Opioids (such as morphine) are used by licensed professionals primarily for their pain-relieving effects despite some well-known side effects. These drugs are the most effective analgesics available for the treatment of acute pain in many different animals, particularly cats and dogs. Opioids relieve pain by acting on the central nervous system. Their side effects, such as sluggishness (sedation), change in mood (good or bad), and excitement, are related to other central nervous system processes. Different species and even individual animals within a species respond to opioids in different ways, so doses often require adjustment.

For example, a horse might weigh 10 times as much as a large dog, yet the amount of morphine might be similar for both animals. The effect of an opioid depends on additional factors, including whether the animal is in pain, the overall health of the animal, the administration of other drugs at the same time, and individual sensitivity to opioid effects. For some opioids (such as butorphanol), a higher dose does not always bring more pain relief. This is called the ceiling effect.


In recent years, veterinarians have made great progress in understanding how dogs feel pain and the best ways to manage that pain. Many dogs will instinctively hide their pain as a survival mechanism, which, in the past, led well-meaning experts to presume that dogs did not feel pain the same way humans do. We now know that dogs have a nervous system very similar to humans, and we know better how to recognize and manage their pain.

Uses/benefits of Pain Meds For Dogs

A main benefit of an FDA-approved nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug for dogs or cats is that it has been shown to be safe and effective in that species when used according to the label. Pain relievers for people don’t have the same assurances of safety and effectiveness in pets and could be harmful.

A second main benefit is that the label for an FDA-approved NSAID for dogs or cats is written specifically for that species. The label includes all the information veterinarians need to use the drug safely and effectively in that species.

Side effects to look out for:

If your vet does prescribe pain relief for your dog, you need to watch out for certain side effects. All medications have potential side effects, but these are weighed against the benefits that the medication delivers to determine their effectiveness and safety.

Some of the side effects to watch out for are:

  • Changes in behavior
  • Loss of appetite
  • Skin redness
  • Digestive issues, including diarrhea and vomiting

Your vet will have a better knowledge of your dog’s health, so they can give you more information about what to look for. You might find it helpful to read the leaflet that comes with the medication too, as this will give you instructions and tell you about potential side effects. If the medication did not come with a leaflet or handout you can always ask your veterinarian for one.

Types of Pain Meds For Dogs

FDA has approved several nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for dogs to control pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis; and to control pain and inflammation after soft tissue and orthopedic surgery. [Orthopedic pertains to bones and muscles; soft tissue is everything else. Repairing a dog’s torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) in her knee is an orthopedic surgery; removing a ball from a dog’s stomach is a soft tissue surgery.]

Table 1: Some FDA-Approved Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs for Dogs

Active IngredientBrand Names
CarprofenMarketed under multiple trade names
MeloxicamMarketed under multiple trade names
RobenacoxibONSIOR (for a maximum of 3 days)

Prices of Pain Meds For Dogs

$34.39 – $135.99

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