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Pain Relief For Senior Dogs

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Choosing the right dog pain relief is an important part of helping your pet heal and feel better.

Pain can be the result of a number of different conditions, and it’s important to know how to recognize the symptoms of pain in your dog so that you can get him the treatment he needs.

Not all pain treatment options suit all dogs and sharing your own pain killers with your pooch can be dangerous, even deadly.

On this page I’m going to look at the whole range of treatments, products and drugs which can be used to treat pain in dogs, safely and effectively.

This information will help you understand your vet’s recommendations, ask the right questions, and be aware of the risks & benefits of your dog’s treatment plan.

Use these links to jump directly to a specific section or scroll down to learn everything you need to know about dog pain relief options…

IMPORTANT Disclaimer

Finding a safe and effective way to treat your dog’s pain is best done with the help of a veterinarian.

I wouldn’t recommend giving any type of medication, even a natural product, to your pet without first discussing it with your vet because ANY product has the potential to interact with existing medical conditions or current medications in a negative way.

Prescription Pain Relief For Dogs

veterinarian and dog

If your dog is injured, has had surgery, or has a chronic health problem which is causing him pain, your vet will most likely prescribe him pain medication.

In older dogs the most common reason for taking pain medicine are chronic conditions such as Arthritis or degenerative conditions.

These are usually treated with a NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) as a first-line drug, however for some dogs, particularly those with concurrent illness, NSAIDs are not the most ideal choice.

Pain relief for post-surgery pain or other serious conditions may include narcotic or opiate drugs.

All these medications have side-effects, some of which can be serious, and should only be given when prescribed by your vet for YOUR dog.

Never use a drug prescribed for another dog (or a person).

Dosage needs to be calculated according to your dog’s weight and other considerations such as age and pre-existing health conditions need to be accounted for.

NSAID Pain Relief For Dogs

Different NSAIDs can contain one of several active ingredients. If one doesn’t seem to help your dog, or he doesn’t tolerate it very well, it’s possible that another one will.

Most vets are happy to try different medications in order to find the right ‘fit’.


WATCH: 3 Important Tips To Care For an Old Dog [VET VIDEO]


Before prescribing an NSAID for your dog, your vet will want to do blood work and know all about his current health and pre-existing conditions.

This is to make sure that the pain relief prescribed is as safe for him as possible.

There will also be regular blood tests and health checks to make sure that the medication isn’t causing any side-effects or adverse reactions.

Side effects or adverse reactions can sometimes occur even without noticeable symptoms.

Carprofen

In the United States, carprofen was the first non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug approved specifically to treat dogs.

It is the active ingredient in Rimadyl (probably the most well-known drug of its kind) and is also available to be prescribed for your dog as Novox, Quellin or Rovera.

Carprofen is an effective, and popular, choice for treating arthritis and some other inflammatory joint conditions, but there are those potential side-effects.

Drugs containing carprofen should NOT be given to:

  • Puppies under six weeks of age
  • Pregnant or nursing dog

Carprofen should also NOT be given to dogs who have:

  • Bleeding disorders (including stomach ulcers)
  • Liver or kidney disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • An allergy to aspirin or any other NSAID
Studies have shown that Labrador Retrievers may have an above-average risk of experiencing serious reactions to carprofen. NEVER give a drug with this active ingredient to your Labrador unless it has been specifically prescribed for him by your veterinarian.

Deracoxib

Deracoxib is the active ingredient in Deramaxx, another NSAID which is FDA approved for the treatment of pain and inflammation in dogs.

Deramaxx is also often prescribed by veterinarians to help ease post-operative pain.

As an NSAID it has the same potential side-effects and the same prescription restrictions as the ones for Carprofen listed above.

If your dog is taking any type of steroid medication your vet needs to know if he is considering prescribing this drug for your dog.

Firocoxib

Firocoxib is the active ingredient in the NSAID Previcox which is FDA approved to treat inflammation and pain in dogs.

It works in a very similar way to Deracoxib and has similar potential side-effects and restrictions, including the need to notify your vet if your dog is taking any steroid medications.

It is known as a COX-2 inhibitor, which means there are often fewer side effects associated with it.

Meloxicam

Meloxicam is the active ingredient in the NSAID Metacam (or Mobic). 

Meloxicam is prescribed for pain relief in dogs when that pain is due to arthritis and other similar conditions.

