In some ways, a sick dog is even harder to deal with than a sick child.

You’d sympathize even more with your child than your pet, of course. And needless to say, caring for your child will always take priority.

The difference is that a child can tell you exactly what’s hurting, and where. With your dog, you’re flying nearly blind. In fact, dogs try to hide any pain they may be feeling as long as possible. Here’s what that means: by the time you can tell that your dog is hurting, he may be in nearly excruciating pain. Immediate action is called for.

If Fido’s in serious distress and showing signs of an illness or disease, get him to the vet as soon as possible. If it’s more a matter of pain without signs of an underlying cause, there are ways you may be able to help ease that pain until you can bring him in to have him checked.

However – and this is important – canine pain medications are not the same as human ones. You should never give your dog ibuprofen, Tylenol, or similar pain relievers you may have in your medicine cabinet. Low-dose aspirin may be okay in some cases, but only if approved by a vet.

That doesn’t mean you’re without options, even though pain meds for dogs aren’t sold online or at pet stores. There are similar medications formulated specifically for dogs available by prescription, although they carry some pretty serious side effects. There are also holistic options. But the best choice of all may be using CBD to treat your pet’s pain.

We’ll take a closer look at all of those possibilities, after discussing the types of pain your dog may be suffering.

Dogs and Pain

Many people, even some veterinarians, mistakenly believe that dogs don’t feel pain the same way that we do. Researchers and psychologists, though, assure us that they do.

Dogs, as you know, are descendants of predatory animals who would be at a huge disadvantage in the wild if they were to show any weakness. Our pets may now be domesticated, but they’ve inherited that same instinct. Fido is still likely to hide any pain that he’s suffering until his natural stoicism requires too much effort to maintain.

So how do you know if your dog is in pain? It often requires noticing subtle changes in his natural behavior patterns.

  • He may hide at abnormal times, or in abnormal spots.
  • He may be quieter than usual, or may occasionally whimper, whine or groan (in most cases, dogs aren’t inclined to bark when they’re in chronic or continual pain).
  • His level of alertness and activity may either be higher or lower than normal.
  • He may lie or sit down and refuse to move, or move in a stiff or otherwise abnormal way; his back may arch and his tail may drag.
  • His appetite may significantly decline or disappear.
  • He may start nipping at his own body or at others who approach, even his human family.
  • Unusual swelling may begin to appear on his body,
  • Most alarmingly, he may begin panting and/or shivering, with enlarged pupils – these signs would usually indicate a need for immediate medical attention.

If your pet is suffering acute pain from a recent injury or an illness he’s just developed, the warning signs will probably be more obvious. On the other hand, a dog will often mask the signs of chronic pain from medical issues like arthritis or dental disease until he simply can’t hide his pain any longer.

In any event, an examination by a veterinarian will allow you to determine the cause of the pain and decide on the proper treatment.

What treatment options might be appropriate? Read on.

Treating Dogs for Pain

Dog lying on a sick bed with a thermometer in it's mouth

A serious injury, naturally, will cause pain. Many diseases and illnesses will, as well.

Just a partial list of the possible reasons for Fido’s chronic or long-lasting pain can seem overwhelming: serious ones include liver disease, cancer, and diabetes, and less-serious ones range from allergies and upset stomachs to infections, bone sprains, and arthritis.

More serious cases usually call for more complicated interventions or medication regimens, but the ones which simply cause pain and discomfort can often be treated by “pet versions” of human medications. Before we go further, another reminder: these pet pain medications must be prescribed by a vet.

Your parents or grandparents were likely to reach for the aspirin when they had a headache. Today, most of us reach for ibuprofen. Ibuprofen (often sold under the brand names Motrin or Advil) is just one of a class of drugs known as NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), which have proven extremely effective at blocking the enzymes and chemicals which lead to inflammation and pain. Other widely-used NSAIDs are naproxen (Aleve), Celebrex, Indocin – and yes, aspirin.

All of those NSAIDs have the potential to seriously hurt – or even kill – your dog. And if you’ve thought about acetaminophen (Tylenol) as a non-NSAID alternative, think again. It can cause irreparable damage to canines’ kidneys and livers.

There’s somewhat good news, though. There are NSAIDs that have been formulated specifically for dogs, and a number of veterinarians prescribe them for pain despite the fact they may cause some pretty serious side effects. For that reason, your vet may be understandably reluctant to prescribe them – and you should think carefully before deciding to give them to your pet.

Carprofen (Novox or Rimadyl)

These medications can be administered by mouth or via injection, and are NSAIDs commonly used to treat some forms of canine arthritis and after surgery. Many vets will prescribe them for other types of pain as well. They’re effective and well-tolerated by many dogs but are also known for causing gastrointestinal side effects like diarrhea, vomiting, and ulcers. What’s more concerning is that they can damage the kidneys and lungs, so regular blood tests are recommended for dogs who are given carprofen on a regular basis.

Firocoxib (Prevacox), Deracoxib (Deramaxx), Meloxicam (Metacam)

Three other NSAIDs are sometimes prescribed instead of carprofen. They all work similarly to relieve pain, and only have to be given once per day instead of the twice-a-day dosing schedule for carprofen. Each carries the same risks as carprofen, but each also has additional side effects to be aware of.

