Canine Medications for Pain Management

The list of canine medications that improve your pet's quality of life is long. Canine pain medications in particular have evolved to treat chronic and acute pain.

Pain symptoms may be subtle or obvious. Reaction to pain varies from dog to dog; some are more pain tolerant that others.

Your dog may be in pain if she:

  • Avoids the stairs
  • Struggles to rise after a nap
  • Has trouble jumping into the car

Acute pain that results from an injury or a surgical procedure is more obvious. She may limp, pace or favor the injured area.

Fortunately, there are a variety of canine medications available to treat pain so your pet will not suffer needlessly.

Prescription NSAIDs

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs provide very effective pain relief for dogs with inflammatory conditions such as arthritis. Common prescription NSAIDs include Rimadyl, Etogesic and Deramaxx. These dog medications control swelling, inflammation and the stiffness associated with osteoarthritis and reduce pain associated with surgery.

Caution: The FDA has warned that NSAIDs "may be associated with gastrointestinal ulcers/perforations, liver and kidney toxicity" and should be used under veterinary supervision.

Before prescribing NSAIDs, your veterinarian will take a complete medical history and perform a variety of blood tests to determine your dog's ability to tolerate these medications. These tests should be repeated periodically to check for liver toxicity reactions.


If your dog is suffering from acute and severe pain from a surgical procedure or certain cancers, narcotic pain relievers may be prescribed. Narcotics are powerful pet medications to be used only on the recommendation of a veterinarian.

Tip: Recovery is often faster if the level of pain is reduced.

The most common side effect of these drugs is respiratory depression. If your dog shows signs of respiratory distress, contact your veterinarian immediately. As with all prescription drugs, store and dispose of them safely.


Tramadol (Ultram) is a pain reliever that stimulates the "mu" receptors in the brain. Similar in function to narcotics (which stimulate the opiate receptors in the brain), tramadol is non-addictive. This is, however, a powerful synthetic opiate.

Tramadol is used to treat chronic and acute pain. Tramadol can be used in combination with NSAIDs.

Alternatives to Prescription Drugs

To reduce or prevent arthritis pain, consider supplements containing glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, green lipped, hyaluronic acid and/or MSM. These supplements protect and restore joint function and can be used indefinitely.

Acupuncture and Chiropractic

Acupuncture is gaining credibility as a method of pain relief for pets and is being used successfully as a treatment for a variety of chronic and acute conditions.

Veterinary chiropractic corrects "subluxations" of the spine. It can relieve pain associated with spinal misalignments. Stiffness, gait problems and back pain may be improved by chiropractic adjustment.

Exercise and Diet

If your dog is willing, short walks and light exercise can speed recovery. Feed a high-quality diet and keep your dog's weight in check. Provide a supportive bed in a draft-free location.