Not sure if your dog is in pain? Here are the signs to look out for and what you can do to help.
It might be one of your biggest fears as a pet parent–that for some reason, your pup could be in pain and you wouldn’t know it. And then if you do suspect that your dog is in pain, it’s hard to know what you can do to help them, if anything, or when you need to let the vet step in.
We put together this all-in-one guide that will help you recognize the signs of pain in dogs so you’ll know when your best friend needs to go to the vet. We’ve included a list of meds you should never give to a dog in pain plus some better options for pain relief in dogs.
How Do I Know if My Dog Is in Pain?
You know your dog better than anyone, so if you suspect that something’s wrong, it could very well be. One big sign is if your pet is just acting weird and not like their usual self. Vets hear this a lot. But here are the more specific changes you can look for that are signs of dogs in pain:
- Shaking or trembling (this can also be a sign of fear)
- Acting unusually grumpy or even snappy
- Yelping, growling, or howling (or more than usual)
- Licking or chewing at a certain area nonstop
- Not wanting to play or do their usual activities
- Panting or rapid, shallow breathing
- Seeming depressed
- Not eating
- Moving away or yelping when touched
- Limping, stiffness, or walking differently
- Not lying down or seeming restless
- Having a hard time jumping up on things
What Can Cause Pain in Dogs?
Obviously, your dog can’t tell you what’s hurting, so it’s almost impossible to know what could be causing your dog pain. Sometimes you have clues about where the pain is, like if your dog is limping or licking a certain area.
But most of the time, even if you see one of the signs of pain, you can’t tell where the pain is. That’s why it’s so important to have a veterinarian check your pup out. They can usually narrow down or pinpoint the source of the pain by doing a full exam and a few tests.
Here are a few reasons why your dog could be in pain:
Injuries: back pain and slipped discs, accidents, sprains, joint or bone injury, cuts, insect stings, trauma
Illnesses: infections (ear infection or UTI), upset stomach, pancreatitis
Conditions and diseases: arthritis, cancer (bone cancer is especially painful), dental disease
Surgeries: post-surgery pain
Dog Pain Relief Options
You may just want something over-the-counter that you can give your dog to help ease their pain, but never give them any human pain meds. Some of them can be very dangerous for dogs, including Tylenol, Advil, Motrin, and Aleve (generic names: ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and naproxen). These can cause severe stomach ulcers or kidney or liver failure.
Your dog will need to see your vet to first find out what’s going on, and then you can work with them to find the best types of pain relief. It may be a prescription pain medication, a supplement, a natural treatment, or a combination that will provide the best pain relief for your dog.
Prescription Pain Relief for Dogs
There are a few go-to medications that vets will prescribe for dogs in pain, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and opioids (yes, you read that correctly).
NSAIDs can help dogs with pain and inflammation. You may be thinking, well, Advil, Aleve, and aspirin are all NSAIDs, but these are not the NSAIDs that vets prescribe for dogs. NSAIDs affect dogs differently, so they need a different type. These are the commonly prescribed NSAIDs for dog pain relief:
- Rimadyl / Novox (generic name: carprofen)
- Metacam (generic name: meloxicam)
- Deramaxx (generic name: deracoxib)
- Previcox (generic name: firocoxib)
- Galliprant (generic name: grapiprant)
Opioids for Dogs
Don’t be surprised if you pick your dog up from a surgery, and the vet casually mentions that they have a fentanyl patch on. Veterinarians will use this as well as morphine and other opioids for pups that have severe pain, so it’s common for post-surgery situations. There are also some opioids that vets will prescribe for severe pain from arthritis or cancer.
Supplements That May Help Dogs in Pain
Sometimes supplements and natural pain relief options can help, but it all depends on the type of pain. Joint health supplements can sometimes help ease pain in dogs with arthritis. Some of the main ingredients to look for are:
- Glucosamine hydrochloride: Protects joints and encourages cartilage growth.
- Chondroitin: Protects cartilage and works great alongside glucosamine and ASUs.
- Green-lipped mussels: A regular diet including these mussels, found off the coast of New Zealand, have helped the Maoris avoid a high incidence of arthritis.
- Omega-3: This fatty acid helps keep the joints lubricated. Pure fish oil is the best source of omega-3 for joint health.
- MSM: Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is a natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.
- ASU: Avocado and soybean unsaponifiable (ASU) is extracted from avocado and soybean oil and can also help with inflammation.
- Microlactin: This milk protein comes from cow milk fights inflammation without the tummy-upsetting side effects of NSAIDs and steroids.
- CBD: Cannabinidol, or CBD, has been proven in studies to reduce pain in dogs with osteoarthritis.
Natural Pain-Relief Treatments
Dogs can benefit from some of the same alternative treatments as we can:
Acupuncture: It may seem weird to send your dog to be stuck with a bunch of tiny needles, but it’s no weirder than people doing it! And it can help in the same way to relieve pain.
Massage: When it’s done right, massage can help soothe your pet’s muscles. Ask your vet about finding a dog massage specialist or for some techniques that you can do at home to help your pup.
Laser therapy: It’s basically using light to heal your pet. Low-level light energy goes deep into the tissues and promotes healing in injured cells. Ask your vet if they administer laser therapy treatments and whether your dog could benefit from them.