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What Can I Give My Dog for Pain Relief?

By Colleen Williams and medically reviewed by JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM
published: November 1, 2017 - updated: January 4, 2024 • 8 min. read
options for pain medication for dogs

Key Takeaways

  • Signs like whimpering and panting can tell you your dog is in pain. Always check with a veterinarian before giving any medication.
  • Overdoses of pain medication can be serious and even fatal. If you suspect your dog or cat has ingested an over-the-counter painkiller, get them to the vet immediately.
  • Your vet may prescribe a painkiller specifically for dogs, or suggest other remedies such as physical therapy, acupuncture, or natural supplements.

It can be difficult to detect when animals are feeling pain: after all, they can’t show us where it hurts or explain the type of pain, however, signs like whimpering and panting can tell you something’s up. The last thing you want is your beloved pup suffering, but this desire to soothe your pet’s pain can lead to accidental poisoning. Bottom line: Human medicines like ibuprofen and acetaminophen are not designed for dogs and should never be given without a veterinarian’s approval.

How do I know my dog is in pain?

Dog who looks sad

Signs of pain can be physical or vocal, including:

  • Whining or barking upon touch, yelping during play
  • Reduced appetite
  • Symptoms of depression (becoming unfriendly and snapping at the lightest touch)
  • Elevated heart rate and high blood pressure
  • Loud, quick breathing
  • Limping and mobility issues
  • Hiding or antisocial behavior
  • Change in posture

You know your dog better than anyone else; sudden changes in activity level or interest are warning signs something is going on. Avoidance of favorite activities like walking or playing fetch can indicate an unwillingness or inability to exercise due to pain. If a normally friendly dog becomes snappish or constantly grumpy, that’s another red flag. It can be difficult to determine when to take your dog to the vet – it isn’t cheap, we know – but catching a potential health issue early gives pets the best possible outcome.

Protect your pet

What causes pain in dogs?

X-ray of a dog

The root of a pet’s pain is not always immediately apparent. While in some cases the cause may be obvious – a broken limb or post-surgery – most of the time the animal is suffering in silence. Sometimes the pain’s location can be difficult to identify. For example, visceral pain, such as abdominal pain, can be challenging for a vet to pinpoint. Pay attention to any changes in your dog’s behavior, especially in senior pets and after medical procedures. Some pain in dogs appears only after certain kinds of activity, like hiking or high-intensity exercise, or as a result of actions like eating or going potty.

Chronic pain: Degenerative diseases like osteoarthritis and degenerative myelopathy, which affects the spinal cord, are more likely to arise in senior dogs and can be very painful if left untreated. Dog hip pain is the most common type, frequently caused by canine hip dysplasia or arthritis. Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) occurs more often in certain dog breeds, like Dachshunds and Shih Tzus, commonly known as a “bulging” or herniated disc.

Acute pain: In addition to incident-related injuries or broken bones, internal pain can be acute and needs immediate vet attention. For example, stomach pain can indicate a serious medical condition like peritonitis, an infection of the stomach or intestines caused by a puncture (chicken bone splinters and swallowed objects are common culprits). A stomach virus, or enteritis, can also be to blame, caused by parasites and worms in dogs. Tumors and some types of cancer in dogs can also lead to stomach pain as the disease progresses, so catching cancer early is of utmost importance.

Are human OTC meds safe for dogs?

Over-the-counter pain medications for humans primarily come in two forms:

  • Medications called NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), such as ibuprofen (Advil), aspirin, and naproxen (Aleve) are the most commonly known painkillers for humans.
  • Acetaminophen, contained in brand-name medications such as Tylenol, Sudafed, and Benadryl, is used to treat mild and moderate aches and pains. It also reduces fever. Unlike NSAIDs, acetaminophen does not act as an anti-inflammatory, although experts have been unable to pinpoint exactly how it works. Acetaminophen can be used to ease pain from menstrual cramps, arthritis discomfort, muscle sprains, fevers, or headaches.

Are NSAIDs safe for dogs?

No, It is not safe to give your dog any amount of human-specific anti-inflammatory unless your vet recommends it and provides you with strict instructions. These medications were formulated for humans and affect other parts of the body such as the kidneys and the gastrointestinal tract.