Meloxicam is prescribed for pain relief in dogs when that pain is due to arthritis and other similar conditions,

It is also subject to the same risks and restrictions as the other NSAID’s listed above.

Available in two forms: Meloxicam Tablets or Metacam Oral Suspension

The most common side-effects of NSAID’s on dogs can include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

More rare, and more serious, side-effects of NSAIDs can include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Black or tarry stools
  • Pale gums (or tongue)
  • Yellowing of gums, tongue or whites of the eyes
  • Dizziness or disorientation
  • Paralysis or seizures

The second group of reactions could indicate a serious problem such as internal bleeding or liver damage.

If you notice any of them, you must stop giving the medication and get your dog to a veterinarian as soon as possible.

NSAIDs should never be given on an empty stomach as this can increase the likelihood of bleeding and other risks.

Always give your dog this type of pain relief medication with food. Either added to his meal, or right after eating.

Galliprant

Galliprant is a new type of NSAID which does not block the activity of COX enzymes like the other NSAIDs. As a result, it is generally much better tolerated than any other NSAID option.

However, despite being less common, there are still potential side effects, such as:

  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Decreased appetite
  • Soft stools
  • Blood in the stools

It is available in an easy to give tablet form, and should not be given concurrently with other NSAIDs or steroid medications.

Adequan

Adequan is the brand name for a naturally derived prescription medication used to treat the inflammation and pain from arthritis and other degenerative bone/joint conditions in dogs.

It’s also used for pain control after joint surgery.

It is not an oral medication but is given by injection. It is not an NSAID.

Adequan not only relieves pain, but it reduces damage to joints and stimulates the repair of cartilage. It’s currently the only FDA approved treatment of its kind.

There are still side-effects which could be potentially serious including excessive bleeding and liver or kidney damage.

Adequan should not be given to pregnant or nursing dogs, or dogs in a breeding program.

Other Prescription Pain Medications for Dogs

puppy being inspected

If an NSAID isn’t the right choice of pain relief for your dog and/or his condition, there are other options your veterinarian can try.

Opioids (also known as narcotics) do not have anti-inflammatory properties and are commonly used to treat dogs with severe pain, post surgery pain and for extra relief in certain situations.

These are usually a safe, well tolerated and extremely effective way to manage a dog’s pain and can be used as an alternative to an NSAID (for pain only) or in conjunction with one (under vet’s recommendation only).

There are side effects to using an opiate drug for your dog, these include:

  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Drowsiness or lethargy
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Slow or labored breathing
  • Weakness or dizziness

There is also a risk of addiction with this type of pain relief, and dosage needs to be carefully monitored by your veterinarian.

Opiate drugs should not be given to dogs who have:

  • Seizure disorder
  • Epilepsy
  • Kidney or liver disease
  • Stomach disorder

or who are taking an:

  • Antidepressant
  • Muscle relaxant
  • Sedative
  • Anti-nausea or anti-emetic

Tramadol

Tramadol is the most prescribed opioid pain relief for dogs, although it is not a typical opioid. It tends to act more like a type of medication known as a tricyclic antidepressant, and the level of pain relief action varies from individual to individual.

Although well tolerated, generally considered safe, and with a low incidence of serious side-effects, tramadol is still a very strong medication and needs to be used with care.

An overdose can easily be fatal, and some side-effects can be serious. Severe adverse reactions in dogs to Tramadol can include slow or abnormal heartbeat or breathing problems.

Overdose can cause hallucinations and severe anxiety or agitation. Possibly followed by collapse, which can lead to death.

Codeine

Codeine is an effective pain killer for use in dogs and is usually absorbed quickly and well tolerated.

Side-effects and overdose reactions are similar to those given for Tramadol (above)

Additional opioid medications which can be used as dog pain relief include Hydrocodone, Fentanyl and Butorphanol.

Gabapentin

Gabapentin is the active ingredient in the Neurontin which is as an anti-seizure medication.

It is not FDA approved for use in animals, but many veterinarians routinely prescribe it to treat seizures in their patients.

It’s also regularly prescribed to treat chronic pain in dogs (and cats) from conditions ranging from arthritis to cancer.

