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The first instinct when you suspect your dog is in pain is to try to alleviate the pain. When your pet is unhappy, you are unhappy, and we usually don’t notice our pets are in pain until a time in the day when it is impossible to get her to a veterinarian’s office for a check up, and emergency vet services may be prohibitively expensive.
You may find yourself thinking that it might be a good idea to just give your dog some pain pills from the family medicine cabinet. However, it is imperative that you know all the facts and risks this could present to your pet. When you do visit your veterinarian, he or she may recommend a regular regimen of pain medication. There are some risks with these kinds of medications as well. Knowing about the possible side effects of human and animal pain medications can help you make an informed decision about your pet’s health.
Human pain medications come in doses that are often inappropriate for pets. Although some over-the-counter pain medications are safe for animals at certain doses, it may be impossible to judge the correct dosage for your dog, particularly if you have a small dog who would need a very small dose of such a medication to remain at safe levels that would also be effective.
In addition to safety concerns, there is also the issue of what is causing the pain and what kind of pain your dog is experiencing. You will probably not be able to judge this for yourself, since you might confuse bone or muscle pain for pain that originates in the organs or other tissues. Even if you do properly identify the source of your dog’s pain as musculoskeletal pain, there are different types of pain that a dog can experience in her joints and muscles.
Certain pain medications do not alleviate inflammation, which is a component of arthritis-related pain. Individual pain medications treat pain differently, and they are specialized for different kinds of pain. Although it may be hard to do, it is best to wait until you can bring your dog to see her veterinarian, since the veterinarian knows how different kinds of pain manifest themselves and can make recommendations about what types of over-the-counter medications are safe and effective for your dog.
If you absolutely must give your dog over-the-counter pain medication – for instance, if you notice your dog’s pain over the weekend when veterinary offices are often closed – it is best to give baby aspirin. This is the safest over-the-counter pain medication for dogs, since the dosages are small enough that you can reliably control them and it does not cause harmful side effects like other over-the-counter medications do.
Larger breeds of dog can take regular aspirin. If your dog has a sensitive stomach, using buffered aspirin may alleviate any stomach upset she experiences.
Small dogs like toy breeds and lap breeds weighing up to thirty pounds can take one baby aspirin safely; dogs weighing under ten pounds need one half of a baby aspirin. One half of a regular aspirin can be given to dogs between thirty and fifty pounds; one aspirin can be given to dogs between fifty and one hundred pounds; two aspirin can be given to dogs over one hundred pounds. Aspirin should not be given to dogs who need regular pain medication; you should see your veterinarian for pain medications that are specifically for long term use in dogs. Long term use of aspirin can cause stomach pain, bleeding and ulcers. Aspirin is also a blood thinner and can cause blood pressure and heart problems if used long term.
You may also consider using non-drug methods of managing your dog’s pain until you can bring her to see a veterinarian. Using a hot water bottle or heating pad in your dog’s bedding or directly on her joints can help just the same way that they work for humans. In addition, gentle massage can help with muscle stiffness that can increase joint pain. Passive exercises – exercises where you flex your dog’s limbs by holding the limb and stretching and moving it yourself – can also ease your dog’s pain.
Dogs should not be given any NSAID medications. This includes medications that contain acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen. These can kill dogs even in very small doses. Even if the dosage you give your dog does not kill her, she may experience intense intestinal pain, trouble breathing and seizures.
If your veterinarian tells you that your dog needs to take pain medication regularly for a chronic bone disorder such as arthritis, you may wonder about the effects that regular medication usage will have on your dog’s body.
Your veterinarian will assess whether it is safe for your dog to take pain medications for these conditions, but despite your vet’s best efforts, there is no way to predict how your dog will react to long term usage of any medication. The most common side effects associated with NSAIDs – the group of medications that most veterinary medications are part of – are stomach and digestive problems. Your dog may have problems with vomiting and diarrhea; she may also lose her appetite. More serious side effects may develop, including gastrointestinal bleeding, perforation and ulcers. Your dog may also become lethargic and depressed when she uses these medications regularly. She may also develop serious liver and kidney problems.
The risks involved with giving your dog NSAID pain relievers are significant, since stomach, liver and kidney problems can seriously damage your dog’s quality of life. However, most dogs can take these medications with few or no complications. The advantages of taking pain medications regularly most often outweigh the risks of giving them to your dog. In addition, your vet will not prescribe pain medication to your dog unless he or she thinks it is safe to do so.
You may think it is best to get a second opinion from another veterinarian. There is nothing wrong with making sure your pet is getting the best care you can possibly get for her, part of which involves educating yourself about the side effects she will experience from any long term treatments and getting more than one opinion about treatment for chronic conditions. However, as long as you are not giving your dog human pain medications to your dog regularly, it is unlikely that she will experience any side effects from medications she is prescribed by your medication.