Seeing your fur baby in pain is harrowing for any pet parent. Whilst humans can self-medicate, dogs can’t. It is therefore very important for us owners to act quickly to find out the cause of a dog’s pain. This will allow them to return to their usual happy selves as quickly as possible. However, the world of veterinary medicine is vast, and with so many medications it can be difficult to know how to best help your pet. Luckily, your vet can tell you about the best dog OTC pain meds for your pooch.
Dog pain medication comes in many forms. However, the most common medicines are NSAIDs. For dogs, NSAIDs take several forms, including Carprofen, Meloxicam, and Firocoxib, among others. Depending on your pup’s overall health, one medicine is going to be a better fit than the others. So, what are the pros and cons of each? And how effective are they? Read on with us to find out more!
What are Dog Pain Meds
Most pain medicines that vets prescribe are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs are medicines for both people and animals that relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and help to bring down high temperatures. They’re best for relieving the symptoms of arthritis, sprains, strains, and other painful conditions. Vets also use them to control pain and inflammation in dogs after surgery. But how do they work?
NSAIDs affect a type of lipid known as prostaglandins. You and your dog both release prostaglandins in response to injury or irritation. But how exactly does this happen? To begin, when a cell faces damage, an enzyme known as cyclooxygenase (COX) activates. This enzyme stimulates nearby cells to produce substances, including prostaglandins, in response to the damage. Prostaglandins have several important functions, including contributing to pain, fever, and inflammation, protecting the stomach lining, maintaining blood flow to the kidneys, and supporting platelet function. Many NSAIDs work by blocking the COX enzymes, causing less prostaglandin production. This means less pain for your pup. Some NSAIDs will block the activity of prostaglandins instead. But, no matter the path the NSAID takes, it works to reduce pain and inflammation.
So, what dog OTC pain meds are best? To begin with, not all NSAIDs are FDA-approved. Among the most popular FDA-approved NSAIDs include Carprofen, Deracoxib, Firocoxib, Grapiprant, Meloxicam, and Robenacoxib. All FDA-approved NSAIDs for dogs are available by a vet prescription only.
What Are The Signs That My Dog Is In Pain
You know your pup best and can probably spot the signs that something is wrong right away. However, some signs of pain are misinterpreted by even the most doting of pet parents! Dogs are typically very good at masking their pain. For example, dogs may still wag their tails and greet people despite being in pain. Some dogs may growl or attempt to bite when in pain. This is sometimes misinterpreted as aggressive behavior. So, let’s recap the signs of pain in dogs.
Behaviorally, there are several signs of pain. These include a lack of appetite, reluctance to move, unusual restlessness, anxiety, withdrawn behavior, mood changes, yelping, and irritability. For example, a dog with stomach pain may growl if you go to touch their stomach or back. Perhaps the most obvious sign is licking, biting, or rubbing the painful area. For example, a dog with tooth pain may rub their face on the floor to try to relieve the pain. Another dog with painful sores on their feet may obsessively lick their paws. Some dogs will shake and tremble as they struggle to cope with their pain.
Physically, the signs of pain can be more subtle. These include a change in heart rate, a change in breathing pattern, changes in movement and posture, and slow reflexes. You might notice your dog breathing faster if you go to touch the painful area. Your vet will be able to spot these signs and work accordingly.
The DON’Ts of Dog Pain Meds
Before giving your pet any medicines as prescribed by your vet, let’s recap what not to do when dosing them. Pain management is very important to get right. You cannot exceed their dose, leave the medicine where they can reach it, or mix it with other drugs.
Never exceed the stated dose! If you have concerns that your pet’s medicine is not working well enough, always speak to your vet about your worries. Another medicine might be better for your dog. Their heightened pain could also indicate a complication of surgery that your vet needs to look into. So, if you wish to give your dog a higher dose, ask first.
Never leave your dog’s medicine where they can reach it. Carprofen, for example, has attractive flavoring to some dogs. Accidental ingestion can lead to overdose, which can be life-threatening without quick treatment!
Never mix your dog’s medicine with other drugs without speaking to your vet. Doing so can be extremely dangerous for your dog. For example, Previcox cannot be given with any other NSAIDs. It is also unsuitable for use with corticosteroids like prednisone or cortisone. Be sure to tell your vet about all the medications that you have given your dog in the past, and any medications that you plan to give. This includes any medicines that you can get without a veterinary prescription, as well as any dietary supplements. Your vet will want to check that your dog’s medicines and supplements are compatible with their pain medicine.
