Options and Types of Pain Medication for Dogs Choosing the Right Pain Medication for Dogs

Options and Types of Pain Medication for Dogs
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Rimadyl (carprofen)

Arthritis & Pain
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Every pet parent wants their dog to live a long life. With this longevity, the probability that your dog will experience some aches and pains as they age becomes more likely. Find out what pain medication for dogs are available here.

Thanks to advances in veterinary care and the availability of healthier foods, dogs are living longer than ever. With increasing longevity, however, comes a greater chance that your senior dog may experience pain during their lifetime.

Fortunately, pain medication for dogs, like Rimadyl (aka Carprofen), are better than ever before, and can improve your pet’s quality of life, even when ailments are having an effect on their health. Causes of pain can vary from chronic conditions to short term recoveries, and there are different medications to suit different ailments.


All types of pain meds, for humans and dogs (and cats and horses and so on), are called analgesics. There are several classifications of analgesics that are used for pets.

NSAIDs | Including Metacam, Piroxicam, Rimadyl, Novox, Deramaxx , Etodolac and Previcox

Pain medication for dogs are primarily comprised of NSAIDs. NSAID stands for “non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug.” These medications work by blocking the body’s production of certain enzymes that cause tissue swelling at the point of injury.

Modern NSAIDs for dogs have far less risk of complication than the canine NSAIDs of yore. Thanks to NSAIDs, it’s easier than ever to keep your dog’s pain in check without damaging side effects. The key is working with your vet to find the right medication and right dosage for your individual dog.

Opiates | Including Buprenorphine, Morphine, Paregoric, and Codeine

Opiates work by blocking the dog’s ability to recognize the pain they’re in. Opiates are narcotic, and are by far the strongest pain medication for dogs. They’re currently used only in severe cases on a short term basis.

Most veterinarians have stopped prescribing opiates, in favor of NSAIDs. Narcotics, even the veterinary kind, are regulated in the U.S. by the DEA. As such, many veterinarians opt not to deal with substances that are under such close scrutiny. Dogs also develop a tolerance to opiates, and doses must be increased, which can lead to more intense side effects.

Steroids | Including Prednisone, Dexamethasone, Corticosteroids, and more

Steroids are used to control inflammation, which can cause severe pain. These days most veterinarians opt for non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), as steroid use can cause devastating side effects, including Cushing’s disease.

Nutraceuticals | Including Omega-3 Fatty acids, “MSM”, and Glucosamine

These supplements are often used in conjunction with another pain medication to manage chronic pain, especially when it’s associated with arthritis.

Antidepressants | Including Tofranil and Elavil

Some antidepressants are also effective pain medications for dogs. The same is true in humans!

Alternative Pain Management | Holistic, Environmental, Herbal

Many pet owners wish to avoid pain medication for dogs for a whole host of reasons. There aren’t a lot of “alternative” pain medications on the market, but there are non-medication actions you can take that may help to alleviate your pet’s discomfort. Massage can help arthritic joints. Keepings rambunctious kids out of the room, or turning the music down, can help eliminate stress while your dog is recovering from an injury or from surgery, which will help them heal faster. Sometimes a new bed can ease pain, as can slipping a heating pad under a towel in the dog’s bed. Discuss options with your veterinarian.

There are also alternative treatment options including veterinary acupuncture and traditional Chinese veterinary medicine (TCVM). Many pet owners have seen positive results when these practices are applied to manage or reduce pain, and to heal the source of the pain.


Canine NSAID Side Effects

NSAIDs can be effective, but they do come with their fair share of side effects. Many of the side effects are minor and manageable, but serious side effects can occur as well. Contact your vet if side effects present.

Common but Manageable Side Effects of NSAIDS in Dogs

Serious but Less Common Side Effects of NSAIDS in Dogs

  • Ulcers
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding or perforations
  • Kidney damage and liver problems

Canine Opiate Side Effects

Canine Steroid Side Effects

A dog showing signs of any side effect, even a minor one, should see a vet right away. Your vet can then decide whether your dog should be taken off the medication or if dosage should be reduced.


A vet should always decide whether to administer pain medication for dogs. Never take the matter into your own hands. Even if you and your dog have been down this road before, it is possible that your dog’s condition has changed. A treatment that once worked may no longer be the best option. Your veterinarian can do a variety of tests that you can’t do at home, which will determine which meds are best.

Long-term use of NSAIDs carries a higher risk of problems than short-term use. So with a chronic condition like arthritis, be sure to see your vet often.

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More on Medications for Dogs

Flea and Tick Medications: Comparison Chart
Antibiotics for Dogs
Generic Alternatives for Popular Pet Medications

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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