Dog Pain Management

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Relieving pain does more than keep your dog comfortable and happy; it can also help him heal and improve his overall health. Research has shown that untreated pain delays healing from injury and surgery, weakens the immune system, and has other unwanted health effects unrelated to the disease that is causing the discomfort.

"If your dog is still suffering despite the best efforts of your regular veterinarian, ask to be referred to a specialist in canine pain management."

Signs of Pain

Sometimes diagnosing pain is easy. Dogs that have been recently injured, undergone surgery or diagnosed with a disease that is known be painful (e.g., pancreatitis or intervertebral disk disease) are hurting and should be treated accordingly. However, dogs are very good at hiding their discomfort and "putting a good face" on things, so chronic, mild to moderate pain often goes undiagnosed.

Signs of pain in dogs can include:

  • Whining, crying out, howling or other atypical vocalizations
  • Limping
  • Restlessness. A dog may pace, circle, and lie down only to quickly get up and start moving again
  • Shying away or becoming tense when approached or petted
  • Snapping or biting
  • Withdrawal from the family or conversely, seeking more attention than normal
  • Loss of appetite and/or a reluctance to chew and swallow
  • Unwillingness to move
  • Reluctance to take deep breaths and/or panting
  • A grimace, sometimes with drawn back ears, dilated pupils, and a vacant look in the eyes
  • A hunched back
  • Licking, biting or scratching at a particular location on the body
  • Loss of house training
  • An unkempt coat

Veterinary Care for Pain Management


If you think your dog is in pain, take him to the veterinarian. He may have an underlying condition that needs to be diagnosed and treated, and doing so should also make him more comfortable. Short term pain relief may be necessary while the body heals. On the other hand, chronic conditions that can be managed but not cured may require life-long treatment to relieve suffering.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs(NSAIDs) are the mainstay of treatment for mild to moderate pain in dogs. Drugs like Rimadyl and Deramaxx are generally very safe and effective, but if you notice vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, or a darkening of the feces, stop giving the medication and call your veterinarian immediately. Gastrointestinal problems, including ulcers, and liver and kidney disease are possible with NSAID use in dogs.

Opioids are often reserved for treating severe pain. An oral drug in this class, tramadol, is an exception and is frequently used instead of or in conjunction with NSAIDs when an individual cannot tolerate the latter's side effects or needs enhanced pain control. Other types of drugs (e.g., gabapentin) may also help with severe, chronic pain.

Drugs aren't the only treatment option, however. Depending on your dog's condition, you might want to consider:

  • Supplements like glucosamine, Adequan or Duralactin
  • Physical therapy
  • Massage
  • Acupuncture/pressure
  • Cold laser therapy

Treating Your Dog's Pain at Home


Some over the counter drugs such as acetaminophen or aspirin can be used to treat pain in dogs, but they are less effective and/or riskier to use than those that are available with a veterinarian's prescription. Talk to your vet before giving your dog any type of medication. If your dog has been prescribed a pain reliever, make sure to closely follow the instructions written on the label. Increasing the amount you give can be dangerous.

If your dog is still suffering despite the best efforts of your regular veterinarian, ask to be referred to a specialist in canine pain management.

The above is provided for information purposes only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of any condition. This information does not cover all possible variables, conditions, reactions, or risks relating to any topic, medication, or product and should not be considered complete. Certain products or medications may have risks and you should always consult your local veterinarian concerning the treatment of your pet. Any trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

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