Side effects of gabapentin in dogs can include:

  • Drowsiness or lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of balance
  • Swelling of limbs

If possible gabapentin should be avoided in dogs who:

  • Are pregnant or nursing
  • Have kidney disease

It is recommended to avoid giving your dog an antacid within 2 hours of giving gabapentin as it reduces the absorption, and therefore efficacy of the medication.

Amantadine

Amantadine is a medication which falls into the NMDA antagonist category. By itself, it is not particularly effective, but when combined with an NSAID medication, it appears to boost the effectivity of the drug.

It is a relatively safe medication to use, and has very few side effects, although unfortunately it is very expensive relative to its effectiveness, which often makes it one of the last medications a veterinarian opts for.

Tylenol

Tylenol (whose active ingredient is Acetaminophen) is traditionally considered toxic to dogs, however, there is a narrow therapeutic window where it can be used quite effectively to treat pain in dogs.

Note: it can cause fatalities if given to cats!

If your veterinarian prescribes Tylenol, be extremely careful to follow his/her instructions about dosage and NEVER give Tylenol to your dog without a veterinarian’s express recommendation.

In case of emergency, it’s good to have these two numbers posted somewhere obvious!
ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center: 1-888-426-4435 or 1-800-548-2423
Available 24 hours. $65 charge per call.Pet Poison Hotline: 1-888-764-7661
Available 24 hours. $49 charge covers all calls related to single incident

Natural Pain Relief for Dogs

The search for natural pain relief for pets is increasing in popularity.

There are several products natural products or supplements which can help reduce your dog’s inflammation and pain.

Not all situations are a good ‘fit’ for a natural product and some conditions need stronger medications or pharmaceuticals such as the prescriptions drugs discussed above.

These include severe pain and inflammation, immediate post-surgical pain management and serious conditions such as cancer.

Natural Supplements & Vitamins

Chronic degenerative bone/joint conditions, such as arthritis, are one of the most common causes of pain in dogs, especially older dogs.

Take an in-depth look at the world of natural supplement for pets which can be a safe and effective option for treating a wide range of health problems…Senior Dog Supplements.

Natural supplements for these conditions tend to concentrate on minimizing cartilage damage and improve joint mobility. This in turn alleviates pain.

The most popular ingredients in their arsenal are Glucosamine and Chondroitin, these are often combined in a single product but are also available individually.

Other natural dog pain relief options include herbal, homeopathic and flower essence remedies.

Most natural pain relief products for dogs can be used safely in conjunction with veterinary treatments and prescription medications. In fact, the best results for managing pain come through a multimodal approach. BUT it is very important to get your vet’s approval before giving your dog anything… natural or otherwise.

Nutramax Cosequin DS

Nutramax Cosequin DS is the most popular natural dietary supplement recommended by veterinarians for joint health support in dogs.


It is a powerful formula containing both glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane) which is a natural pain reliever. These tasty chewable tablets are safe, effective, and suitable for long term use in dogs of all sizes. They are also safe to use at the same time as NSAIDs. Click here to learn more, or to buy, Nutramax Cosequin DS

Nutramax Dasuquin with MSM

Nutramax Dasuquin with MSM is a complete joint support supplement and is available in two strengths to suite small to medium, and large, dogs.


Like Cosequin, it contains glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM, but also ASU (Avocado Soybean Unsaponifiables) and Green Tea which help to increase effectiveness and hydrate joints. They are tasty, chewable tablets which provide the ultimate in joint care and support. They are also safe to use at the same time as NSAIDs.

Click here to learn more, or to buy, Nutramax Dasuquin Plus MSM

Vetri-Science Glycoflex III

This Glycoflex formula is the most powerful of the three-stage program of joint support supplements by Vetri-Science.

They are a blend of natural ingredients designed to help cushion joints, encourage the growth of healthy cartilage, reduce inflammation, and relieve pain. They are available in chicken flavored tablets which contain glucosamine, MSM, vitamins C & E, DMG and more. They are especially good for senior dogs, those with chronic joint problems and as part of a post-surgery care regimen. They are also safe for use at the same time as NSAIDs.

Click here to learn more, or to buy, Vetri-Science Glycoflex III

Vet’s Best Aches + Pain

This is designed to relieve mild or short-term pain due to stiff joints, sore muscles, over-exercising and so on.


