Can dogs take Advil? What to do when your dog is in pain

Nothing is more devastating for a pet parent than seeing their dog in pain. Whether it’s minor discomfort from an insect sting, chronic arthritis, or you’re waiting for an appointment with your vet, you may be wondering, “What can I give a dog for pain?” Seeing your dog miserable is heartbreaking, but you can take some steps to help without putting your pooch at risk. Here’s what you should know about pain medication for your dog. 

Golden Retriever smiling at the camera.
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How do I know my dog is in pain?

One of the most important parts of dog ownership is learning how your dog communicates. Because he can’t tell you, “My paw hurts,” you’ll need to learn his behavior so he can communicate his discomfort. Knowing when your dog is uncomfortable is much easier if he’s recovering from a noticeable injury or operation, but it isn’t always so easy in normal circumstances to tell when your dog is hurting. 

Other signs of pain to look out for include decreased activity — such as limping, stiffness, or reluctance to play, jump, or climb stairs — but your dog may express discomfort in other ways. Whimpering, personality changes, and sudden aggressiveness are all signs your dog may be hurting. And some clues may be even more subtle, such as flattening the ears to the head, excessive licking, or decreased appetite. 

Can dogs take Advil?

While humans have a wide variety of over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers at our disposal, dogs’ options are a bit more limited. You might be tempted to give your pup an Advil to ease the pain of a sore paw, but medications like ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and aspirin are meant for human consumption, not for dogs. 

Canine versions of these drugs exist, but they’re formulated specifically for your dog’s size and weight. Giving your pooch the wrong dosage could lead to serious health complications like ulcers, gastrointestinal bleeding, damage to the stomach lining, damage to red blood cells — also called methemoglobinemia — kidney damage, or liver damage. 

(If you have dogs and cats in your home, please be aware that acetaminophen is toxic to cats, so you should never give your feline friend a Tylenol.)

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Are OTC pain relievers safe for dogs?

More often than not, your vet will prescribe a pet-safe NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) designed specifically for dogs. NSAIDs for dogs may be known by their prescription or generic name, such as carprofen (Novox or Rimadyl), gabapentin (Neurontin), tramadol (Ultram), or meloxicam (Metacam). 

In some cases, your vet may recommend giving your dog NSAIDs under supervision. Your vet may recommend giving low-dose aspirin to large dogs for arthritis. Off the record, some vets say you can safely give your dog 5–10 milligrams per pound of weight every 12 hours. That being said, it’s always risky to medicate your dog without professional supervision, as some dogs are extremely sensitive to even low doses.

Will supplements help?

While the most effective form of pain management is undoubtedly prescription medication, alternatives are available. Maybe you’re waiting to see your vet, or maybe your dog doesn’t tolerate prescription medications well. You can still help reduce your dog’s discomfort with alternative pain management. 

One of the most important ways to keep your dog healthy — and out of pain — is to ensure he stays at an optimal weight for his breed and height. Few things are more adorable than a chubby dog, but excess weight means extra strain on their heart and joints, not to mention an increased risk of other health problems like diabetes. Talk to your vet about the most effective way to help your dog lose weight and keep the pounds off. 

Another natural way to help decrease pain is feeding your dog foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce inflammation in the body. Other supplements, like glucosamine and chondroitin, may also aid in cartilage repair and reduce joint swelling.  

Brown and white beagle under a beige pillow.
Lina Kivaka from Pexels

How to manage your dog’s pain

When it comes to your dog’s health, relying on your vet’s opinion is the safest choice. From inflammation-fighting steroids to potent NSAIDs and opioids, you’ve got numerous options to help manage your dog’s pain. Nutritional supplements are generally safe and well tolerated, but you should always speak with your vet before giving your dog pain medication.

Your pooch is your best friend, and you never want your best friend to experience pain. Keep an eye on your dog for any signs of discomfort, communicate with your vet about the best way to keep your dog pain-free, and your pup can live a happy, comfortable life. 

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