  • Firocoxib can cause a loss of appetite and skin irritation in addition to the side effects associated with carprofen.
  • Deracoxib has been known to cause depression and lethargy as well as cardiac disease in rare cases, and can’t be given to pregnant or nursing mothers.
  • Meloxicam has an even longer list of possible side effects, including headaches, nausea, swelling and weight gain, weakness, and dizziness – you can tell that this medication should probably be used as a last resort.

Other non-NSAID medications are sometimes prescribed by veterinarians for canine pain:


The human version of this drug is often used for pain that’s too serious for ibuprofen or naproxen to handle. The canine version is used for similar reasons.

Tramadol is an opioid, which should automatically tell you that extreme care must be exercised when using it; that care is even more crucial when giving it to your dog. It can cause a wealth of undesirable side effects, including diarrhea or constipation, vomiting, tremors and anxiety, and has also caused convulsions, respiratory and cardiac issues in some canine patients.

There are serious side effects associated with Tramadol withdrawal, so dogs must be weaned off of the drug extremely slowly.

Pets in serious pain from surgery or traumatic injury may benefit from this drug, but its use is not to be taken lightly.


This medication is used primarily for the treatment of seizures in humans and hasn’t been approved for veterinary use. Even so, some vets prescribe it for pain as well as canine seizures, since it apparently lowers a dog’s ability to notice pain.

There are a number of side effects associated with gabapentin, including dizziness and lethargy, and it can also cause other problems ranging from diarrhea and vomiting to depression. It’s also dangerous to dogs with liver or kidney problems, and pets must be weaned off of the medication slowly.

(One final note here: these treatments are prescribed for dogs only. They can be dangerous or fatal to cats.)

As you can tell, NSAIDs and other pain medications are often effective but can be quite risky. That’s why many pet owners shy away from them, even if their vets recommend them.

Thankfully, there are other non-prescription options to consider.

Treating Your Dog’s Pain With CBD

Person giving CBD in a dropper to a white dog

This might have been inconceivable just a few years ago. But the popularity of CBD for the treatment of pain and medical issues has skyrocketed for two reasons. One was the legislation legalizing the sale and use of hemp-derived CBD that passed in 2018. The more important reason? It works.

Cannabidiol is the most important non-psychoactive cannabinoid in the cannabis plant and is responsible for the majority of the medical and health benefits of marijuana. CBD is a powerful substance on its own, though. It’s believed to help blood pressure and heart health, it reduces seizures in epilepsy patients, and most importantly for our purposes, it’s able to reduce anxiety, depression – and pain.

Researchers are still figuring out all of the “whys.” But it appears that CBD interacts positively with one of the body’s key systems that control both inflammation and pain management. Clinical studies on animals, and anecdotal reports from people who use CBD for pain relief, indicate that it’s often more effective than NSAIDs for both pain treatment and relieving inflammation.

That makes CBD a great choice for treating your dog’s pain without major side effects. Even though clinical studies that will prove its effectiveness in canines are still being conducted, large numbers of dog owners have switched away from NSAID treatments in favor of CBD and their testimony is overwhelmingly positive.

CBD is usually administered to dogs in oil form, either with a medicine dropper or by adding it to their food. CBD-infused treats and chews are available as well. Dosage is important since overdosing is possible; most experts recommend 1-2 milligrams per pound of weight, twice a day.

Perhaps best of all, CBD appears to be completely safe for dogs, with no major side effects. Fido may become sleepy (due to CBD’s anxiety-relieving effects) or thirsty (due to dry mouth) after a large dose, but that’s simply a signal to lower the amount you give him. The one thing to be aware of is that CBD can elevate one value (ALP) on liver tests. However, no one yet knows if that means CBD can irritate the liver, or it just affects the test results. One additional plus: CBD does not negatively interact with canine NSAIDs.

It should go without saying that you should never give your dog any form of cannabis that contains THC, since there could be big risks involved. Those risks, however, don’t exist with commercially-available CBD.

Other Pain-Relieving Possibilities for Dogs

There are several holistic options used to treat pain which has helped some pets with the same issue. Turmeric is well known as a natural treatment for inflammation, as is the medicinal herb feverfew which many people use to relieve the pain of migraines, arthritis and menstrual periods. You may hear similar things about the herb comfrey, but it’s illegal for sale in the U.S. because it’s been linked to lung damage, liver damage, and cancer.

There’s less information on natural remedies like ginger, licorice, cayenne, and St. John’s Wort, all of which are said to relieve pain and inflammation but are not widely used by pet owners for that purpose.

When Your Dog Is Hurting…

The best advice is always to consult with or visit your veterinarian first, since any underlying condition causing your dog’s pain may need immediate treatment.

If your vet wants to prescribe medication, however, it would be a good idea to raise the question of trying CBD first, or at least using it in conjunction with a canine NSAID. And if your pet’s pain is caused by a recurring or chronic condition like arthritis or hip dysplasia, regular dosing with CBD may be the best option for improving his quality of life.