Vets prescribe painkillers to help your dog feel more comfortable after an injury, operation or a painful illness. The type of painkiller prescribed depends on the problem, as well as your dog’s age and general health.
Painkillers are used to treat pain. Most dogs will need painkillers (analgesics) at some point in their lives, especially as they get older. Sometimes treatment is for a short time, to help your pet recover from an injury or operation. Dogs with arthritis may need painkillers every day to help them enjoy a happy active life. Side effects are common and depend on the medicine, but often include tummy upsets or sleepiness. Only use painkillers your vet prescribes. Most human painkillers are not safe for dogs.
What it’s for
What painkillers are there for dogs and what are they for?
There are a number of different types of painkillers for dogs. They act in different ways and the choice for your dog will depend on
- Source of the pain.
- Severity of pain.
- How long treatment is needed.
- Possible side effects and how likely they are in your dog (age, breed, size, previous history).
- Any other illnesses your dog has that might influence the effectiveness or risks of the painkiller.
- Possible interactions with other medicines.
- How easy it is to give the medicine
- Cost may be a consideration if there’s more than one suitable option.
How it works
Most common painkillers used in dogs
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory painkillers (NSAIDs)
The most commonly used painkillers are ‘’non-steroidal anti-inflammatory’ medicines or NSAIDs. As the name suggests, these painkillers act by reducing inflammation, so they act at the site of the problem.
- Joints inflamed by sprains, twists, damaged cartilage or arthritis.
- Wounds which become inflamed due to infection or tissue damage
- Where an operation has happened, such as tooth removal or neutering.
- Skin and ears, where deep infections cause painful inflammation
Cost varies, depending on the type and dose of NSAID.
The opioid painkillers include morphine, tramadol and related drugs.
Injections of opioids are used where a stronger painkiller is needed.
Opioids can be used alongside NSAIDs. Or they may be used instead of them when pain relief is needed and NSAIDS aren’t tolerated or safe.
Opioid medicines act on the brain to reduce the feeling of pain rather than reducing inflammation.
The effects of opioids and their side effects can vary between dogs. An effective opioid for one dog may be ineffective or cause side effects in another.
Uses for opioids include:
- Serious injuries like broken bones or road accidents
- Before and during surgery to help recovery
- Additional or alternative pain relief when NSAIDS are no longer enough or aren’t tolerated by your dog
- As part of a sedative treatment. Opioids have a ‘chilling out’ effect on patients.
Opioids are strong medicines strictly regulated by Law. Some, like morphine and Fentanyl, will only be used in the vet clinic and their use is carefully recorded.
Monthly biological treatment – Bedinvetmab
- Bedinvetmab (Librela)is the newest form of painkiller.
- It works with your dog’s immune system.
- Bedinvetmab is an antibody. It attacks the chemical messengers that tell nerves to signal pain.
- This treatment is an injection given once a month by your vet.
- Bedinvetmab is considered to be safe as a monthly injection.
- May cause some irritation or redness at the injection site.
Alternative or additional painkillers:
- Gabapentin is a human medicine used ‘off label‘ as a painkiller for dogs.
- It’s commonly used as an anti-seizure medicine in humans and dogs.
- Like opioids, it also acts on the brain and is often used as an additional pain relief for chronic pain or where other medicines aren’t tolerated.
- Available as capsules, tablets or liquids to give with or without food.
- Chronic pain
- Neuropathic pain: Pain due to nerve damage or irritation
Side effects include:
- Poor appetite
- Loss of balance
Amantadine is also a human medicine which is used ‘off-label’ for dogs. It acts by blocking the nerves which send pain signals to the brain. Amantadine is generally used alongside NSAIDs or opioids to treat chronic or neuropathic pain.
Amantadine is available as a syrup, capsule or tablet.
It’s a very safe drug for dogs. Side effects aren’t common, but may include:
Are human painkillers safe for dogs?
Never give human painkillers to your dog.
