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Dog Pain Relief: Symptoms & Medications

Marcela OteroMar 28, 2017

Is My Dog in Pain? What Are the Symptoms to Watch out For?

Many different factors can cause your dog pain, and the root cause is not always apparent. Some situations may be self-evident, such as a broken leg or post-operative soreness, but others may require some detective work. Pay attention to changes in your dog’s behavior, especially in senior pets and after medical procedures or strenuous physical activity.

Symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Reduced appetite or depression

  • Reluctance to climb stairs, jump onto beds or couches

  • Avoidance of favorite activities

  • Loud or quick breathing, due to elevated heart rate and blood pressure

  • Uncharacteristic snapping or grumpiness

What diseases or conditions can cause pain for my dog?

Nobody likes seeing their dog in pain, but the good news is that most of the conditions that cause your pup’s pain are treatable. And, unless it’s a recurring condition that existed prior to purchasing the insurance for your pet, medical issues should be covered without any problem.

This is by no means a complete list, but dogs of any age can develop the following painful medical conditions:

  • Peritonitis, an infection of the stomach or intestines caused by a puncture

  • Enteritis, or a stomach virus

  • Other gastrointestinal issues, such as Pancreatitis or an ulcer

  • Cystitis

  • Parasites or worms

  • Tumors and other types of cancer

  • Blunt trauma

  • Urethral obstruction

  • Joint pain caused by being overweight

What diseases or conditions can cause pain for my senior dog?

Geriatric pets require more attention, visits to the vet, possible changes in diet and, in some cases, alteration of their home environment. As their owner, your continual monitoring is essential for detecting early signs of disease or changes in behavior that might point to a developing condition. Senior dogs are especially susceptible to some diseases or conditions which can cause a significant amount of pain, such as:

  • Canine hip dysplasia

  • Arthritis

  • Intervertebral disc disease

  • Osteoarthritis

  • Degenerative myelopathy

Can I give my dog human pain meds, like Advil or Tylenol?

Never give your dogs over-the-counter human pain medication, unless specifically approved by your veterinarian. Aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, Midol IB), or naproxen (Aleve, Midol) are all nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), which can cause gastrointestinal problems, and kidney or liver failure in your dog. Acetaminophen (Tylenol, Vitapap) can also destroy liver function and damage the kidneys, as well as cause poor oxygen delivery and tissue damage.

Is pain medication covered by my pet insurance?

Most full coverage pet insurance policies reimburse you for any vet-prescribed medication, as long as it isn’t for preventative treatment—like flea and heartworm medication, for example. Some plans, however, only reimburse medication when you purchase an optional Rx drug coverage add-on to your regular plan. Other policies can also cover alternative therapies.

What can I do if Rx drugs aren’t covered by my insurance?

If it turns out your policy doesn’t cover medications, there are alternatives available. Many companies have optional add-ons for prescription medication, and there are also pet prescription plans geared specifically towards coverage for Rx drugs. These can also help minimize the costs associated with yearly preventative treatments for things like heartworm, and flea and tick control.

Another thing to remember is that you don’t necessarily have to purchase medication directly from your veterinarian, which typically includes a markup. Any legitimate vet office should have no problem with simply filling out a prescription for you, which you can then use to purchase the meds online from a Vet-VIPPS accredited pharmacy or from a retail outlet, regular drugstore, or chain like Costco or Target. Often, you can purchase the same medication at a fraction of the cost.  

Are there any alternatives to pain medication?

Depending on your dog’s condition, there are non-traditional treatments that can increase your pup’s quality of life and help manage their pain. As they’ve become increasingly popular, some pet insurance plans offer coverage for these therapies.

  • Massage - There are many different types of massage that can relieve pain and increase mobility, including acupressure massage and canine sports massage therapy. Massage can be especially useful for increasing range of motion, indigestion, and chronic joint pain.

  • Chiropractic adjustments - For dogs, chiropractors focus on manually adjusting aching joints, which can help ameliorate conditions such as arthritis, hip dysplasia, and intervertebral disc disease (IVDD)

  • Laser therapy - Cold laser therapy can help accelerate cellular rejuvenation, and help heal fractures, torn muscles or ligaments, and damaged nerves. Symptoms caused by arthritis or hip dysplasia, like joint swelling and inflammation, can also be minimized by this treatment.

  • Aromatherapy - "Aromatherapy causes various actions favorable for patients such as relaxation, reductions in anxiety, depression and fatigue, and improvements in quality of life via nervous, endocrine, immune, and circulatory systems, [and] therefore could be applied as a complementary therapy for [patients] with anxiety symptoms." - (more about essential oils

  • Acupuncture -  A licensed Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) acupuncturist will target problem areas on your pet, such as the spleen or the hips, in order to reduce inflammation. When muscle spasms or nerve damage are an issue, a weak electrical current can be applied to the acupuncture needles for electrostimulation acupuncture therapy.

  • Hydrotherapy - Thanks to water’s weight-bearing properties, hydrotherapy can be very beneficial for obese pets, as well as dogs suffering from muscle atrophy, hip dysplasia, arthritis, or intervertebral disc disease. It typically takes place in indoor, heated pools specially made for animals with joint problems, with ramps, hoist or harnesses for them to enter the water easily.

In short, whether your pup has a limp, a sore back, an upset stomach or any other condition that’s causing pain, the best thing you can do is consult your vet as soon as possible. Never try and take matters into your own hands. Thinking that what works for humans must also work for your beloved pet is a fallacy, as it can end up doing more damage than good. The good news is that most pet insurance policies cover any medication your vet prescribes, so it’s really worth checking out insurance policies, and a great place to start is at our list of the ten best pet insurance companies.