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.
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 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
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.
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.
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. They are also toxic for dogs. NSAIDs have a high risk of side effects in dogs – particularly issues with the stomach and kidneys. There is technically a very low dose of naproxen that may not cause side effects in your dog, but dogs can overdose on as little as one pill of naproxen. For this reason, you should store naproxen where your dog can’t get to it.
Here’s how naproxen works: it reduces swelling by blocking an enzyme called cyclooxygenase (COX). COX produces hormones that protect the gastrointestinal system and help with kidney function. However, these medications can cause bleeding and ulceration of the gastrointestinal tract, as well as kidney failure in dogs. This is because dogs have very sensitive digestive systems and thinner stomach lining than humans.
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. Never give your dog human medications unless your veterinarian prescribes them, which is rare. Ibuprofen and other human painkillers are extremely bad for dogs. Just a single dose can cause stomach or kidney problems. Overdoses can also rapidly cause bleeding, kidney failure – or even death.
What to Do if Your Dog Ingests Naproxen or Ibuprofen
The symptoms of painkiller poisoning in dogs are vomiting, bloody diarrhea, weakness, lethargy, internal bleeding, stomach ulcers, anemia, irregular heartbeat, depression, and black or dark-colored feces. If you suspect or believe that your dog has ingested a human painkiller, like Aleve, Advil or Tylenol, go immediately to a veterinarian. If your dog is indeed poisoned, your vet will suggest treatment that may even include a blood transfusion if your dog has lost a lot of blood from internal bleeding.
It will also help eliminate poison from your dog’s body as soon as possible. Veterinarians may also call for an intravenous (IV) fluid drip with electrolytes, potassium, B-vitamins and antacids to replenish your dog’s system.
What Can I Give My Dog for Pain?
There are some NSAIDs that are specifically designed to treat dogs as a pain reliever, including Deramaxx, Previcox, Metacam, and Rimadyl. These NSAIDs help reduce swelling, stiffness, and joint pain in dogs, but be sure to not be tempted to give your dog NSAIDs for people. All of these drugs are certified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and are available by prescription from a vet. NSAIDs for dogs have far less risk of complication than NSAIDs for humans.
They can still be dangerous in large doses however, so as a pet owner you should never give them to your dog if they are not being prescribed by your vet. Your vet will work with you to determine the right medication and right dosage for your dog. Every dog is different, so your vet may try a few different combinations to see what works best.
Depending on where the pain is coming from, and how severe it is, your vet may prescribe one or more of the following medications.
Steroids are used to control inflammation in extreme pain. Because they are stronger than NSAIDs, they are only prescribed by vets in rare cases. Popular steroids include: Prednisone, dexamethasone, and corticosteroids – among others.
Opiates do not “relieve” pain – they block the ability to feel it. They are narcotics and can be simply too strong for dogs. In fact, they are rarely prescribed by vets, and only used in severe cases.
Some antidepressant drugs are also effective in pain management for dogs. Your vet may even combine them with natural supplements, including…
Certain supplements, including Omega-3 fatty acids and glucosamine, are sometimes prescribed along with other painkilling drugs to help dogs manage pain over the long term.
Natural Pain Relief for Dogs
Prescription and over the counter pain medications are not the only ways to relieve and cure pain in dogs. There are a variety of natural pain relief options as well. The following herbs can be effectively used for pain relief for dogs – and you won’t have to worry about your dog having complications from manufactured drugs:
Ginger eases pain by stopping the immune system from producing leukotrienes, which cause inflammation. Mixing raw ginger root into your dog’s food may help ease his pain – especially if it is caused by arthritis.
Cayenne peppers contain capsaicin, which helps relieve pain and increase circulation to connective tissues and joints. It is normally used as a topical reliever, but can also be used internally when mixed with other herbs.
This desert plant boasts a variety of medicinal properties. Yucca contains steroidal saponins, which have been shown to effectively relieve joint pain and inflammation in human arthritis patients as well as dogs.
There are many other natural herbs, including alfalfa, licorice and frankincense. Do some research, and decide with your vet which approach is right for your dog.
The Best Thing You Can do For Your Dog
When your dog is in pain, you are in pain as well. But you must keep in mind that the best thing you can do for your dog is get immediate help from a vet. Pain in dogs can be tough to notice, and even tougher to diagnose. It is best left to professionals. Your job is to stay abreast of your dog’s health at all times, and make him comfortable without giving him medical treatment.
Do everything you can to create a comfortable space for your dog before you get him to the vet. Bring him a bed, or a pillow and a blanket to him so he can lay down on something soft. Make sure you have water nearby so he doesn’t have to get up to drink. As soon as you can, go to the vet. The faster you get your dog to a vet, the faster he can be healed. Waiting too long can lead to permanent health issues and even death, dependent on what is causing your dog’s pain.
And always remember, give your dog the love and attention he needs in times of pain!