Dogs suffer from the same aches and pains that are felt by humans. But they are wired to keep stoic and conceal any signs showing that they are in pain. Displaying signs of pain and discomfort are a show of vulnerability that can make them prime targets of predators. Since they are unable to tell you what they are feeling, your best bet is to observe their body language closely for deviations from the normal. So how will you know that your dog is in pain?
Signs of pain in dogs
Dogs instinctively hide any signs of pain. Thus, if your pet is manifesting any amount of pain and discomfort, you should seek veterinary attention right away. Oftentimes, a dog’s condition is already in an advanced stage before signs of pain can be noticed. And more often than not, serious complications have already set in, making the problem more complicated to treat.
Some of the important tell-tale signs of pain in dogs include:
- Energy levels
Energy levels are significantly decreased. Knowing what’s your pet’s “normal” energy will make it easier for you to notice if there is any difference. There’s a difference between a pet that is just feeling a little lazy and one that’s lethargic.
A decrease in appetite. The dog food and/or water intake isn’t the same as usual and may indicate that he may be in pain.
The dog may display signs of aggressive behavior. He may bite himself or other pets and even humans who go near him. If there is a pain in a certain area, our pet won’t allow you or anyone near them or touching that sensitive and painful spot. Take note that even the most affectionate and lovable pooch can bite when they are in pain.
- Excessive vocalization
Dogs that are in pain can make quite a ruckus. They may howl, whimper, whine, grunt, yelp, and groan. If your pup is usually quiet and barks only when he spots another dog or cat, excessive vocalization may be a sign of distress.
- Swelling and inflammation
Any swelling and/or inflammation on your pet’s body is an important sign of an existing disease or injury. Any changes in your pet’s body and behavior should warrant an appointment with your veterinarian.
- Position of the tail
A dog’s tail is usually held in an upright position but if it’s sudden sagging a bit or in between the dog’s legs, it’s usually an indication of pain or distress.
- Changes in the eyes
Extreme pain can cause dilation of a dog’s eyes. Loopy-looking eyes or bloodshot eyes can also indicate feelings of pain and discomfort.
What can I give my dog for pain relief?
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
These medications are often used in humans to alleviate inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis.
NSAIDs are now used in dogs for pain relief but precautionary measures should be observed. If your dog is in pain, you should seek the advice of your veterinarian before giving any type of NSAIDs to your pet. The ones on your medicine cabinet that you use for headache or fever are not safe for dogs and can be extremely toxic. NSAIDs that are commonly prescribed for dogs include aspirin, carprofen, deracoxib, and meloxicam.
- Aspirin for dogs
Can I give my dog aspirin for pain relief in dogs? This is one of the most common questions of pet owners when it comes to treating pain in dogs. Aspirin is an NSAID that is prescribed by veterinarians for short-term pain relief. It should always be given with food. Coated aspirin is easier on the stomach. Aspirin should never be given to address chronic pain in dogs.
“Can aspirin kill a dog?”
Prolonged intake or a wrong dosage can increase a dog’s risk of internal bleeding and damage to the kidneys. Aspirin overdose can lead to salicylate poisoning. Affected dogs can suffer from seizures, hemorrhage, coma, and death.
Carprofen is an NSAID that is specially formulated for dogs. Veterinarians prescribe it for arthritis-related pain and inflammation. It can also provide pain relief for dogs after surgery
and help with post-operative pain, such as after neutering or spaying. Even if it is formulated for dogs, it’s not without side effects. Side effects of carprofen include vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, lethargy/depression, paralysis, disorientation, kidney problems, increased water intake and urination, and yellowing of the eyes, skin, or mouth (also called jaundice). IIn some cases, intake could lead to death.
Other potential problems can develop after giving NSAIDs to dogs. These issues are often associated with overdosing, sensitivity to NSAIDs that are formulated for humans, and concurrent use of other medications and/or the existence of underlying health issues like liver, kidney, or gastrointestinal disease.
Tramadol is another pain medication that is prescribed in dogs. It can be given to provide pain relief for dogs with cancer. Unfortunately, it has been associated with withdrawal side effects, such as chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, and respiratory problems. It is for this reason that dogs should be weaned off Tramadol gradually when the pain has been addressed. Of course, the medication is not without side effects that can range from mild to severe.
Side effects may range from digestive upsets to appetite loss to nervous signs to slowed heart rate to
respiratory issues to skin problems. Tramadol should NEVER be given to dogs that are pregnant or nursing.
Gabapentin is usually prescribed for senior dogs that are suffering from long-term pain, seizures, muscle spasms, or nerve pain. It is often prescribed for a variety of health issues but it’s not without side effects. The side effects of gabapentin use in dogs include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, bulging eyes, and incoordination.
In severe cases of pain in dogs, opioids might be prescribed by veterinarians. It can also be used for the alleviation of post-surgical pain. Some opioids that are used in veterinary medicine include fentanyl or morphine.
