As in humans, there are various types of pain medications for dogs, and therefore, it's important using the most suitable type. It's often tempting for dog owners to self-medicate their dogs at home using medications designed for humans. Most over-the-counter pain medications for humans like Tylenol, Motrin, Ibuprofen or Advil, can be harmful and even potentially toxic to dogs because they have a narrow margin of safety. If your dog is in pain, your best bet is to consult with your vet so he or she can provide your dog with the safest form of pain medication that is most appropriate for your dog.
NSAIDs for Dog Pain Relief
When a dog is in pain, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) are the most prescribed medications. We are talking about medications such as Rimadyl, Metacam, Previcox, Piroxicam and Deramaxx. These medications work in relieving dogs from pain and inflammation.
They are often prescribed for dogs recovering from surgery, arthritis, or back or neck pain. As the name implies, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs do not include steroids.
How do these drugs work? NSAID work by reducing the body's production of prostaglandins, special chemicals that promote pain, inflammation and fever.
The only downside of reducing prostaglandins though is that prostaglandins also play a role in protecting the dog's stomach lining and intestines from acid production and they also promote good functioning of the kidneys. This is why NSAID have the potential for causing loss of appetite, nausea, drooling, vomiting, gastric ulcers and diarrhea, and in dogs who use these drugs long-term, there is potential for kidney and liver damage. Veterinarians recommend routine blood work done on dogs who take NSAID daily for chronic problems.
Corticosteroids for Dog Pain Relief
As the name implies, this category of drugs involve steroids. Steroids (also known as corticosteroids) are powerful drugs used to relieve pain and inflammation. We are talking about medications such as prednisone, prednisolone, cortisone and dexamethasone. Steroid drugs are often prescribed for dogs suffering from painful conditions such as arthritis, joint pain, skin disorders and spinal injuries.
How do these drugs work? Steroids are drugs that are produced synthetically to closely resemble cortisone, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands. Steroids mainly work by reducing the activity of the immune system which plays a role in the production of chemicals that are known for causing inflammation and its associated swelling and pain.
While effective, steroids are known for causing side effects when they used for a long period of time. Side effects include panting, increased drinking, increased urination, weight gain, behavior changes and possible changes in liver function. Some dogs may also develop Cushing's disease. When prescribed, veterinarians recommend steroids to be gradually tapered off over the course of several days rather than stopping them immediately so to prevent problems.
Narcotics for Dog Pain Relief
Narcotics are another type of pain medication for dogs. Narcotics are prescribed when there is severe pain that doesn't respond to other types of pain killers. Examples of narcotics include morphine, butorphanol (often given as an injection before or after surgery), buprenorphine and fentanyl patches (Duragesic). Most of these drugs are controlled substances.
While tramadol is a synthetic drug that acts just like a narcotic, it is not considered a controlled substance as of yet, explains veterinarian Dr. Dan.
How do narcotics work? These drugs bind to opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord and affect their ability to send pain messages to the brain. Dogs treated with narcotics will therefore sense less pain for the simple fact that they cannot recognize it. While effective, opiates can cause a variety of side effects such as sedation, vomiting and constipation.