Across the counter medicines you buy in supermarkets or pharmacies are dangerous for dogs. They can cause serious illness, including:
- Intestinal bleeding
- Kidney injury
- Liver failure
- Paracetamol is a human painkiller.
- Vets sometimes prescribe paracetamol ‘off-label’ for dogs. The dose is very different to humans.
- Never give paracetamol to your dog unless under the advice and recommendation of your vet.
Directions for use
How to give painkillers to your dog
Only give your dog painkillers as a vet prescribes.
All painkillers are ‘prescription only’’
- This means a vet has to check your dog to decide which medicine is most likely to be effective and safe.
Vets may advise a blood test for your dog before they start painkillers.
- This is to check for liver and kidney problems. Blood tests are very important for older dogs or those likely to have long courses of painkillers.
Always give painkillers at the dose and times prescribed.
- Giving too much risks dangerous side effects.
Take your dog for regular check ups.
- Dogs on long term medicine need to see a vet regularly for check-ups.
- This is required by law. But it’s to make sure your dog is doing well and still on the most effective and safest treatment for their health condition(s).
Specific instructions for certain painkillers
NSAIDS are available as injections, tablets, capsules, and liquids. Vets may start treatment with an injection, followed by oral medicine at home.
- NSAIDs are usually given by mouth once or twice daily, depending on the type
- Usually given with or immediately after feeding to reduce stomach irritation
- If your dog goes off their food or develops a tummy upset, stop giving the medicine and call your vet as soon as possible
NSAIDS reduce inflammation. Inflammation causes pain and loss of function. But inflammation is also an important part of the healing process. So although your dog needs painkillers to make them comfortable and to limit “loss of function”, we also need to support the recovery process.
This may mean additional care is needed with:
- Strict rest for dogs with sprains strains or muscle injuries to prevent more damage
- Strict rest after an operation, or as directed by your vet. So no jumping on sofas or chasing balls!
- Keeping wounds clean. Use a cone collar or medical vest if necessary to prevent licking.
Opioids are available as injections, tablets, liquid or special patches that give the medicine through the skin.
- Your dog may take a few days to get used to the medicine
- Give the first dose when you’ll be around to keep an eye on them.
- Protect your dog from injury due to stumbles or falls if the medicine makes them wobbly.
What are the possible side effects of painkillers?
Side effects of painkillers are quite common. Different dogs will respond differently to different medicines. This applies to both the effects and the side effects. But side effects are more likely for any dog when the medicine is given incorrectly.
Side effects can include:
- Vomiting and diarrhoea
- Loss of appetite
- Kidney damage
- Stomach ulcers: vomiting blood, passing black tarry poo
All breeds of dogs are equally susceptible to side effects of NSAIDs, but accidental overdose is more likely in small breeds, very young puppies and very old dogs.
Most non-steroidal anti-inflammatory painkillers are best given with or after food. This helps to reduce the risk of stomach irritation.
There are many different NSAIDs licensed for dogs in the UK. The newer ones tend to be more ‘selective’ in the way they act to reduce harmful side effects. Some of these either can be or even should be given on an empty stomach.
Contact a vet without delay if your dog vomits fresh blood after taking a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine.
Side effects of opioid medicines include
- Wobbly gait and tremors
- Vomiting and reduced appetite
All Injectable painkillers
- Irritation or infection at the injection site
- Small risk of infection
What happens if
When should my dog not take painkillers?
NSAIDs are used very carefully or avoided in:
- Dogs with blood clotting problems
- Dogs with liver or kidney disease
- Dogs with a history of stomach ulcers
- Dogs who suffered a bad reaction to the same medicine in the past.
- Pregnant bitches
- Puppies under 6 weeks old.
Opioid medicines may worsen symptoms of confusion and unsteady gait:
Talk to a vet as soon as possible if you think your dog is suffering severe side effects of medication.
Joii can help with advice on:
- How to give medicines safely
- Recognising side effects and reducing the risk where possible
- Caring for wounds
- Managing exercise for a dog with arthritis or recovering from surgery