All of these pain medications have potential side effects, and veterinarians generally weight these against the benefits that the drug can deliver. Some of the side effects that pet owners should watch out for include:
- Behavior changes
- Appetite loss
- Skin redness
- Digestive upsets -- Diarrhea and vomiting
There is also the possibility of hypersensitivity reactions or allergies. While these are relatively rare in dogs, pet owners should still be on their guard especially when it’s a new medication that their dog is taking.
Holistic Pain Medications
The adverse reactions that have been associated with the use of pain medications in dogs have led to the use of holistic options for pain treatment in dogs. Some of the most popular holistic options include:
It possesses natural anti-inflammatory properties and is a common natural remedy for arthritis and migraines in humans. It is also safe and effective in treating pain in pets.
Comfrey is usually available as natural supplements. It is often used for pain relief in joint injuries. It can help boost cell regeneration which is essential to the healing process. But over-dosage can be harmful to dogs. Comfrey contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can cause damage to the liver. To avoid any problem, always follow the dosage instructions given by your veterinarian.
Turmeric has anti-inflammatory effects that are comparable to the anti-inflammatory properties of cortisone, sans the potential negative side effects. But there have been studies that showed poor absorption of turmeric in the dog’s gastrointestinal tract.
CBD oil is often viewed as a natural painkiller. It has been used to alleviate pain in dogs with arthritis.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Two types of omega-3 fatty acids --EPA and DHA-- provide natural pain relief for dogs. Studies have shown that it can significantly improve osteoarthritis symptoms in dogs.
Glucosamine and chondroitin
These are popular supplements that could help with pain relief as well as reducing swelling in joints and repair joint cartilage.
Even if these are natural alternatives to pain alleviation in dogs, it is always recommended that you discuss any natural pain supplement or medication with your veterinarian before giving anything for your pet’s pain. There are some instances when natural pain supplements are contraindicated or may adversely react with prescription medications your pet may be taking. Also, natural painkillers for dogs don’t provide enough pain relief when used in dogs suffering from moderate to severe pain. There may be a need to combine them with additional medications for optimum relief from pain.
Other Pain-Relief Modalities In Dogs
There are other modalities when it comes to pain alleviation in pet dogs. Dogs with osteoarthritis have been shown to respond positively to dietary modification. Other modalities that can be used for pain relief in dogs include physical therapy, massage, cold laser treatments, and acupuncture.
This ancient Chinese procedure involves inserting needles into certain areas on a dog’s body for pain relief. It is also used to cure chronic ailments.
This involves making adjustments to a dog’s spine using manual manipulation to achieve pain relief.
Pet massage has several benefits including lowering stress levels, increasing blood circulation, pain relief, and possibly boosting the immune system function.
Also called veterinary rehabilitation therapy, physical therapy can help reduce pain and promotes recovery from surgery, injury, age-related health issues, and degenerative disease.
Cold laser therapy
This is a non-invasive technique that utilizes light to stimulate the regeneration of cells and boost blood circulation. The procedure is indicated for treating acute and long-term injuries, muscle sprains, arthritis, and muscular-skeletal problems.
Pain Medications To Avoid In Dogs
In humans, ibuprofen is used for fever, arthritis and joint pains, and inflammatory conditions. Can I give my dog ibuprofen for pain?
No, ibuprofen should NEVER be used in dogs. It has a very narrow margin of safety in dogs.The use of ibuprofen in dogs for pain management can increase a dog’s risk to many serious health issues, such as the formation of ulcers in the stomach that can possibly lead to rupture of the stomach which can be fatal, seizures, kidney failure, or coma. Motrin and Advil have ibuprofen which is toxic to dogs. They may also cause kidney and gastrointestinal tract damage.
Like ibuprofen, Naproxen has a narrow margin of safety and can be very toxic to dogs.
Because of its toxicity, Aleve is often prescribed at low doses and given every other day to dogs that are unable to tolerate other types of NSAIDs. It should only be used when prescribed by a veterinarian as it can cause damage to the kidneys and gastrointestinal tract.
The active ingredient of Tylenol is acetaminophen. It can cause damage to the kidneys, liver, and gastrointestinal tract of dogs. The manifestation of toxic symptoms is brought about by the conversion of hemoglobin into methemoglobin which can adversely affect the oxygen-carrying capacity of red blood cells leading to widespread damage to body tissues and organs. It should only be given under the supervision of a veterinarian. If you have a multi-pet household, always exercise caution when giving Tylenol around cats. Cats are extremely sensitive to acetaminophen and the ingestion of a regular-strength table has been shown to result in severe toxicosis. Even just 2 tablets of Tylenol can cause death in cats.
Paracetamol can be highly toxic in dogs if given in the wrong amount. Your vet may prescribe a form of paracetamol formulated for dogs but always follow the prescribed dosage to prevent potential side effects.