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What is the best pain medication for dogs?


By Jessica Vogelsang, DVM


There’s a reason pain management is a specialty all unto itself in medicine: there’s a lot to know about pain! And while we wish there were one simple pill that works for every type of pain, the answer as to what is the best pain medication for a patient really depends on a variety of factors.


In each case, it’s the veterinarian’s role to decide, “In this scenario, what is the best pain management plan for this dog?”  The goal is to alleviate pain using medications that are safe, effective, and convenient for the owners to obtain and administer.


The first question a vet asks is, “What is the type of pain we are trying to manage?” Chronic pain from an ongoing problem is different than an acute pain resulting from trauma or surgery. Cancer pain is complicated enough to be considered its own category.


The next question a vet thinks about is, “What types of pain medications should I use in this case?” The main categories of pain medications are opiods, NSAIDS, steroids, neutraceuticals, and alternative medications. Each class targets a different part of the pain pathway. Certain types of pain respond better to one class of medication than another. Some pets may be unable to tolerate a specific medication due to reactions with other medications or underlying medical conditions.


In many cases, the best pain management protocol is actually a combination of medications, an idea referred to as “multimodal pain management.” With a variety of medications attacking pain at different points along the pain pathway, we often need less of each individual medication and achieve a better overall result.


The final question is, “What is the best choice for this patient and family?” The veterinarian must take into account such concerns as cost, how frequently a medication must be administered, and how easily it can be given. It doesn’t matter how good a drug is, if the owner can’t get the pet to take it!


Image: Javier Brosch / via Shutterstock

Comments  3

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  • Painfully Inadequate
    11/01/2015 06:32am

    I don't mean to be mean here, but I can honestly say that this is one of the least helpful, least informative articles I've read about pets (or virtually anything else for this matter). You need to stop using it as a tease - because the reader (this one at least) feels totally cheated once they read it.

  • 06/23/2016 12:03am

    you are right. I wanted to know which specific meds to use and dosage.

  • Informative Information
    11/13/2015 03:20pm

    My 8 year old malamute has bone cancer. The oncologist treating him is using this approach for his pain control. After I read your article I was relieved to see that my boy was getting the appropriate cancer pain management treatment.
    Thank you for always giving us such useful information!