Pain Meds for Dogs: What Can You Give a Dog for Pain?

Updated Nov. 5, 2023
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Pain Meds for Dogs

Healthcare options for dogs continue to improve.

However, as our four-legged companions start to live longer lives, they’re more at risk for disease and discomfort. Luckily, there’s several options available to help—including pain relief and pain management for dogs.

In this article, you’ll learn to recognize signs of pain in dogs and how to treat pain in dogs.

You’ll also understand which pain medications are safe for them and whether they need a prescription from their vet, or if you can get them over the counter.

Key Takeaways

  • It's important to recognize signs of pain in a dog so that you can seek help and medical support from your veterinarian.
  • There are some medications that humans and dogs can both take, but some may be toxic to pups.
  • Always consult with your vet before giving your dog new medication.

Pain Meds for Dogs

Your vet will work with you to develop a special plan for your dog’s pain relief, depending on the type of pain your dog is experiencing.

This may include: 

  • Vet-prescribed nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like Galliprant®, which help relieve pain by decreasing inflammation.

    • Note that even though ibuprofen and naproxen are also NSAIDs, they should never be given to your dog. Always consult with your vet before giving your dog a new pain medication. 

  • Opioids, which work in the brain to limit pain perception (these are typically reserved for more severe pain). 

  • Other drugs that can affect the nervous system at various levels (like gabapentin) and limit pain signal perception. 

  • Supplements are used in cases of mild to moderate pain, or with other medications to limit the amount of a drug your dog may need to take. 

  • A combination of physical therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic manipulation, and environmental modifications. This is typically for pets that don't tolerate medication well. 

NSAIDs for Dogs 

Certain NSAIDs that can safely be used for dogs are approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help control pain and inflammation in dogs with osteoarthritis.

These medications work by decreasing a pup’s bodily response to inflammation, which reduces pain.

However, NSAIDs can disrupt a pup’s bodily functions, such as the protection of the lining of the stomach and intestines, blood flow to the kidneys, and platelet function. 

Only give your dog NSAIDs that your vet has approved. Work closely with your vet while your dog is taking NSAIDs.

Some pets—such as dogs with pre-existing liver or kidney disease—may not be able to take NSAID medications. These medications require good kidney and liver function to be properly used by the body and cleared from the bloodstream.

Your veterinarian may want to perform blood work and a urinalysis prior to your pup starting NSAIDs and/or once your dog is on the medication for a certain period.

These tests can help show how your dog’s body and organs are functioning.

NSAIDs can be effective in controlling pain and inflammation in your pup. They may be used in a few ways, such as: 

  • Your veterinarian may prescribe them for a short time after performing surgery such as a spayneuter, or dental procedure

  • The vet may also prescribe them longer-term, for diseases such as hip dysplasia and osteoarthritis. 

  • NSAIDs can also be used safely with some other medications including tramadol, gabapentin, or joint supplements. 

Some NSAIDs that vets commonly use include:

  • Carprofen (Novox or Rimadyl®): This prescription medication comes in tablet, caplet, or chewable tablet form. This is typically prescribed once or twice daily.

  • Deracoxib (Deramaxx): This prescription medication comes as a chewable tablet and is prescribed once daily.

  • Firocoxib (Previcox®): This prescription medication is available as a flavored chewable tablet that’s prescribed once daily. 

  • Meloxicam (Metacam®): Meloxicam is a prescription medication that comes as a flavored tablet or liquid and is prescribed once daily.

When given as prescribed, NSAIDs are typically safe, effective medications to help dogs with pain.

Always monitor your pup closely for side effects and signs of toxicity. Call your vet immediately if you suspect that there is an overdose situation or if your pet is not tolerating his medication well. 

Opioids for Dogs 

Opioid medications work at receptors—areas on the cells which the medication will attach to get a pain relief response.

These receptors in a pup’s brain provide relief from moderate to severe pain.

Opioids can be prescribed after surgery, or used as part of a medication plan to sedate a dog before general anesthesia is given. However, opioids have several regulations and limitations, and they must be prescribed by your dog’s vet.

Because they are controlled drugs (medications highly regulated by the federal government), your vet must keep a dispensing log that can be audited by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). 

Opioids can have side effects in pets, including:

A few common opioids include:

  • Morphine: Morphine can come as a liquid, extended-release tablet, or extended-release capsule. Typically, it's used for surgical pain (such as orthopedic procedures) or severe trauma. This medication should be given for short-term use only.

  • Buprenorphine: This medication comes as a liquid but is not meant to be swallowed. It’s squirted into the mouth for absorption by vessels under a dog's tongue. It’s typically used for surgical pain, cancer pain, or trauma. It’s for short-term use only.

  • Codeine: Codeine can come as a liquid or tablet. It’s typically used for severe arthritis pain, chronic collapsing trachea cough, or surgical pain. This drug should be prescribed for short-to-medium-term use. 

  • Butorphanol: This drug can come as a liquid or tablet, is used for surgical pain, and should be given for short-term use.

