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

Pet care & safety
sad dachshund on blue couch

Tail wags turn to whimpers, playful leaps to listless plops. Your pup's playful spirit is dimmed, replaced by a quiet ache only your eyes can see. Their wag isn't quite as bouncy, their usual bark replaced by a quiet whimper. "What can I give my dog for pain?" you search, worried but determined. This guide is your answer, navigating the world of canine comfort and helping you ease your pup’s discomfort.  

When a person is experiencing pain, he or she can run to the drug store to choose one of many options to help manage their pain, including both over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications. Achey head? Sore back? Humans have a whole drugstore aisle filled with options, from quick fixes to targeted therapies. We've got a pill for your migraine, a cream for your muscle strain, and a patch for your aching joints. But for our furry friends, pain relief is a bit trickier. No grabbing a painkiller from the human cabinet for Fido – those common over-the-counter medications can be downright dangerous for dogs. 

Recognizing Signs of Pain in Dogs 

Our furry companions can't always tell us when they're hurting. But sometimes, subtle shifts in their behavior, a change in their usual pep, or a quiet whimper instead of a playful bark, can offer clues. Paying close attention to these whispers of discomfort is the first step to helping them feel better. Signs your dog may be in pain include: 

  • Limping or holding up a limb 

  • Difficulty standing up, walking, or jumping 

  • Increased aggression or irritability 

  • Changes in eating or bathroom habits 

  • Less interest in playtime or walks 

  • Excessive panting or vocalizations like whining or barking 

  • Seeking isolation or hiding more often 

If you notice anything unusual or concerning for your pet, contact your veterinarian. They can examine your pup for potential sources of pain and prescribe appropriate treatment. Keep a log of when you notice signs of pain, this can help the vet determine if it's chronic or tied to certain triggers. Addressing pain proactively is crucial both for your dog's wellbeing as well as maintaining the strong bond you share. 

So, what can you give a dog for pain relief? 

In dogs, treatment options for pain are not easily accessible. This is because fewer options for pain exist in dogs, and most pain medications are potentially very dangerous when given incorrectly. This is especially true when pain medications used in people are given to dogs. People and dogs metabolize or process pain medications very differently. So giving ANY human drug to a dog carries a risk of causing very serious health issues, even death. 

OTC Pain Medications for People Should Never Be Given to a Dog 

There are no readily available OTC pain meds for dogs. Most OTC (over-the-counter) pain medications that are made for people, such as naproxen or ibuprofen, should never be given to dogs. Even at very small doses, they can cause life-threatening gastrointestinal (GI) ulcers, liver failure, and/or kidney failure. Lethal effects of these medications can occur very quickly, meaning that even with treatment, pets can die from eating only one dose. A few OTC pain medications are potentially safe in dogs, such as aspirin or acetaminophen. However, both have a very low margin of safety, meaning that they can be extremely unsafe even if used correctly. Further, they are only useful for pain in certain situations (e.g. arthritis or a joint injury not associated with bleeding/trauma) and can be harmful with other causes of pain (e.g. gastrointestinal/GI pain, pain from infection, intervertebral disc disease/herniated disc). Neither aspirin nor acetaminophen should ever be given to a dog without consulting a veterinarian first. To use these types of medications properly, a correct diagnosis for the cause of pain is needed. Plus, several canine-approved prescriptions are available that are safer and will work better, so it is rarely worth the high risks to use them. 

Prescription Options for Pain in Dogs: 

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) 

NSAIDs are a type of pain medication that also decreases inflammation. They are cyclo-oxygenase or COX inhibitors, which are enzymes involved in pain and inflammation. Resolving inflammation can provide additional relief and quicker improvement from the issue causing the pain.  Picture NSAIDs as tiny peacemakers, calming down the inflamed areas and reducing the signals that tell your pup they're hurting. This not only stops the pain in its tracks, but also helps tissues repair faster, getting your furry friend back to their playful self sooner.  

What NSAIDs are safe for dogs? 

NSAID options that are approved for use in dogs include carprofen (e.g. Rimadyl), deracoxib (e.g. Deramaxx), etodolac (e.g. Etogesic), firocoxib (e.g. Previcox), meloxicam (e.g. Metacam), robenacoxib (e.g. Onsior), and mavacoxib (e.g. Trocoxil). Grapiprant (e.g. Galliprant) is not an NSAID in that it is not a COX inhibitor, but it works similarly to NSAIDs by decreasing pain and inflammation. Cost of such medications will depend on the size of the dog, generic vs. name brand, and which type is used. One week’s worth of pain control from an NSAID can range from $5-20 in a small dog using generic carprofen to $100-150 in a larger dog using a name-brand therapy. 