It is a pain-relief formula formulated from natural ingredients including glucosamine, MSM and bromelain (reduces inflammation). It also includes salicin from white willow bark, which is nature’s version of Aspirin, and much safer than the chemical creation. It comes as chewable liver-flavored tablets.

Click here to learn more, or to buy, Vet’s Best Aches + Pain.

Herbal Healing Liniment

This is an organic healing liniment which can be rubbed onto painful areas to reduce pain, discomfort and stiffness.

It is a pain-relief formula formulated from natural ingredients including glucosamine, MSM and bromelain (reduces inflammation). It also includes salicin from white willow bark, which is nature’s version of Aspirin, and much safer than the chemical creation. It comes as chewable liver-flavored tablets.Click here to learn more, or to buy, Pet Herbal Healing Liniment

Pet Essences Pain Relief

This is a blend of flower essences designed to treat the pain of cuts and bruises, as part of post-surgical care regimen and injury recovery.


It is a gentle flower remedy containing arnica, impatiens, Sturt Desert Road and Tall Mulla Mulla. It can be applied externally by rubbing onto skin, ears or paws or misting pet with spray bottle. It relieves symptoms of pain and can aid relaxation and sleep too.
Click here to learn more, or to buy, Pet Essences Pain Relief

Complementary Dog Pain Relief Therapies

Medications and natural supplements or products are the most commonly thought of treatment for pain in dogs.

But there are other/additional options and therapies that can bring relief, including Hydrotherapy, Massage and Acupuncture.

These therapies are often called ‘complementary therapies’ and are scientifically recognized and well researched.

There is also the field of ‘alternative’ or ‘holistic’ therapies, such a chiropody, homeopathy and herbal medicine, but there is much less scientific support for these treatment modalities.

Here are a few that you might want to try if your dog is suffering:

Exercise

Obviously whether or not exercise will work as pain relief for your dog depends on what is causing his pain in the first place.

It is most helpful for dogs who are experiencing chronic arthritis or age-related stiffness and pain.

Movement helps keep joints mobile and also releases endorphins which help him feel better physically and mentally.

Gentle, low impact exercise is what you’re aiming for – in other words walking. Not running or jumping.

Also, soft surfaces are best for exercise in this situation. Try to avoid concrete if possible. Grass is the best choice.

Gentle exercise after surgery (for whatever condition) can also be a good idea, depending on what the surgery was for – and only once your dog has recovered enough and your veterinarian gives you the go-ahead to get him mobile and gently active.

Always consult your veterinarian before making any changes to your dog’s exercise regime… you want to be sure it’s going to be helpful not harmful.

Hydrotherapy

Hydrotherapy uses water to help heal and to reduce pain.

It’s suitable as a pain relief option for dogs with arthritis, spinal problems, hip or elbow dysplasia, certain injuries or traumas and orthopedic problems, and as part of a post-surgical recovery plan.

While swimming in your pool or hot tub, or for small dogs in your bathtub can be fun and beneficial for some dogs, hydrotherapy is much more than swimming.

Canine water therapy centers can offer a number of options including underwater treadmills, whirlpools and of course swimming pools.

Water has wonderful benefits for a dog in pain, including supporting his weight, taking stress of his joints.

When the water is heated to the right temperature it also helps to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and relieve stiffness.

The IAAMB (International Association of Animal Massage& Bodywork and the Association of Canine Water Therapy) website has a comprehensive list of Canine Water Therapy Centers (both national and international). You can find this list here… ACWT Member DirectoryYour vet may also be able to recommend complementary therapists for your dog, or you can search online for the particular therapy you’re looking for in your area.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese therapy which involves inserting tiny needles into certain, specific points in the body. However, Western veterinarians are now understanding the science behind acupuncture and are including it in their mainstream treatments.

Acupuncture works through stimulating the release of endorphins, which are the body’s own natural pain relief which work similarly to opioids. They also cause dilation of the blood vessels, resulting in improved blood flow and healing, as well as deep relaxation of tense muscles.

Acupuncture is a safe and effective therapy for all dogs, but it is particularly useful for dogs which have concurrent illnesses, such as kidney disease, which precludes them from being able to take prescription medication for pain.

Find a Veterinary Acupuncturist in your area here… AAVA Veterinary AcupuncturistsOr ask your veterinarian for recommendations or suggestions.