Risks and side effects of NSAIDs

It’s easy to give your dog the wrong dosage, which can be fatal. Even when given the correct amount some pets may experience an adverse reaction, such as:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Gastrointestinal ulcers
  • Kidney dysfunction
  • Liver damage
  • Interactions with other drugs your pet is prescribed

Can I give my dog Acetaminophen (Tylenol; paracetamol)?

No. Like ibuprofen and aspirin, these medications were formulated for humans and can cause kidney or liver damage in dogs. Any amount of Tylenol can potentially cause your pet great harm.

Risks and side effects of acetaminophen on dogs

Acetaminophen poisoning in dogs is common, and the drug is so toxic to cats that even one regular-strength tablet can lead to death. Serious liver and kidney damage can result from an overdose of acetaminophen, so it’s important to avoid administering this medication without a vet’s consent. Side effects of acetaminophen can include:

  • Jaundice (yellow eyes or skin).
  • Inability to keep food down, vomiting frequently.
  • Brown urine
  • Abdominal pain
  • Lethargy
  • Drooling
  • Pale or discolored gums
  • Abnormal breathing.

If the poisoning is severe enough, Tylenol might cause your pet to go into shock or die.

One case study

Pet parent DeeDee experienced the horrors of ibuprofen poisoning when her two-year-old Goldendoodle Bentley ingested an unknown amount of the drug. “It was a horrible time in our family’s life,” she said on Dr. Doug Kenney’s “Pet Insurance Guide” podcast. Bentley ended up with kidney failure and spent two days in the ER, but he’s since made a full recovery and is now enjoying life as a therapy dog.

If you suspect your dog or cat has ingested an over-the-counter painkiller, take the situation seriously. Contact your vet or local animal emergency clinic immediately.

Avoid accidental ingestion

To ensure that your dog or cat don’t get into pain medications accidentally, keep them on a high shelf, in the tamper-proof containers they came in. Or put child (and pet-proof) locks on any cupboard they can reach. Don’t leave medications sitting out, or in a purse or backpack that your pet might access.

If you suspect your dog or cat has ingested an over-the-counter painkiller, take the situation seriously. Contact your vet or local animal emergency clinic immediately.

What can you give your dog for pain?

While human-grade pain relievers are not recommended for pets, fortunately, there are options for dogs that are safe.

Dog-specific pain medications

Drug companies have formulated certain medications specifically for dogs and cats that are much safer than over-the-counter pain medications meant for humans. Common medications prescribed for dogs include carprofen, etodolac, and meloxicam. Your veterinarian can prescribe one of these at a safe dose for your pet’s specific needs.


Carprofen (brand names such as Rimadyl® and Zinecarp®) is an FDA approved NSAID to treat dogs for pain and inflammation. It is recommended to give with food to prevent upset stomach and usually takes effect within 1-2 hours.


This medication, commonly known by the names EtoGesic® and Lodine®, is another NSAID specifically used for dogs to treat pain and inflammation associated with arthritis, fever, and post-surgery.


This NSAID, brand names such as Metacam® Loxicom®, OroCAM®, Rheumocam, is used to treat pain, inflammation, and fever in dogs. It may be used to treat arthritis or post-surgery.

Can I treat my dog’s pain without medication?

Dog getting acupuncture

Your veterinarian is the most qualified person to answer that question, but there are plenty of non-medical treatments, also known as alternative care, for a dog suffering from chronic pain:

  • Exercise: To help with daily, chronic pain from arthritis and aging, daily exercise helps to keep limbs flexible and limits pet obesity (extra pounds put pressure on weakened joints), however sometimes an animal isn’t physically able to partake in the daily run around the park. Your veterinarian can help you devise an exercise plan that is appropriate for your pet’s overall health status and physical limitations.
  • Hydrotherapy has been extremely beneficial for pets as warm water helps to soothe swollen joints and enhance circulation without gravity. Compared with walking on a hard surface like concrete, hydrotherapy is much easier on the joints, making walking less painful.
  • Acupuncture has also been noted to treat pain and inflammation in dogs, promoting circulation and muscle relaxation by inserting needles at areas of the body where nerves and blood vessels meet. Acupuncture should be performed only by a certified veterinary acupuncturist. Search for a certified veterinary acupuncturist on the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society website.
  • Other options: Pups can also find relief in massage and chiropractic services, as well as laser therapy, which is a relatively new treatment that speeds healing of surgical incisions and wounds. It also has been proven to help assuage pain from arthritis and residual pain from fractures or damaged nerves.

