What Every Pet Parent Needs to Know about Dog Pain Relief
As a pet parent, one of the toughest issues to deal with is handling pain and discomfort in your dog. In this article we will address how to determine if your pet is in pain, what pain relief options are available, and answer common pain related questions.
How to Tell if Your Dog is in Pain
Because of the lack of easy communication between dogs and humans, it can be difficult to determine if your dog is in pain. As such, pet parents must observe their dog’s body language and use other non-verbal cues, to try to and determine whether a pooch is in distress.
There are a number of signs that vets and pet professionals look for as a possible indication of suffering in dogs. Below are common symptoms of dog pain:
Dogs in pain tend to make noise. From whimpering, whining and yelping to more aggressive sounds like howling and growling, your dog may be trying to tell you something is wrong. And a dog who is usually vocal may become quiet when they are in pain. The key here is to look for a change in vocal behavior.
- Mobility Issues (Limping)
An obvious sign that your dog is injured is limping or stiffness. This is usually associated with arthritis or a foriegn body (such as a thorn) stuck in a paw.
- Attention to Wound (Licking)
If your dog is repeatedly licking her paw or is biting or scratching a particular part of her body, this is a strong sign that she is experiencing irritation in that area. Some dogs will guard a painful part of their body and not let anyone get close to it.
Heavy panting can be a sign that your dog is in pain. While panting is normal for most dogs, especially after physical activity, heavy panting for no reason or at odd times (like the middle of the night) can be a sign of distress. Likewise, shallow breathing is a sign that your dog may be experiencing pain.
- Loss of Appetite
There are a lot of reasons why a dog may lose interest in food, including illness, dental disease and, yes, being in pain.
- Change in Behavior
Abrupt changes in your dog’s attitude or behavior can be a sign that your pup is in pain. Examples include no longer interested in going outside or going for a walk and growling or biting family members.
- Not Sleeping
A dog in pain may find it difficult to lie down and sleep. Arthritis and neck or back pain can prevent your dog from getting a full night’s rest.
- Shaking or Trembling
Shaking the hind legs can be a sign of arthritis or joint pain. Shivering and muscle tremors can be symptoms of more serious conditions such as Addison’s disease or distemper.
The key here is to be observant of unusual behavior or activity that suggests something is amiss with your pet. However, even if you become convinced that your pup is in pain, the lack of communication means you cannot easily determine important details, such as where the pain is located, how severe it is, how long it has been hurting and other important information.
Acute vs. Chronic Pain in Dogs
There are two different types of pain: acute and chronic. The symptoms and treatment are different.
Acute pain usually comes on suddenly and is caused by something specific. It’s typically associated with a burn or a cut, a broken bone, surgery, etc.
Acute pain is often treated by a veterinarian prescribing some type of medication. After the pain goes away, your dog’s life goes on as usual.
Chronic pain is pain that is ongoing and usually lasts longer than 3 months. This type of pain can continue even after the injury or illness that caused it has healed or gone away. Examples include arthritis, cancer, and nerve pain.
While chronic pain is typically not curable, it can be managed. A vet can prescribe medicine that can help. Acupuncture, electrical stimulation, topical creams and ointments, and CBD and other natural remedies can help alleviate chronic pain in dogs.
Reasons for Pain in Dogs
Just like humans, dogs experience pain for many reasons. Some of the more common causes include:
- Tooth or dental disease
- Skin conditions
- Ear infections
- Surgery (after getting fixed, etc.)
How can you help your dog when they are in pain?
If you have come to the conclusion that your dog is in pain, there are three/four main options for alleviating the distress.
1. Consult with a Vet
The best option for helping alleviate pain in your dog is by consulting with a veterinarian. If you have a regular vet, simply make an appointment and let the doctor work their magic. If you do not have a relationship with a vet, or if you cannot get a timely appointment scheduled, there are online options such as veterinary telemedicine available. Many of these services will put you in touch with a vet or vet tech within minutes.
A veterinarian may prescribe a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) for your dog. Humans take NSAIDs all the time for pain relief, the most common being aspirin and ibuprofen. However, you should not give human NSAIDs to your dog as there are reports that these can result in serious side effects, including damage to your dog’s stomach, kidney or liver.
Common NSAIDs for pets include:
- Carprofen. This is a pet med that must be prescribed by a veterinarian. Typical brand names included Rimadyl, Zinecarp, Canidryl and Acticarp. It is also sold as a generic. The most common usage is for canine arthritis and other joint problems. It typically comes in 25 mg, 75mg or 100mg oral capsules.
- Meloxicam. Also known as Metacam, this is the pet version of Mobic, a medication used to reduce pain and inflammation in humans. This also must be prescribed by a vet. There are reports of pet owners giving their own Mobic pills to their dogs, but caution must be used as a Mobic table contains at least 7.5 mg, while dogs need a much smaller dosage. Too much of this medication would almost certainly result in an overdose.
Both of these medications can be purchased online at 800petmeds or Chewy.