Massage

Canine massage can do so many things including:

  • Relax and/or strengthen muscles
  • Relieve tension or soreness
  • Increase flexibility
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Improve mobility
  • Reduce or relieve pain
  • Improved bloodflow

Massage is a good choice for reducing pain in dogs with arthritic joints, hip or elbow dysplasia, mobility issues.

It can also be helpful if your dog is recovering from an injury or surgery.

There are other, whole body, benefits of massage for dogs including lowered anxiety levels, improved immune system function and promoting good circulation (both blood and lymphatic systems).

For older dogs, the good news is that massage can also slow the progress some degenerative conditions.

There are two ways to find a Canine Massage Therapist in your area:IAAMB Animal Massage & Bodywork & ACWT Member Listings

NBCAAM Member Listings

Final Thoughts:

So, as you can see there are many, many different dog pain relief options that you can use to help your best friend feel better.

In many cases it’s not an ‘either/or’ situation, and medications may be combined with natural products and/or complementary therapies to produce the best, and most effective pain relief for your dog.

However, don’t forget that you for safety reasons it’s vitally important to make sure you have your veterinarian’s approval for ANY product or treatment prior to using it on your dog!

Good luck to you both.

Authors

  • Dr Jo De Klerk, BVetMed, is a principal Veterinarian at JDK Veterinarian Services. She is a board-certified veterinarian, who earned her Honors of Veterinary Medicine from the prestigious Royal Veterinary College in London. She is registered with the RCVS and SAVC and has a Master’s degree in Animal Health and a Certificate in Veterinary Pain Management. Her clinical interest and focus is in pain management and rehabilitation. She is the author of 11 books including ‘Old Dog Love: A Common-Sense Guide to Caring for Your Senior Dog'.

  • Dr. Winnie earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Duke University, a Masters of Science in Biology from St Georges University, and graduated from the University of Pretoria Veterinary School in South Africa.She has been an animal lover and owner all her life, having owned a Rottweiler named Duke, a Pekingese named Athena and now a Bull Mastiff named George, also known as big G! She is a full-time Veterinarian in South Africa specializing in internal medicine for large breed dogs. Outside of work, she enjoys spending time with her husband, 2 kids and Big G.


Still have questions?
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3 Comments

  1. i’d love to hear from dog owners who have used tramadol for dogs with arthritic symptoms and have identified relief. I have a 13 y/o border collie with significant front leg arthritic symptoms as well as back legs to a more limited extent. I use metacam daily as well as chondroitin and have started tramadol 50 mg.in the evening but see absolutely no change. Perhaps a little drowsier but no pain relief symptoms. Is it perhaps the border collie breed?

  2. Hi I would like to hear about spinal nerve injury pain relief for my 10 year old Staffy. My vet is giving expensive Gabapentin and Metacam which is extremely costly given once and 3 times a day.
    Can you please help with cheaper effective pain relief for my boy who is losing balance which I feel is part of the drug given.
    I am desperate for help to be able to help him better and prolong his life.
    Thank you

    • Hi Tina,

      I’m sorry to hear your Staffie is struggling with nerve pain. This can make them quite wobbly, but you’re quite right – so can the gabapentin. For neurological pain, gabapentin is one of the best drugs we have. And dogs need a much higher dose than humans, so it can look excessive even though it’s a normal dog dose. Metacam is also useful as it’s an NSAID, which means it acts on a different part of the pain loop and helps to reduce inflammation at the site of pain too. Pain relief is difficult in dogs – we have a few different drugs that can help, and it’s all about finding the right mix for each pet. I think gabapentin and Metacam was a great place to start, but if these drugs aren’t quite right for your dog, it’s time to discuss them with the prescribing vet who will be able to discuss reducing the dose, swapping the drugs, or adding in other drugs that might help.
      Unfortunately, these modern drugs can be expensive. Be upfront with your vet about what you can afford so that they can work with you to find ways around it. In the UK and many other countries, you’re always allowed to ask for a written prescription which you can fill at an online pharmacy, which can drastically reduce the cost of medications. However, please bear in mind that Gabapentin is a restricted drug and legally your vet may not be allowed to write you a prescription for more than a month at a time.
      I hope that helps to answer some of your questions,

      Dr Joanna Woodnutt BVM BVS MRCVS, veterinarian

      PS: The info on our website is not a substitute for the professional in-person advice that your local veterinarian can provide.

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