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Pain Management for Dogs
Nothing is harder than seeing your dog in pain. Noticing that they're hurting but not being able to easily figure out why can make the situation even more challenging.
As a loving pet parent, you want to relieve your dog from pain as soon as possible. But pain management in dogs isn’t as easy as picking up some Ibuprofen from the grocery store like we might do for ourselves.
To effectively treat pain in your dog, you will need to figure out the cause. Luckily, you have found this article. Read along to learn everything you should know about pain management in dogs.
Causes of Pain in Dogs—Signs and Symptoms
The first step to effective pain management in dogs is understanding the causes and knowing what symptoms to look for.
There are many different things that can cause pain in dogs, just like people. The most obvious cause is if your dog has an injury, a cut, or has undergone a surgical procedure.
Other less obvious conditions that can cause pain in your dog include infections, arthritis, dental issues, bone disease, and cancer, etc.
Some of these causes are serious health conditions that need a proper diagnosis from your veterinarian and specialized treatment.
Your vet will analyze your dog and ask crucial questions such as the exact location of your dog’s pain, when it started, and your dog's medical history.
The diagnosis will include routine tests like a biochemistry panel, urinalysis, blood count, etc., to help determine the potential causes.
Sometimes, your veterinarian may also order x-rays or ultrasounds to look for any internal issues causing the pain.
A dog in pain may show any of the below signs:
- Behavioral changes
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Decrease in appetite
- Swelling in specific areas
- Reluctant to move
- Protects a body part
- Less social interactions
- Scratching a particular body part
- Dull eyes
- Abnormally quiet or docile
Since your dog cannot tell you when they are hurting, paying attention to these signs will help you recognize when something is amiss.
Informing your vet of any signs that you notice will assist them in determining your dog's issue.
Types of Pain Treatments for Dogs
The best pain treatment for your dog will depend on the diagnosis made.
While you may be tempted to give your dog pain medication meant for humans or other pets (even another dog), it is important that you refrain until you've consulted your veterinarian.
Giving unprescribed medications to your dog can lead to more problems and worse outcomes.
Below are some types of pain medications that your vet may recommend depending on your dog’s condition.
NSAIDs for Dogs
One of the notable pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory medications (for both people and animals) are the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Examples of human NSAIDs include ibuprofen, aspirin, naproxen, etc. However, you should not give your canine friend one of these medicines as they can cause serious side effects in dogs.
NSAIDs reduce pain and inflammation by blocking prostaglandins, crucial chemical messengers in the body.
When cell damage occurs, the enzyme cyclooxygenase (COX) is activated.
Enzymes are essential proteins made in the body and help carry out specific functions in the body. COX enzyme produces prostaglandins and other substances when damaged.
NSAIDs affect the substances that some prostaglandins release after cell damage. But other prostaglandins perform crucial bodily functions that shouldn't be interfered with, including:
- Supporting normal blood clotting
- Regulating gastric acid secretion
- Protecting the stomach's lining
- Maintaining blood flow through the kidneys
Dogs are more sensitive to NSAIDs than humans. As such, you should only give your dog NSAIDs meant for dogs.
NSAIDs Side Effects on Your Dog
As stated, giving your dog NSAIDs may interfere with the positive effects of prostaglandins, leading to side effects. According to the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, here are the common NSAIDs side effects in dogs:
- Decreased appetite
- Reduced level of activity
NSAIDs can have other adverse effects on your dog, including gastrointestinal bleeding, stomach and intestinal ulcers, renal infection, liver failure, kidney failure, and in the worst case, death.
NSAID effects are mainly seen in the kidneys, liver, and digestive tract.
NSAIDs Effects on Your Dog's Liver
The side effects of NSAIDs in the liver can be either dose-dependent or dose-independent.
Dose-dependent side effects depend on the dose—the higher the NSAID dosage to your dog, the worse the side effects to the liver. This often occurs when a dog accidentally takes a large amount of NSAIDs.
On the other hand, dose-independent side effects refer to the unpredictable reaction your dog gets even if they take the correct NSAID dosage, which is usually the case if your dog's liver is more sensitive to NSAID medications.
Kidney Side Effects
As stated, one of the benefits of prostaglandins is that they help maintain blood flow in the kidneys. NSAIDs can interfere with some prostaglandin activity, leading to reduced blood flow in the kidneys.
This can lead to kidney damage or failure in the long term in dogs with kidney disease or other issues that reduce blood flow to the kidneys.
NSAIDs Effects on the Digestive Tract
NSAIDs can also affect your dog's stomach and intestines. If an NSAID (which is acidic) is trapped in the stomach lining it may cause irritation, which has a direct effect on your dog’s stomach.
The effect on your dog’s GI tract can also be indirect, as a result of NSAIDs preventing the production of prostaglandins or blocking their protective activity.
