Managing Your Dog's Pain

How to know when your furry friend is hurting—and what to do about it.

Nothing is worse than seeing your dog in pain and not knowing how to make them feel better. We’re here to help you prepare to help your pup if they’re ever facing serious discomfort.

But how do you even know if your dog is hurting? The truth is, dogs are pros at hiding when they’re in pain, so you’ll have to watch out for signs beyond obvious ones, like limping. If your dog is overly aggressive, reluctant to exercise, or restless, we recommend calling your local vet for advice on next steps.

dog pain
Your pup might be in pain without giving off any dramatic signs or signals.

Meanwhile, let’s explore why your dog might be in pain, how you can tell, and what your vet might suggest and a few extra options for healing your pup.

We spoke to our favorite veterinarian, Dr. Liff, to learn more about dog pain, pain medications, herbal options, and alternative therapies.

Here’s what we’ll be discussing:

Common causes of dog pain

It’s easy to tell if your dog has a limp or a deep cut, but dogs can be sneaky when it comes to hiding aches and discomfort from less obvious diseases. Since we can’t decode our four-legged friend’s bark (yet), it’s important to know some of the most painful conditions to look out for. 

Health conditionCauseSigns to watch for
ArthritisAs your dog gets older, the smooth cartilage that protects her joints may start to wear down, causing bones to rub against each other.  

Additional causes include 
dislocation, joint infection, ligament injuries, general trauma, or bone fractures near joints
Licking/chewing the sensitive area
Difficulty moving
Yelping when pet
Weight Gain
Bone cancerThere’s no clear explanation for bone cancer, but it does tend to strike larger dog breeds more frequently. Pups who already have broken bones or bone-related diseases may also have a higher chance of contracting this cancer. Swelling
Lack of appetite
Swollen jaw
Difficulty moving
Pancreatitis Your dog’s pancreas regulates blood sugar. If this organ becomes inflamed it leads to pain in the abdomen. Pancreatitis often affects dogs with weight problems, or those who chow down on foods like bacon or salmon skin.
Vomiting or diarrhea
Lack of Appetite
Breathing issues
Low energy
Periodontal diseaseIt’s a good idea not to overlook the importance of teeth cleaning for your pup. Excess plaque can irritate gums, causing periodontal disease—which, in the worst cases, will mean tooth loss.
Loose teeth
Bad breath
Bleeding/inflamed/receding gums
Stained teeth
Lack of appetite
Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD)IVDD involves your dog’s spinal cord vertebrae. Injury from running or jumping could cause your dog’s already spine to suffer a bulge or burst.Difficulty walking
Yelping when pet
Reluctance to move
Poor posture
Paresis (severe weakness)

Pain relief medications for your dog

If your pet is showing any signs of pain, you should consult with your vet, and definitely don’t just give your dog any of the ibuprofen or acetaminophen pills you take when you have a headache. (The human version of these meds can be toxic for your pet.) Here’s some background about which medications your vet might recommend. 

Dog-specific NSAIDS are like Advil, but for your fur fam! That acronym stands for “nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs,” and includes rimadyl (carprofen), metacam, deramax (deracoxib), and galliprant.

If your pet is in pain, your vet might suggest and prescribe pet-safe NSAIDS as an option. Just make sure to get some blood work done before, and during, treatment, so that you can monitor your dog’s kidney and liver function.

Always make sure your vet is overseeing medicines you give your furry pal.

If you start noticing side effects like discomfort, your pup could be experiencing organ toxicity, gastrointestinal upset, or ulcers. It’s best practice to check your pup into the vet clinic when they’re taking this medication; they’ll ensure your dog’s pain goes away safely, and you won’t have to anxiously observe them the whole time. 

Gabapentin, amantadine, and tramadol are mild and safe pain medications. If your dog was recently diagnosed with osteoarthritis, a veterinarian might recommend tramadol to manage their pain. All three of these medicines can be used in addition to NSAIDS to make your dog feel better. 

Opioids are another, heavier-duty option, but they have no anti-inflammatory benefits. If your dog is in extreme pain post-surgery, for instance, your vet might recommend methadone, codeine, morphine, or fentanyl. Ask your vet if your dog requires in-person supervision before giving them opioids.

