Person petting a dog in pain

Seeing your dog in pain can be almost unbearable, especially when the suffering stems from a chronic condition that can only be managed and not cured.

When working to alleviate your dog’s discomfort, keep in mind that medication is not the only remedy. Supplements and complementary therapies are also available. The first step in any good pain management program is to consult your veterinarian and discuss your individual dog’s needs. Your optimal choice for pain relief depends on your dog’s unique condition, but rest assured that there’s almost always more than one option.

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatories (NSAIDs)

NSAIDs are a common type of pain medication for dogs. They relieve discomfort and inflammation by blocking the production of prostaglandins — molecules that play many roles in the body. Common NSAIDs for dogs include deracoxib (Deramaxx), carprofen (Rimadyl), meloxicam (Metacam), etodolac (Etogesic), and firocoxib (Previcox).

While NSAIDs are usually safe, they should not be used in certain dogs. Dogs with bleeding disorders, gastrointestinal ulcers, and kidney or liver damage are not good candidates for NSAIDs. If your dog isn’t eating, these drugs may be too hard on the stomach.

Side effects are possible with any medication. Keep an eye out for any of the following when giving dogs NSAIDs:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Pale or yellow gums
  • Excessive thirst and increased urination
  • Sluggish and/or uncoordinated behavior
  • Seizures

Other Pain Medications

Your veterinarian might prescribe other types of pain relievers, either alone or in conjunction with NSAIDs. Tramadol, an oral opioid, is a common choice. Some dogs develop a tolerance to Tramadol and eventually require additional medication. Amantadine, an antiviral medication, is also effective for pain relief. Gabapentin, originally created to combat seizures, is a pain reliever that seems to work best in combination with other medications.

Nutritional Supplements

Nutritional supplements can play a role in helping to manage chronic pain in dogs, the most frequent cause of which is degenerative joint disease (arthritis).

One of the most popular supplements for dogs, especially seniors, is glucosamine, which is often paired with chondroitin and MSM (methylsulfonylmethane). Joint supplements may ease the pain of arthritis by supporting lubrication in a dog’s joints and improving the health of connective tissues. Dasuquin, Cosequin, and Glycoflex are all good options for a joint supplement for dogs. Other supplements that are often used to relieve inflammation and discomfort in dogs include turmeric and fish oil.

Weight Management

Too much body fat can increase a dog’s pain in two different ways:

  • The extra weight puts physical stress on painful parts of the body. Imagine being forced to carry a backpack full of rocks on a sore ankle.
  • Adipose (fat) tissue secretes hormones, many of which increase inflammation and discomfort. All other things being equal, fat dogs suffer from more inflammation and pain than do thin dogs.

Over-the-counter diet dog foods are appropriate if your dog only needs to lose a little weight, but major weight loss is best handled under a veterinarian’s supervision.

Complementary Therapies for Pain

The benefits of complementary treatments will vary depending on your dog’s unique situation, but they can be excellent additions to a pain management program.

Popular treatments include:

  • Hydrotherapy is a low-impact and great for rehabilitating dogs with injuries, arthritis, or other conditions that limit mobility. If you have a pool at home, you can try running your dog through some of the exercises your hydrotherapy practitioner suggests. You can also look into purchasing a portable, foldable pool. Many dogs love this form of body conditioning.
  • Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese therapy that involves needles inserted into specific points in the skin. In addition to being an effective pain reliever, acupuncture may promote blood circulation and immune system health. Acupressure is a similar process that avoids the use of needles.
  • Massage can provide the same benefits for dogs as it does for people. It works for pain relief, mobility enhancement, increased flexibility, as well as improving flow within the blood and lymphatic systems. You can learn the basics of canine massage through books or by talking to or taking classes with a professional.
  • Laser therapy reduces pain by reducing swelling, stimulating cell regeneration, and improving blood circulation.

What Not to Give Your Dog

Avoid offering your dog pills from your own medicine cabinet. There are some times when human medication can be given to dogs, but doing so without a veterinarian’s “okay” is dangerous at best and fatal at worst. For example, giving dogs too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can damage their liver and red blood cells.

A Multimodal Approach

Most dogs do best when they are treated with a combination of approved pain-relieving medications, supplements, and complementary therapies. Observe your dog’s reaction to different approaches and know that you’ll probably have to alter your treatment plan as your dog’s condition changes over time.

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Dr. Jennifer Coates