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How to choose the best pain relief for dogs

how to choose pain relief for dogs
(Image credit: Unsplash)

No one likes seeing their four-legged friend suffer, but how do you know which pain relief for dogs is the best for your pooch? Doggy discomfort can come in many forms – whether that's muscle pain, soreness, stiffness, swellings or long-term conditions, but different medicines will have different effects. 

Also, not all dogs display symptoms of pain in the same way - much as in humans, some choose to hide their afflictions away, while others with let you know with a howl! 

 With recent press reports that over-the-counter human-grade paracetamol can be used as a quick source of pain relief for dogs, we thought we'd get a professional opinion from vet. It's tempting to just reach into the medicine cabinet to help your poorly pooch as quickly as possible, but how safe is it? And can this short cut to a happy hound cause them problems in the future?

To answer all these questions, we put them to our in-house vet Dr. Joanna Woodnut to dispel the myths about choosing pain relief for dogs that you share your home with.


 How do you know your dog is in pain? 

It's unlikely you want to start exploring pain relief for dogs options if you aren't sure they are definitely in need of it, so how can you tell?

 Dr. Joanna Woodnut explains "It’s common for owners to think that their dog will cry out or let them know in some way if they are in pain, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Dogs can hide the signs of pain very well – especially if the pain is low grade, chronic pain like arthritis."

"For acute pain – from an injury – you might expect whimpering, whining, licking or looking at the area, limping, and behavioural changes including nervousness and aggression. For chronic pain – like arthritis – you might only see your dog’s gait change subtly, or behavioural changes such as sleeping more."

So, what if you are positive your pooch is suffering? Surely there must be a way of obtaining safe pain relief for dogs ready for when they need it? But Dr. Joanna Woodnut explains it's not that simple: "Because we don’t always know that a dog is in pain, let alone what’s wrong with the dog, it’s never a good idea to treat your dog for pain using over-the-counter medicines."

"There are no over-the-counter pain relief products for pets because these drugs can be dangerous if it’s unclear what the problem is. Because dogs can’t talk, you should get a vet to confirm that they’re painful and recommend a safe treatment for the right type of pain. 

Treating without talking to your vet first can be dangerous – your pet may have a reaction to a certain medication, or it may not be appropriate for the type or amount of pain that they’re in."

 Is Paracetamol safe pain relief for dogs? 

But what about the recent press reports that paracetamol is safe for dogs? Is that an option pet owners could consider?

Dr. Joanna Woodnut considers these reports technically true, but potentially dangerous. "Yes, in certain situations human paracetamol may be prescribed for dogs,"  she tells us. "But again, this needs to be determined as appropriate by a vet. Paracetamol overdose is very easy in animals as they need a far smaller dose than humans, so it’s essential a vet is involved in the dosing.

In addition, some formulations of paracetamol may not be appropriate – for instance those with other drugs included – which is another reason I ask clients not to go and grab it off the shelf. Note: paracetamol is highly toxic to cats and should never be given to them

 She adds, "Anything not made specifically for dogs or prescribed by your vet should be avoided. Ibuprofen is one drug that commonly gets given to dogs and is toxic. It also limits what your vet can do when you get to see them. I’ve only treated ibuprofen poisoning once, and it’s not an experience I’d like to repeat." 

Jamie Middleton

Jamie Middleton is a freelance editor and writer who has been editing and creating content for magazines and websites for over 20 years. As well as writing about the pets he loves, he has helped create websites about tech and innovation like TechRadar.com, Innovate UK and TechSPARK, written programmes for music festivals, books on inventions and architecture, TV listings magazines, and edited publications about cars such as Lexus, Toyota and Jaguar. He is currently the content director for Space.com and Live Science. In his spare time he writes fiction books and poetry - or at least he does when he is permitted to by his cat Pirate, who enjoys the warmth of laptops too much to allow being creative to get in the way.