dog is suffering from pain or some other health issue. Normally active dogs can become lethargic, seemingly for no reason, and more laid back dogs can sleep even more and move less than they already do. You know your dog’s normal energy level. If you notice it has quickly changed, make an appointment with your vet.

Food and Water

Like energy, your dog has a normal consumption schedule. If he appears to drink more or less water, or eat less, this could be a sign of pain in the body. If your dog turns up his nose at dinner, something is probably off. That, or he got into the cabinet and ate a bunch of your food!


Swelling on any part of your dog’s body likely means he is in pain. Swelling and inflammation are the body’s response to infection, injury and disease. If you can visually identify swelling there’s a good chance your dog is hurting.

What to Do if Your Dog is in Pain

If you are concerned that your dog is in pain, and you have noticed some of these dog pain symptoms above, the best thing you can do is take your dog to the vet. If the situation looks serious, take your dog to an emergency vet clinic. A veterinarian will always know best when it comes to determining what is wrong with your dog, and what treatment is appropriate.

Do not take it upon yourself to make a diagnosis, and do not give your dog any medicine that has not been prescribed by your vet. Until you get to the vet’s office, the best thing you can do for your dog is to make his surroundings comfortable. Give him pillows and blankets, and make sure he has water nearby. Watch his behavior closely. The more information you can give your vet, the more quickly they will be able to diagnose and treat him.

Why Can’t I Give My Dog Pain Medication?

You should never give your dog human pain medications. In short, they are highly toxic for dogs, and can lead to severe health issues and even death. Popular over-the-counter pain medications – including Aleve, Tylenol and Advil – are for adult consumption only. Since these medications like aspirin and ibuprofen are virtually harmless to humans and are used to treat everything from light pain to a common cold, too many people make the mistake of thinking they will have the same benefits for dogs. In reality, they can kill dogs.

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What You Need to Know About NSAIDS

One of the most popular painkillers on the market is naproxen, which is a Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug (NSAID) used to treat pain, fever, swelling, stiffness, and joint pain associated with arthritis. Naproxen works to reduce swelling by blocking an enzyme called cyclooxygenase (COX). COX produces hormones that protect the gastrointestinal system and help with kidney function. However, dogs have very sensitive digestive systems and thinner stomach lining than humans, meaning these medications run a high risk of causing bleeding and ulceration of the gastrointestinal tract, as well as kidney failure in dogs. Ibuprofen is another popular NSAID. Like naproxen, it is used to treat various conditions in humans, from headaches to rheumatoid arthritis — but it is not safe for dogs.  


Side Effects of NSAIDS

NSAIDs have a high risk of adverse reactions in dogs including: 

  • loss of appetite
  • bleeding
  • skin redness/ scabs
  • kidney failure
  • vomiting
  • internal bleeding