Examples of Safe NSAIDs for Dogs
Having seen the side effects of NSAIDs in dogs, you may wonder whether there are safe options for dogs. The good news is that there are many FDA-approved NSAIDs for dogs available today.
These medications require a veterinarian's prescription, as the FDA has not approved any over-the-counter NSAIDs for dogs.
Any dog NSAID marketed without a veterinarian prescription is a red flag, and pet parents should avoid it. Examples of safe NSAIDs for dogs include:
This nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) is an effective osteoarthritis medicine that many vets give to dogs suffering from pain. With this medicine, you can be sure that your dog will return to normal behavior with improved emotional well-being.
Rimadyl is available in two forms:
The medicine is available by prescription only.
Another safe NSAID for dogs is Carprovet (Carprofen) Flavored Tablets.
Carprovet Flavored Tablets for dogs are an effective pain and inflammation relief medicine that your veterinarian can recommend, especially if the pain is associated with soft tissue and orthopedic surgeries in dogs.
As the name suggests, this medicine is flavored (beef, to be specific), making it easy for dogs to take.
The product requires prescription approval. Your vet will also advise on the proper dosage and duration of treatment for best results.
Meloxicam Tablets for Dogs is another safe dog NSAID that your vet may prescribe for your dog. This anti-inflammatory drug is effective for the treatment of joint pain and inflammation in dogs.
Gabapentin for Dogs
While veterinarians often prescribe NSAIDs to dogs in pain, it may not be the ideal choice for all situations. If your dog needs other medication options, your vet may prescribe Gabapentin.
Gabapentin helps treat chronic pain associated with damaged nerves in dogs and cats, along with neurological pain in the brain or spinal cord. It can also be used to control seizures in dogs due to its anticonvulsant properties. So, if your dog is suffering from chronic or neuropathic pain, Gabapentin may be your vet’s recommendation.
Pet parents should be aware that while Gabapentin is not FDA-approved for pets, vets do commonly prescribe it for pain and anxiety relief in dogs. In most cases, your vet will prescribe it alongside other pain-relieving medication to enhance its effectiveness.
Your vet can only prescribe the capsule or tablet form of Gabapentin. The liquid form of Gabapentin (meant for humans) contains xylitol, a toxic substance to dogs.
One of the side effects of Gabapentin when given to dogs is sedation and sleepiness. Talk to your vet to help determine the best gabapentin dosage for your dog.
Other Pain Medication Options for Dogs
As stated, most vets will prescribe NSAIDs for pain in dogs because they are generally very effective and have minimal risks or damaging side effects. However, it doesn't hurt to highlight other pain medication options available for dogs. These includes:
This category of drugs works by blocking the dog's ability to recognize the pain they're experiencing. Opioids are narcotic, making them one of the strongest pain medications available.
However, vets typically prefer NSAIDs over opiates since the latter involve the use of highly regulated substances. Dogs can also develop a tolerance to opiates.
A vet will only prescribe opioids for severe cases and only for a short period. Examples of opiates include Morphine, Codeine, etc.
Steroids like Prednisolone can help with inflammation that causes severe pain. However, like opiates, steroids can cause severe side effects in dogs, including bacterial skin infections, lethargy, and Cushing’s Disease. For this reason, veterinarians generally prefer NSAIDs over steroids for the treatment of pain in dogs.
Dog supplements containing omega-3 oils, glucosamine, and chondroitin may help reduce inflammation in the joints. For example, LubriSyn HA Horse & Pet Joint Supplement protects and lubricates the dog's joints which is key to reducing pain around the joints.
Natural Pain Relief for Dogs
Some pet parents may want to avoid pain medication options for dogs or want alternatives to use alongside the prescribed medication. Below are measures that can help reduce pain and discomfort in your dog:
Massage helps stimulate blood flow to the affected body areas, which reduces inflammation. Of course, this should be done by a qualified person to avoid injuries and ensure its effectiveness.
Cold packs can help reduce inflammation and pain caused by acute injury. On the other hand, heat packs can help with muscle pain and joint stiffness.
Like massaging, heat therapy should be done by an experienced person to avoid causing discomfort to your dog.
As you’ve now seen, NSAIDs for dogs are commonly used for the treatment of dog pain and are generally seen as both effective and safe. However, whether your dog has dental pain or osteoarthritis, you should always consult with your vet before giving any medication.
Your veterinarian will analyze your dog and prescribe the best pain medication for their circumstances. Make sure to let your vet know if your dog has any underlying medical conditions, is taking any other medications, or has had an adverse reaction to a medication in the past.
While you might be tempted to give your dog one of your NSAIDs, you must not do that as it can cause serious side effects. Only give your dog medication that was prescribed by your vet and follow your dog's prescription dosage and course of treatment to ensure the safety of your canine friend.
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