Pain and Pain Management for Your Dog

by Dr. Dawn Burke





Pain is the experience of physical discomfort. The discomfort may stem from disease or from tissue damage caused by surgery or trauma. Pain is nature’s way of “putting on the brakes” to protect the body from further injury and encourage the rest needed for healing.

We know that by controlling pain, we promote faster healing and improve the quality of life. Uncontrolled pain slows healing, depresses the immune system and worsens the quality of life.

Dogs instinctively try to hide signs of pain. This goes back to their wild ancestry where showing signs of weakness could cause them to become a target for predators. This instinct doesn’t always serve our pets well, as we may not realize they are in pain and do something that inadvertently hurts them. They may respond with a growl or bite, trying to tell us it hurts and to leave them alone.

As the owner, you know your dog’s normal behavior. You need to be aware of changes in behavior that may indicate your dog is in pain. While crying and whimpering can be signs of anxiety or ways to get attention, it can also be a sign of pain. Your dog may withdraw from attention, become less active, pant more, tremble, show signs of anxiety or have a decreased appetite. If your dog’s behavior varies from normal and you think it may be caused by pain, have him examined by your veterinarian.

Pain management in dogs is very similar to managing pain in people. In cases of surgery or trauma, it may be necessary to restrict activity by leash walking or using a crate. Medications called NSAIDS (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), like Rimadyl or Metacam for example, can help relieve inflammation and pain due to surgery, trauma or diseases like arthritis.

NEVER GIVE YOUR DOG OVER THE COUNTER MEDICATIONS WITHOUT FIRST CONSULTING YOUR VETERINARIAN! Human pain medications like ibuprofen can cause serious side effects in dogs. If in doubt, ask first!

If a dog cannot tolerate NSAIDs due to side effects or a medical condition, other medications such as Tramadol or Gabapentin may be used. In cases of severe pain, like patients with severe trauma or cancer, narcotic medications may be used. These drugs may cause sedation, but these signs usually lessen after a few days.

Complementary and alternative therapies can also help alleviate pain. They are frequently used for controlling chronic pain in arthritis and neuromuscular problems. Examples are glucosamine and chondroitin, omega fatty acids, acupuncture, laser therapy and physical therapy. For arthritic dogs that are obese, a weight reduction program can greatly improve mobility and decrease pain.

Talk to your veterinarian about the potential side effects and possible adverse reactions that may be associated with any medications prescribed. Your veterinarian may recommend blood tests to evaluate your dog’s organ function prior to starting certain pain medications and to monitor organ function periodically while on the medication.

If you think your dog is in pain, see your veterinarian. After confirming the presence of pain and identifying the cause, you and your veterinarian can establish a plan to manage your dog’s pain, helping him live a longer, happier life.


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This information is made available to you by the efforts of YGRR volunteers. To join them in helping our homeless Goldens, please consider becoming a member or making a donation.

Thank you.



Yankee Golden Retriever Rescue, Inc. is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization founded in 1985.
Rescue and Adoption services for Golden Retrievers from the six New England states.
Address: P.O. Box 808, Hudson, MA 01749-0808
Hotline: 978-568-9700


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