Best OTC Pain Meds for Dogs
All of the following dog OTC pain meds require a veterinary prescription. You cannot buy or use these drugs without your vet’s permission. This is to avoid fatal overdoses and the mixing of medications that do not work together. For example, most of the following NSAIDs cannot work alongside corticosteroids! If your dog has a condition that causes them pain, always speak to your vet about the best medicine for their problem.
Carprofen (Novox or Rimadyl)
Carprofen is sold under several brand names. These include Rimadyl®, Canidryl®, Aventicarp®, Rycarfa®, Rimifin®, Norocarp®, Novox®, quellin®, Rovera®, Vetprofen®, and Levafen®. This NSAID works by inhibiting canine COX-2, which it is highly selective for. It has a high oral bioavailability, sitting at about 90%. Also, it reaches peak concentrations 1 to 3 hours after use.
Carprofen is given by mouth in tablet form. It can be given with or without food, but it’s best to give it with food to reduce damage to your dog’s stomach. If your dog vomits when given Carprofen on an empty stomach, make sure to give any future doses with food. The initial dose is typically 2mg per pound of body weight per day. Some vets will recommend giving this dose through 1mg per pound of body weight given twice a day. Your vet will direct you on the correct dose for your dog.
This drug is therapeutically safe and has good anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects. Because of this, Carprofen is good for osteoarthritis and post-operative pain relief. However, if your dog has a bleeding disorder, is younger than 6 weeks of age, or has a pre-existing gastrointestinal disease, Carprofen is not suitable for them. It should be given cautiously to dogs with bone problems as this drug can affect bone healing. It may interact with anticoagulants, ACE inhibitors, aspirin, corticosteroids, tricyclic antidepressants, and diuretics.
Deracoxib is sold under the name Deramaxx®. This NSAID works by inhibiting canine COX-2, sparing COX-1. Like Carprofen, Deracoxib is 90% bioavailable and reaches peak plasma levels about 2 hours after use. This means that the drug should help your dog to feel better within 2 hours!
Deracoxib is given as a chewable tablet. Your dog can eat it with or without food, but it’s best to give it with a meal to reduce the risk of side effects. The initial dose is typically 1 to 2 mg per kg of body weight per day, given once a day. Always give your pet Deracoxib exactly as your vet tells you to!
This drug is best for managing osteoarthritis and pain after surgery. It cannot be given to dogs with a hypersensitivity to sulfonamides, kidney disease, liver disease, or predisposition to dehydration. This drug is also unsuitable for pregnant, nursing, or breeding dogs at present.
Firocoxib is sold as Previcox® and Equioxx®. This NSAID is highly COX-2 specific, much like Carprofen and Deracoxib. It is less bioavailable than these two NSAIDs. While this may sound unhelpful, Firocoxib is actually held in regard as one of the most effective dog OTC pain meds. Studies suggest that Firocoxib might be more effective than Carprofen in osteoarthritis management, for example.
This NSAID comes as a chewable tablet or an oral paste. It can be given with or without food, but it’s best to give it with food to avoid side effects. It is also available as a liquid. If your vet prescribes the liquid form, be sure to measure it carefully.
Firocoxib is best for managing osteoarthritis and post-surgical pain. However, it may also be useful for treating transitional cell carcinoma. This is a type of cancer in dogs. This NSAID is unsuitable for dogs younger than 7 months old, with kidney disease, heart disease, or liver disease. It is also unsuitable if your pet is already taking aspirin, corticosteroids, digoxin, and methotrexate. Lastly, Firocoxib is unsuitable for dogs weighing less than 12.5lbs.
Meloxicam is sold as Metacam® Loxicom®, and OroCAM®. This NSAID selectively blocks COX-2 more than COX-1. It has an absolute bioavailability of 89% and starts working in 1 to 2 hours. However, peak concentration doesn’t come until 7.5 hours after it is taken.
This drug is available as a chewable tablet, liquid, spray, or injection. If giving the liquid form, always shake the bottle well before dosing your dog! Your vet can tell you the precise dose for your dog. If you are unsure, always double-check with your vet before giving this medicine to your pet.
Meloxicam is best for managing long-term conditions like osteoarthritis. Like other NSAIDs, this drug can also help with pain after surgery. However, it is unsuitable for pregnant dogs, lactating dogs, and dogs with dehydration. It is also unsuitable for dogs taking certain antibiotics, anticoagulants, antifungals, and immunosuppressive drugs.
Grapiprant is sold as Galliprant®. This NSAID is a little different from the others on our list! Unlike other NSAIDs, Grapiprant does not inhibit any COX enzymes. Instead, it works by blocking a specific type of prostaglandin. This means that it provides effects comparable to traditional NSAIDs but has a different safety profile.
