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What Can You Give a Dog for Pain?

Reader's Digest logo Reader's Digest 8/9/2019 Lisa Marie Conklin
a brown and white dog looking at the camera © Joop Snijder Photography/shutterstock

When your happy-go-lucky pup is moping and moaning, it's sad and frightening. You want your baby to feel better fast, but what can you give a dog for pain that is safe and effective?

How do we know our dog is in pain?

It would make things a whole lot easier if our dog could tell us they're in pain, but even if they could, they still might just grin and bear it. "It is in a dog's instinct to hide pain as much as possible. Some dogs may not show classic signs of pain like limping or splinting until the pain is quite severe," says Johanna Reel, a registered veterinary technician with NHV Natural Pet. There are things we can look for though, like lethargy, moaning, crying, behavioral changes, snapping or growling when touched, excessive drooling and licking, panting that isn't associated with excitement or exercise, and these other silent signs your healthy dog could actually be sick. Be cautious if you decide to examine areas on your dog you suspect are painful. "Always be aware of what your dog's reaction might be to this, and remember that a dog in pain may lash out and bite, even someone he knows and loves very well," says Reel. If you suspect your dog is in pain, call your vet.

Aspirin and other pain relievers for dogs

Pet parents might assume the same pain relievers they take are safe to give dogs but in a smaller dosage. While nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Motrin and Advil), naproxen (Aleve), and aspirin are effective for humans, they are not good pain meds for dogs—not without direct supervision of a veterinarian. Even the smallest dose can be toxic. "It can cause many different issues, such as gastrointestinal hemorrhage and irritation, renal failure, gastric ulcers, anemia, hepatic problems, etc.," says Amanda Nascimento, DVM, head of integrative veterinary medicine and research at NHV Natural Pet. NSAIDs are particularly dangerous if your dog is young or an aging senior because they don't have the same metabolic capacity as healthy, adult dogs. Worse, if your dog is already taking medications, NSAIDs can interact and with those and enhance or diminish the effects of each other, Dr. Nascimento says.

Tylenol for dogs

What can you give your dog for pain if the pain isn't inflammation-related? While most of us have reached for Tylenol (acetaminophen) as our go-to to get rid of a headache or to reduce a fever, Tylenol shouldn't be used as a pain medicine for dogs. "Tylenol, while not an NSAID, is sometimes used in dogs but it must be used cautiously and only under direct veterinary supervision," says Gary Richter, DVM, founder of Ultimate Pet Nutrition. "The margin of safety for Tylenol is narrow and toxicity is possible," Even the smallest dose can be toxic, potentially destroying red blood cells and cause liver damage. Head's up, if you have a cat, Dr. Richter says, "Tylenol should never be used in cats. Cats will die if they are given Tylenol." Cats are just as stoic as dogs when it comes to showing signs of illness. Here are some clear signs your feline isn't feeling well.

Fatty acid supplements for dogs

So what can you give a dog for pain? There's good news for dogs who suffer joint pain from arthritis. A study published in PLEFA shows fatty acids such as Omega-3 and Omega-6 significantly reduced inflammation and pain in dogs. The study involved dogs with osteoarthritis, but fatty acids can also improve other inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. "Fatty acids work as antioxidants, so they are very powerful in reducing inflammation and have zero side effects," says Karen Halligan, DVM in Marina Del Ray, California. If you notice these signs of arthritis in your dog, discuss fatty acids with your vet first for guidance and dosage.

Turmeric for dogs

What can you give your dog for pain from your spice rack? The same turmeric you use for curries and golden milk latte can be used as an effective pain relief for dogs. "It is a supplement that is known to be very beneficial for inflammation and pain. Plenty of studies have shown that turmeric is powerful against pro-inflammatory diseases, helping to manage pain," says Dr. Nascimento. "I always give Omega 3 and Turmeric to my older pets, with excellent results." Turmeric is even used in some dog foods, but not necessarily as an anti-inflammatory. Here's how to decode dog food labels.

CBD oil for dogs

Ask Angie Krause, DVM, a holistic veterinarian at I and Love and You in Boulder, Colorado, "what can you give a dog for pain that is natural?" and she will say CBD oil. "It has anti-inflammatory properties and promotes balance in the body," says Dr. Krause. A study at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University found that CBD oil "can help increase comfort and activity in dogs with OA (osteoarthritis)." But don't rush out and buy a bottle and try it without talking to your veterinarian first. CBD for dogs is still being evaluated for safety.

What you should know about natural pain relief for dogs

Dr. Krause uses a myriad of natural remedies as pain relief for dogs in her practice, including traditional Chinese medicine, such as acupuncture and herbs, CBD oil, and massage—which pet parents can learn to do. When are natural solutions suitable when it comes to what can you give a dog for pain? "Mild to moderate pain caused by overuse or arthritis, but moderate to severe pain is best handled with pharmaceutical and natural remedies together," says Dr. Krause. Essential oils can help with pain relief for dogs, but here's what you should know before you use them on your pets.

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