This sounds like a lot of information to take in, but don’t worry! Your vet will point you in the right direction. 


Opioids or opioid-like medications control pain but not inflammation. In many cases, they are used for very severe pain because they work on pain receptors. NSAIDs and opioids or opioid-like medications are sometimes used together to maximize control of both pain and inflammation. Examples of opioids include buprenorphine, codeine, butorphanol, and fentanyl. An example of an opioid-like medication is tramadol. Again, cost varies based on size of the pet and type used. Oral tramadol may range from $20-50, whereas a fentanyl pain patch may cost $50-100. Opioids are becoming more difficult to obtain for veterinarians because of their use as a recreational drug in people. This could mean the cost may increase as opioids become more difficult to dispense safely. 


Gabapentin is a type of seizure medication that has proven useful for neuropathic pain in dogs. Neuropathic pain refers to pain associated with nerves, so its uses are limited compared to NSAIDs and opioids. Cost usually ranges from $20-40. 


Steroids (also known as glucocorticoids; e.g. prednisone) are not used for pain, but they can be useful in situations where a lot of inflammation is present. One example of steroid use is spinal cord compression/slipped discs. Here steroids are used to decrease the inflammation-associated pressure the intervertebral disc is putting on the spinal cord. It is extremely important to be aware that NSAIDs and steroids cannot be given together, as serious GI effects, including ruptured gastric ulcers, can occur.  

This is especially important for owners that have attempted to help their dog’s pain by using medications they had at home, resulting in a potentially life-threatening situation without even realizing it. Never give medication without asking your veterinarian first. If you gave your pet something prior to his or her checkup, be sure to let the vet know exactly what it was and how much you gave. 

Alternative Pain Medications for Dogs 

Joint supplements, such as those that contain glucosamine, chondroitin, and/or MSM, can be very helpful for controlling arthritic pain when used regularly. They don’t actually stop pain, but they work to keep the joint healthy. This helps to decrease pain over time by decreasing how much it worsens. Joint supplements are formulated as chews (e.g. Cosequin), capsules, liquids, and as injectable medications (e.g. Adequan). Oral medications range from $30-60 and injections, usually given once every 4 weeks, have a similar price per shot.  

Other supplements that may be effective for pain include St. John’s wort, turmeric, and cannabinoids (CBD). While some research indicates these therapies could help with pain, more research is needed to prove it and nail down safe and effective doses. The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t fully regulate how such supplements are made, so it is difficult to say how well a dog is metabolizing the drug involved and what else might have been formulated with it. Further, some supplements can be problematic when used with other treatments or with certain types of diseases. For example, St. John’s wort tends to interact with numerous other drugs, which may make the other medications the dog is taking less effective. CBD is becoming increasingly popular in pain therapy, but it isn’t yet clear how much is needed and how effective it is for each type of pain. Until more research is available, discuss any alternative medication options with your veterinarian before trying them on your dog. 

Alternative Therapies for Pain in Dogs 

Therapeutic laser is an alternative treatment for pain when medications are not helping or cannot be used. The laser used falls within a type of laser classification that offers improvement in pain and healing speed. "Therapeutic laser" sounds fancy, but imagine it like a warm, focused light treatment that helps reduce pain and speed up healing. 

Acupuncture, ideally performed by a certified veterinary specialist, is another option that can be used when pain medications are not enough. Acupuncture might sound strange, but it's like poking tiny needles in specific points to help manage pain. Just like acupressure for humans, it can ease discomfort and discomfort and work well alongside pain meds for chronic pain in dogs. 

Both laser therapy and acupuncture tend to be more useful in pets with chronic pain, but improvement can be seen with certain other types of pain as well. Laser and acupuncture pricing ranges quite a bit. Laser therapy sessions may be $50-150 a session, and acupuncture tends to cost $75-150 per session. If you have Embrace pet insurance, these alternative therapies may be included in your complementary treatments coverage.  

In patients that have injuries associated with muscles, bones, or joints, physical therapy can be an option for helping improve pain. Again, a veterinary specialist is ideal for such cases, as poorly performed physical therapy can also make the problem worse. Physical therapy can be costly, ranging from $50-200 a session. 

Other alternative therapies like massage, heat/ice therapy, shock wave therapy, and platelet-rich plasma injections may provide relief for some dogs depending on the cause and severity of their pain. 

What Can You Give a Dog for Pain Relief at Home? 