  • Fentanyl: Fentanyl is given as a liquid or transdermal patch. A transdermal patch allows for the medication to be applied to and absorbed by a dog's skin.

    • This is used for short-term surgical pain. The patch is typically removed by a pup’s vet, as it must be handled carefully so the opioid is not absorbed into your skin.

Other Pain Meds for Dogs

Other pain meds your vet may prescribe for your pup are:

Joint Supplements for Pain in Dogs 

A few helpful supplements for dogs in pain include:

  • Glucosamine: A natural substance used to protect cartilage, this supplement is used for mild pain from hip dysplasia and spinal cord injuries. It comes in many forms, including tablets, chews, and liquids. It’s available over the counter.

  • Chondroitin: This natural substance is used to protect a dog’s cartilage. Chondroitin is used for mild pain from conditions like hip dysplasia and spinal cord injuries. It comes in many forms, including tablets, chews, and liquids. This is also available over the counter.

  • Adequan: This injectable product is used for pain from osteoarthritis and has anti-inflammatory benefits. You will need a prescription from your vet for this supplement.

  • Fish oil: This natural substance is used for pain from osteoarthritis, skin disease, kidney disease, heart diseaseinflammatory bowel diseasediabetesepilepsy, and some types of cancer, and has anti-inflammatory benefits. Fish oil for pups is available over the counter. 

Are Human Pain Meds Safe for Dogs?

There are a few medications that humans and dogs can both take, such as certain heart medications, thyroid medications, and antibiotics.

However, even if a medication is safe for dogs, the dosing is usually different from a human’s. Additionally, the form in which the medication is carried—such as the capsule or the additive to make a tablet—might be toxic or harmful to your pet.

A human’s metabolism is also much different than a dog’s. Because of this, some medications that are safe for people can be toxic to dogs, or even fatal.

Never give your dog these common over-the-counter human pain relievers: 

These medications can cause stomach bleedingkidney failure, and liver failure.

Always ask your vet before giving your dog any human medication. 

How To Tell If Your Dog Is in Pain

It’s important to understand the signs of pain in your dog so you know when to seek help from their vet.

By understanding these symptoms, you can better monitor your dog’s progress when he’s taking medication and recognize any signs of pain.

There are several animal pain scales that can help you rate your pet’s pain level, such as this canine acute pain scale

Signs a dog is in pain include: 

  • Restlessness or easily distracted

  • Visible discomfort (pacing, panting, hiding, arched back)

  • Whimpering, crying, groaning, or howling 

  • Licking, rubbing, biting, or chewing wound or surgery site 

  • Droopy ears, looking worried (shifty eyes, arched eyebrows) 

  • Not responding when called 

  • Not moving all or part of their body 

  • Not interacting with people 

  • Shifting his weight or limping to protect certain areas 

  • Growling, flinching, pulling away, crying, biting, or whimpering when touched 

By understanding these symptoms, you can better monitor your dog’s progress when he’s taking medication and recognize any signs of pain.

How to Comfort a Dog in Pain

Work closely with your veterinarian to create a plan for your pet’s pain management.

There are a few ways you can modify your home to help your pup. These changes are often used in collaboration with pain medications to help pets feel comfortable. 

Manage Your Pet’s Weight

By helping to manage your pet’s weight, it will limit excessive strain on joints and risks for concurrent diseases such as diabetes or heart disease. Work with your vet to modify your pet’s diet and develop light exercise routines that your pet can tolerate. This will help to slowly achieve goals over time. 

Get Your Pet Moving

Daily walkingswim therapy, or other low-impact exercises keep muscles and joints moving and healthy. These activities are also great for your dog’s mental stimulation. Many forms of exercise release natural endorphins and help control pain. 

Make Modifications To Your Home

Help your dog maneuver around your home more easily with things like carpet runnersdog boots, or socks with grips. 

Assess any dog doors, stairs, or areas that are difficult to get up, into, and out of. Purchasing ramps or limiting access to areas may be required to keep your dog comfortable and safe. 

Some pets may also benefit from elevated food and water bowls if they have pain in the neck or joints when bending to eat and drink. 

Alternative Therapies

You can also ask your veterinarian about complementary therapies.

These include: 

These are natural ways to enhance pain control when a pet can't tolerate medications or needs additional care.  

There are a variety of different medications, supplements, and alternative therapies to use in pain management for dogs. Use any supplements or alternative therapies in conjunction with modern medicine for best results.

If your dog is in pain, have him examined by the veterinarian as soon as possible. 

Remember—all medications and supplements should be given exactly how they are prescribed by your vet.


US Food and Drug Administration. “Galliprant — A Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug (NSAID) for Dogs with Osteoarthritis.” September 2019.

Wunsch L, Schmidt B, Krugner-Higby L, Smith L. “A comparison of the effects of hydromorphone HCl and a novel extended-release hydromorphone on arterial blood gas values in conscious healthy dogs.” Research in Veterinary Science. 2010;88(1): 154-158.


Amanda Simonson, DVM


Amanda Simonson, DVM


I am a veterinarian passionate about helping animals. I practiced for 15 years in the hospital setting doing medicine, surgery, preventive...

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