Create a treatment plan with your vet that you and your pet are comfortable with (some pets refuse to take medication and others can be terrified of acupuncture). Healthy Paws covers alternative care such as acupuncture, chiropractic therapy, and hydrotherapy, as long as the procedure is performed by a licensed veterinarian. Enrolling your dog in pet insurance early on, before any problems occur, is the best way to be prepared for an unexpected accident or illness, and allows you to pursue the best treatment available without having to worry about the cost.

What about supplements or CBD oil?

Many pet parents give their dogs or cats glucosamine to help ease those creaky, arthritic joints. Although many websites and pet homeopaths allege that certain “herbal pain remedies” are safer or more reliable, there is no scientific data to back up these claims. A 2006 study found glucosamine/chondroitin supplements can relieve pain related to osteoarthritis in dogs, but some vets are still skeptical, saying it has “some value, little risk.”

CBD oil, however, has been making headlines of late as helping alleviate pain, discomfort, increase appetite, and help with anxiety in pets, so asking your vet is a good first step. Check out our article CBD Oil for Cats and Dogs to find out more about how it works and what pet-friendly brands are out there.

Notably, a study by Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine reported that CBD oil provided significant pain relief to dogs with arthritis, allowing the dogs to be more physically active. Veterinary research on CBD oil is only just beginning, so there’s still a lot more to learn about how CBD oil can help pets who are in pain.

What natural remedies can I give my dog for pain?

Because NSAIDs, even those specifically prescribed to dogs, can cause unwanted side effects such as upset stomach, some pet parents may opt to try a more natural approach first. There are a number of herbal supplements that can safely aid pain management in dogs.

Comfrey has long been used as a traditional healing herb for a number of ailments, including pain, digestive issues, and cancer. It can help manage joint pain due to its anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties.

Turmeric is an orange root that has natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It is best absorbed when consumed with black pepper and some fat, such as peanut butter or coconut oil. Learn more about how to make turmeric paste and dosage for your dog based on body weight.

Ginger, like turmeric, is a root that has many healing benefits and is safe to give to dogs. A 2010 human study showed that gingerol, the active ingredient in ginger, can reduce pain and inflammation in humans with rheumatoid arthritis.

Licorice root has anti-inflammatory compounds that can help reduce joint pain and arthritis symptoms as well as improve digestion and respiratory function. In large quantities or with daily use, it can have unwanted side effects, so speak with your veterinarian before giving it to your pet.

Go to the vet for pain

Your best bet for a dog in pain? Take them to the vet. Healthy Paws processes hundreds of claims for pain – it was one of the most common claim for dogs in 2020. Diagnostics can range anywhere from $150 to $4,500 while treatment varies just as widely, making pet insurance a sound investment for those unexpected accidents and illnesses.

The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinarian advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical diagnosis, condition, or treatment options.

colleen williams
By Colleen Williams

Over the past decade, Colleen has written about health, wellness, beauty, and even pets for The New York Times, The Cut, Refinery29, xoVain, Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, and Seattle Met Magazine, as well as many beauty brands. She has a BFA in Art History from the University of New Mexico and an AAS in Fashion Design from Parsons School of Design in New York.

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joanna pendergrass
By JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM

JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM, is a veterinarian and freelance medical writer in Atlanta, GA. After graduating from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine with her veterinary degree, JoAnna completed a 2-year research fellowship in neuroscience at Emory University. During this fellowship, she learned that she could make a career out of combining her loves of science and writing. As a medical writer, JoAnna is passionate about providing pet parents at Healthy Paws with clear, concise, and engaging information about pet care. Through her writing, she strives not only to educate pet parents, but also empower them to make good health decisions for their pets. JoAnna is a member of the American Medical Writers Association.

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