As you probably know, these injectables can be abused by humans, so make sure you’re being careful, and also don’t leave these meds where anyone in your household can access them. We want you and your dog to be safe. If your veterinarian can avoid opioids, it might be preferable.

Herbal medicine for your pain relief

If you’re looking for more natural techniques to relieve pain—or want to supplement the medications your vet prescribed—herbal alternatives can be a great choice. 

Green-lipped mussel extract is full of great vitamins and antioxidants. It’s also high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are a natural anti-inflammatory and protect your pup from joint pain. Studies show that green-lipped mussel extract is helpful in managing arthritis and improving joint health.

Glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM are different types of supplements that can keep your dog’s joints healthy and lubricated while preventing arthritis pain. Since they are considered supplements, they aren’t regulated by the FDA. However, all three of these have been used in Europe and the USA for over 20 years. Make sure you’re giving your four-legged friend the dog version and not human supplements, which can be toxic.

dog physical therapy
“Did somebody say CBD??”

CBD is in nearly every human-centric product now, from seltzer to massage lotion… and your pet can get in on the health craze, too. While CBD benefits aren’t conclusive, some research suggests that CBD can manage dog pain and improve cardiac function. It may also have cancer-fighting properties, help control seizures, and make allergic dogs feel less itchy, among other benefits. Since CBD is still in its experimental phases, it’s not covered by pet insurance.

Acupuncture, massage, and other alternative physical therapies

Let’s say your pug, Charlie, starts limping and can’t play fetch at the park. At the vet, Charlie is diagnosed with patellar luxation, a painful condition that causes his knee-joint to slide in and out of place.

IIf your vet recommends surgery, you may be curious about how to help Charlie recover in the most painless way possible. Your options don’t end with pain relief medicine or supplements. You can look into alternative therapies, ranging from the ancient to the cutting-edge. Your dog’s comfort is priceless, but we know that these treatments can really add up. Luckily, Lemonade pet insurance offers an optional physical therapy add-on,  which can take some of the bite out of these hefty bills to help your pup make a full recovery.

Acupuncture can help manage pain by releasing natural anti-inflammatory substances into the body. By using little needles in specific pressure points, it can affect nerves and stimulate endorphins! Dr. Liff also suggests that acupuncture increases blood flow and activates natural anti-inflammatory chemicals… but it’s not cheap, as sessions can range anywhere from $60 to $300. 

Laser therapy treats pain by releasing endorphins and accelerating cell recovery. A study at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine discovered that dogs with Intervertebral Disc Disease healed faster and cheaper with laser therapy than with certain alternatives. (Bonus: Your pup will get to sport some truly fresh protective sunglasses—the ultimate recover-in-style look.) Without pet insurance, each therapy session could cost you $25 to $60.

Massages or hydrotherapy are also great options for pain management. Massage assists with muscle spasms and also increases blood flow. Hydrotherapy is more than just a fun doggie swim or underwater walk; it can improve function and relieve pain. On average, both of these therapies cost between $35 to $50 per session.

Paying for your dog’s pain management

Luckily, pet health insurance can help cover the costs for many of these medications and treatments. (It’s better to start your policy when your pet is young; accidents happen when you least expect it. We want you to be protected financially, so you only have to focus on cheering up your pup.)

With a base accident and illness policy at Lemonade, we’ll help cover many injections or prescription medications, provided you’ve passed your policy’s waiting periods. If you opt for the physical therapy  add-on, we can help cover the costs of your pet recovering from any functionality issues with the advantage of treatments like hydrotherapy and acupuncture—which might prove prohibitive without insurance coverage. 

However, the physical therapy add-on  won’t cover experimental treatments, like CBD oils and green-lipped mussel extract. 

 You never want to see your dog in pain. And remember, your dog can’t tell you if she’s suffering, and there’s no special, coded bark that means “please take me to the vet, my leg really hurts.” 

If you notice any signs—limping, restlessness, aggressiveness—get your furry friend checked out by a professional so that you can make sure they’re well taken care of. Lemonade also offers a vet visit fees add-on, so you can take your pup to the vet at the first sign of discomfort after an accident or illness without getting hit with major exam fees.

Lili Cook

Lili Cook is a Content Analyst at Lemonade.


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