The initial dose of Grapiprant is 0.9mg per lb of body weight, once per day. However, dogs weighing under 8 lbs should not take this medicine. Unlike other NSAIDs, this tablet is best for an empty stomach. It takes effect in 1 to 2 hours.
To date, Grapirant is best for osteoarthritis in dogs. It is unsuitable for dogs younger than 9 months old, weighing less than 8 pounds, pregnant, or with severe heart disease. In spite of this, this drug is increasingly popular for younger dogs with osteoarthritis, as it can be given for long-term use. One study suggests that the drug is safe for use over at least 9 months.
OTC Dog Pain Meds: FAQ
Have any more questions or concerns about dog OTC pain meds? Feel free to refer to our Frequently Asked Questions for more details. If in doubt about your pet’s medicine, always ask your vet for advice.
Some of the most common side effects of NSAIDs in dogs include vomiting, lack of appetite, lethargy, and diarrhea. Other side effects include stomach ulcers, kidney failure, and liver failure. Unfortunately, some NSAIDs get stuck in the stomach where they irritate the stomach lining. Coupled with the lower prostaglandin levels, the stomach lining is easily irritated, leading to ulcers and holes. Overall, the effects of NSAIDs are mostly seen in the digestive tract, liver, and kidneys.
Although rare, certain NSAIDs come with a risk of other side effects. Serious side effects often involve neurological signs. These include seizures, disorientation, seizures, and aggression. Other dogs may suffer from itchiness and hair loss. Your pet’s medicine should come with a leaflet that lists the possible side effects. Be sure to read this thoroughly whilst your pet is on the medication! If you notice any serious signs, speak to your vet right away.
With the risks of painkillers, some pet parents prefer to use natural remedies for their dogs. This may be as well as, or as an alternative to, veterinary treatment. However, many natural remedies for pain are highly controversial. There is little scientific basis for most natural remedies. However, a few select remedies may have some scientific basis after all.
For example, Boswellia may be helpful in managing osteoarthritis. A dog study found a reduction in clinical signs. This is because it has anti-inflammatory properties. However, more research should be done to solidify the safety and usefulness of Boswellia for dogs. Also, it goes without saying that you should not depend on remedies like Boswellia to treat serious conditions in dogs! Always ask a vet for advice first. Some nutraceuticals like glucosamine and chondroitin are given to dogs with joint pains. While glucosamine provides anti-inflammatory benefits, chondroitin inhibits the destructive enzymes in joint cartilage. Some dogs do well on these supplements, while others find no benefits at all. The overall effectiveness of glucosamine and chondroitin is currently unknown.
Because dogs can’t tell us if their medicine works or not, the best way to determine this is to monitor their behavior! If your dog was off their food before, they might start snacking again if they feel better. Their usual personality should resurface, too. If your dog previously had severe joint pains, they might start to walk more freely and play more often. Perhaps the most obvious evidence is when your dog stops guarding the painful area. Even if your dog’s pain seems to go away, do not allow them to over-exert themselves! This is especially important for dogs recovering from surgery. Without pain, many dogs are unaware of their injuries and may re-open wounds or rip stitches. Keep them calm and safe during their recovery.
Human painkillers are not safe for dogs. Not only is it easy to overdose your dog, but many dogs don’t tolerate human painkillers well. It is only in certain cases that your vet will prescribe a human painkiller for your dog. When this happens, you must follow your vet’s instructions closely. If you are unsure about the dose, do not guess. Make sure that you call your vet to ask for advice on the dosage. Overdosing a dog on human painkillers will cause gastric bleeding, seizures, and coma. If you notice any signs of toxicity, such as drooling, bloody stool, or stomach pain, stop giving the painkiller right away. Do not attempt to give them a smaller dose to lessen the side effects. Instead, call your vet and tell them about your dog’s symptoms.
Aspirin is an option for dogs, but only with veterinary supervision. It is not a drug to mess around with, and few studies are available to suggest a proper dosage for dogs. Unfortunately, adverse reactions to aspirin are common. So, you must be aware of the risks of aspirin and know the signs of an overdose. After taking aspirin, some dogs vomit, have diarrhea, and produce black stool. Mucosal erosion and ulceration are also possible. An overdose causes a lack of appetite, seizures, coma, and death. Always talk to your vet before giving your dog aspirin to find the best dose for them. You cannot give your dog aspirin if they are already taking another painkiller.
Dog pain medication is likely something you will have to consider at some point during pet parenthood. Whether your dog needs surgery or has a life-long condition, dog OTC pain meds are most likely going to be part of the picture eventually. It can be daunting when your pet needs to take medicine, so be sure to arm yourself with plenty of knowledge for your own peace of mind!