If your pet is in pain, some things can be done at home to help with the pain while you are waiting to see the veterinarian. Here is how to help a dog in pain at home: 

  • Rest: Rest is key with any type of pain, especially pain from injuries. Don’t let your dog run around if he is hurt, even if he wants to. Rest speeds up healing time. 

  • Ice: An ice pack wrapped in a towel is another way to help some injuries. Do not use an ice pack on open wounds or when the pain seems to be internal (e.g. belly pain). If your pet is in too much pain to allow you to use an ice pack, don’t force him as he may hurt you or hurt himself further. If he lets you, icing a wound can be done for 5-10 minutes, twice a day. 

  • Heat: Heat therapy is another potentially helpful option, but not for recent injuries, wounds, or swollen/inflamed areas. As with an ice pack, wrap the heating element (e.g. warm, wet washcloth in a plastic bag) in a towel so it isn’t too hot. Heating pads are usually too hot for a dog’s skin, even on the low setting. Heat is not always recommended because depending on the injury, it can make the pain worse, so ask your veterinarian first before using it. 

  • Distraction: Distraction is another great way to help your painful pup. Pet him gently, offer him treats, and keep him comfortable. A favorite chew bone, squeaky toy, or a Kong stuffed with peanut butter can be a distraction from minor injuries and pain while waiting to see the vet. 

The Bottom Line on Helping Your Dog Manage Pain 

If your dog's in pain, don't hesitate to call your vet. While treating pain can cost ($150-$500), the cost of a mistake can be much higher ($500-$2,500) and even risk your pup's health. A vet can diagnose the cause of the pain and provide the best treatment, stopping the discomfort quickly. So skip the guesswork and call your vet for safe and effective pain relief.  

Taking the Worry Out of Pain Management: Embrace Pet Insurance to the Rescue 

While this guide provides information on safe and effective pain relief options for your dog, the truth is, no amount of research can fully prepare you for the unexpected. Injuries and illnesses can happen in an instant, leaving you grappling with worry and potentially high veterinary bills. That's where Embrace Pet Insurance steps in, offering peace of mind and financial protection along your pet's journey. 

Embrace understands the bond between you and your furry friend. We know that seeing your dog in pain is like a punch to the gut, and navigating the maze of treatment options can be overwhelming. With insurance for your dog, you can focus on what matters most - giving your dog the best possible care - without the added stress of financial burden. 

Embrace offers comprehensive plans that cover a wide range of pain management options, including: 

  • Veterinary exams and consultations: Get to the root of the problem quickly and confidently with covered vet visits. 

  • Prescription medications: Ensure your dog has access to the safest and most effective pain medication, including NSAIDs and some alternative therapies. 

  • Diagnostic testing: Identify the underlying cause of pain accurately with covered X-rays, ultrasounds, and other diagnostics. 

  • Alternative therapies: Embrace some plans cover acupuncture, laser therapy, and other complementary treatments that can provide natural pain relief for your dog. 

Our commitment goes beyond reimbursements: 

  • PawSupport 24/7 Pet Health Line: Get free, expert advice from veterinary professionals around the clock, regardless of your coverage plan. 

  • Convenient claim submission: File claims easily through our app or online portal and experience hassle-free reimbursement. 

  • Exceptional customer service: Our dedicated team is here to answer your questions and support you every step of the way. 

By investing in Embrace pet insurance, you're investing in your dog's well-being and your own peace of mind. No more second-guessing treatment options or worrying about the cost. With Embrace, you can confidently say "yes" to the best possible care for your furry companion, whether it's pain relief or any other unexpected health need. 

Pain Relief for Dogs: Soothing Scritches and Scientific Solutions 

Seeing your pup in pain hurts. Big time. It's like someone replaced their playful bark with a sad trombone solo, and their usual zoomies with a slow-mo shuffle. And yeah, the "what ifs" can start swirling like anxious flies. But take a deep breath, because here's the deal: 

You've got this. This guide? It's your toolkit for kicking pain in the kibble bowl. You've got options, from vet visits to home remedies, all spelled out so you can make informed decisions. Remember, pain meds aren't the only answer. A comfy bed, some gentle playtime (the vet's okay with that, right?), and a whole lot of love – that can go a long way. 

And speaking of love? Yeah, that's your secret weapon. You're their best friend, their cuddle buddy, the dispenser of all the good scratches. Your positive vibes? They're contagious, even in the face of ouchies. So keep those ear scritches coming, whisper calming words, and maybe play their favorite silly song. Your love and attention? Trust me, they're the best medicine out there. 

The bottom line? You're going to get through this, together. It might take some time, there might be bumps along the way, but your pup's got a fighter in them, and you? You're their champion.