Often a vet will prescribe pet meds that work differently from NSAIDs. These medications include:
- Gabapentin. This is medicine that is typically used by humans for weakness, numbness and pain from nerve damage. For dogs and cats, it can be prescribed for chronic pain and also for anxiety.
- Tramadol. A narcotic that is also used by humans, Tramadol has become commonly used in small animal medicine.
2. Natural Pain Relief
If you are the type of pet parent that prefers natural remedies to help your dog, here are some options to consider:
- CBD. In the last few years, it has become very common for pet owners to give CBD oil or CBD treats to their pets. Proponents of CBD claim that it has all sorts of benefits, including anti-inflammatory properties, anti-nausea effects, anti-anxiety help, and pain relief, especially neuropathic pain relief. This all may be true, but in mid 2021, there are only a few reliable studies that have looked at the effects of CBD in dogs. Expect more scientific research on this topic in the next couple of years.
- Supplements. Because the majority of US adults take at least one dietary supplement, it is no surprise that there are a host of supplements designed specifically for pets. The most common is Glucosamine, a natural compound found in cartilage – the tissue that cushions joints. Many pet parents use Glucosamine on older dogs who experience arthritis and joint pain. Also popular are probiotics, a supplement that is used to improve gut health. Claimed benefits include reducing intestinal inflammation and preventing urinary tract infections.
- Tumeric. This spice has been used for thousands of years as a medicinal herb for humans. It contains compounds called curcuminoids which are claimed to have anti-inflammatory effects and strong antioxidant properties. In dogs, Turmeric is commonly used to help with pain from arthritis.
3. Technology for Pet Pain Relief
Because this website likes to focus on technology for pets, we would be remiss if we didn’t take a look at the handful of tech products that were created to help with dog pain relief.
The Assisi Loop, offered through Assisi Animal Health, is a device that uses low-level electromagnetic pulses to reduce pain and swelling in dogs, cats and horses. The device is FDA registered (not approved) and is sold to both veterinarians and pet owners. The logic here is that electronic pulses increase blood flow to the damaged area, thereby making healing faster and more effective.
Electrical stimulation has long been used to treat muscle pain in humans. It is estimated that about half of the people who use electrotherapy find it useful.
The company also makes the Calmer Canine, a vest that uses electronic signals to reduce stress and anxiety in dogs.
EMbed Relief System
Caerus Corporation is a Minnesota-based company that primarily makes orthopedic devices for dogs, items like support braces, prosthetics and splints. The Animal Ortho Care division of the company also makes the EMbed Relief System, a device that, like the Assisi Loop, uses electronic pulses to reduce pain and swelling and increase blood flow. It looks like a blanket that you plug in and then velcro in place over the injured area of your pet (it is designed to help cats too.) The EMbed tool was tested on humans before being converted for use in pets.
LumaSoothe is a light therapy device for pets. Light therapy, also known as phototherapy or heliotherapy, is a treatment where a patient is exposed to artificial light in order to treat an underlying condition. While the most common use of light therapy in humans is for the treatment of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression relating to the changing of the seasons, many people use light therapy for skin problems.
LumaSoothe claims that their pulsing LED lights can be used for treating both skin conditions on a pet and for relieving pet pain. Specifically, the device is supposed to relieve symptoms of arthritis, bursitis, joint & muscle inflammation and hip dysplasia. The company’s website cites several clinical studies supporting the use of LED treatment. The device was designed to work for dogs, cats and other small pets.
These technology solutions are designed specifically for chronic pain relief – pain that is ongoing and not curable. These devices are not really appropriate for acute pain that is better treated by pet meds proscribed by a veterinarian.
Common Dog Pain Questions
Can I give my dog aspirin?
There is a lot of conflicting information about this, but the consensus is yes. However, you should consult a veterinarian for the appropriate dosage.
How can I provide temporary pain relief for my dog?
See the above question about aspirin. In fact, aspirin should only be used for temporary pain relief. Continuing use of this or other NSAIDs can cause stomach and kidney problems. We don’t wish to keep repeating this, but it is best to consult a vet when going down this route.
What are signs that my dog is dying?
Common signs that an older dog is ready to pass on include: loss of interest in normal activities, loss of bladder control/incontinence, stopping eating and labored breathing. Recognizing these signs will give you time to make preparations for the end of their life.
How can I tell if my dog is depressed?
While not directly related to physical pain, depression can occur in dogs. You may notice that your normally playful pup is withdrawn and listless and may even show less interest in food.
After our older golden died in 2020, our other 5 year old dog showed clear signs of depression. She no longer got excited for walks and didn’t even want to play catch with her favorite ball.
There is not a lot of research on depression in dogs and what can be done to help. For us, it took a good 6 months before our pup’s playful personality came back and she began to enjoy her previous activities.
What are some home remedies for dog pain relief?
While most people consider aspirin a home remedy, other options include turmeric mentioned above, as well as cranberries and boswellia. Cranberries contain quercetin, a natural substance that is supposed to suppress inflammation. Boswellia, also know as frankincense, comes from tree bark and is claimed to be effective against arthritis pain.