Painkillers for Dogs

a man giving medicine to a spaniel

You should only ever administer painkillers for dogs in consultation with your vet.

Painkillers are one of the most common groups of medication used by vets. It’s not surprising – they take away pain from dogs and contribute to a significant improvement in their quality of life. But what painkillers are there available for dogs and what do you have to consider in terms of administration?

Are human painkillers suitable for dogs too?

If you’re in pain, you will use non-prescription substances like paracetamol or ibuprofen from your medicine cabinet. Caution is advised though if you wish to give them to your pets too.

Paracetamol is highly toxic for cats and can lead to their death in a very short period of time. Dogs too can develop severe side effects and damage to the liver and kidneys, so you should never give them paracetamol without prior consultation with your vet.

The same applies for ibuprofen too. This acid damages the mucous membranes of the gastrointestinal tract and can cause a life-threatening shock in the case of an overdose.

This is why you should store your medication so that your pets have no access to it.

Indications: When are painkillers for dogs advisable?

Various therapeutic or diagnostic situations (indications) require the administration of painkillers (analgesics) in dogs:

  • Chronic pain (e.g. joint degeneration)
  • Sudden onset (acute) pain (e.g. injury)
  • Pain due to other underlying diseases (e.g. tumours)
  • During an operation (perioperative)

Do painkillers for dogs lead to side effects?

Whether and which side effects occur after giving painkillers depends on the substance in question and the dosage. Find out on the packaging what consequences theoretically can occur. These are listed according to statistical frequency.

Typical side effects from painkillers in dogs:

  • Respiratory depression (e.g. opioids)
  • Calming effect (sedation) (e.g. opioids)
  • Hypotension and restlessness (e.g. local anaesthetic)
  • Loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhoea (e.g. opioids)
  • Influence on kidney and liver function (e.g. NSAIDs)
  • Seizures (e.g. with ketamine)
  • Cardiac arrest (e.g. metamizole)

At first glance, this list appears frightening for many dog owners. Nevertheless, painkillers have an important function and serve an important purpose in veterinary medicine if administered correctly – reducing animal suffering.

Dosage: What you have to consider when giving dogs painkillers

The most important rule with painkillers is to follow your vet’s instructions and adhere strictly to the recommended dosage. An overdose can bring severe consequences – including organ failure in your dog.

If you have given your dog too many painkillers at once by mistake, you should definitely inform your vet. Treated early, they can make your dog vomit them up.

Additionally, if you give your dog painkillers over a longer period of time, you should keep a pain diary too. This allows you to keep track of everything and together with your vet, better adapt the application to your dog’s health.

Substance groups: What types of painkillers are there?

In veterinary medicine, various groups of active substances are used to relieve pain – depending on the indication and condition of the patient. The following table gives you a better overview:

Active substance group Area of application Substances
1) Glucocorticoids Inflammation, arthritis, degenerative joint diseases Betamethasone, dexamethasone, flumethasone, methylprednisolone, prednisolone, prednisone
2) Opioids Severe pain, perioperative Buprenorphine, butorphanol, codeine, fentanyl, L-methadone, methadone, morphine, tramadol
3) Non-opioids    
α2 agonists Perioperative in combination with ketamine, visceral pain (in the area of internal organs like the gastrointestinal tract), sedation (calming) for diagnostic intervention Dexmedetomidine, medetomidine, xylazine
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) Perioperative, short-term treatment of acute pain, arthrosis Carprofen, cimicoxib, firocoxib, flunixin, mavacoxib, meloxicam, phenylbutazone, tepoxalin, tolfenamic acid
NMDA receptor antagonists Somatic pain (e.g. burns or skin injuries) Ketamine
Metamizole Perioperative, severe pain, high-risk patients Novalgin, combination products containing metamizole (Buscopan Composto)
4) Local anaesthetics Perioperative Bupivacaine, lidocaine, mepivacaine, ropivacaine

New painkillers for dogs: Monoclonal antibodies

Since March 2021, the approval of the new painkiller Librela – monoclonal antibodies – has been doing the rounds. This is said to be an effective alternative to NSAIDs, especially for dogs with pain due to joint degeneration.

In addition, dogs are said to be able to better tolerate treatment with this remedy. The basic principle is that the monoclonal antibodies remove what is known as the nerve growth factor (NGF). This messenger substance is found in the body in greater quantities with arthrosis and is an important key component in the onset of pain.

Vets can give dogs Librela by injection under the skin at four-week intervals. However, this new painkiller for dogs does have a disadvantage: pregnant dogs and those intended for breeding cannot receive this remedy in order to protect the embryo.

Administration: Tips for giving tablets

Many dogs don’t wish to consume tablets – some even become aggressive at the attempt. The following tricks may help you so that tablets still reach your dog’s stomach fully intact and you don’t get injured:

The magic word “sausage” works on almost all greedy four-legged friends. Simply hide the tablet in a bit of sausage or dog food and your dog will be more than happy to eat it. You can simply repeat it a few times if it slips out of your dog’s mouth when it salivates.

Another option is dissolving tablets in water. However, you should only do this if it isn’t specifically forbidden according to the package insert. You can use a conventional syringe without a needle, which you then insert into the side of your dog’s mouth. Make sure that your dog doesn’t swallow.

chihuahua being given medication with a syringe © bignai /
chihuahua being given medication with a syringe Some medication can be given with a syringe once it is dissolved. bignai /

Which painkillers are available over the counter?

You can get some painkillers without a prescription in your pharmacy. Non-prescription painkillers for dogs are mostly plant-based or homeopathic medicinal products like arnica, coconut oil and Traumeel.

Although their efficacy is significantly weaker than prescription painkillers like opioids, they should still never be used without consideration and you should be sure to consult with your vet beforehand.

Here are some purchase proposals curated by the zooplus editorial team

The products featured have been carefully selected by our editorial staff and are available at the zooplus online pet shop. The selection does not constitute advertising for the mentioned brands.

Our most helpful articles
9 min

Female Dogs in Heat

Although the heat period is an entirely natural process for female dogs, irritation at stains on the new carpet, fear of an unwanted pregnancy or their pet's strange behaviour can cause many dog owners to worry. Find out here everything you need to know about your female dog's heat period and how you can both overcome this without any stress.

10 min

Leishmaniasis for Dogs

16 February 2024 | Leishmaniasis is an infectious disease transmitted by sandflies and can often prove fatal for dogs. Find out how you can protect your dog and how to recognise and treat the disease should it emerge.

8 min

Should I Get My Dog Neutered?

Neutering has traditionally been a standard veterinary practice, but is it universally recommended? What distinguishes neutering from sterilisation and what expenses should a dog owner anticipate? Here, you can discover all the essential information concerning the advantages and disadvantages of neutering your dog.