What Can I Give My Dog for Pain Relief?

If you are wondering “Can I give my dog Aleve?” it probably makes sense to ask a couple of other questions as well. Asking “What is Aleve?” and “Why would I give it to my pet?” are also important questions. Here we examine the answers to these and other frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the advisability of giving dogs medications that are formulated for humans.

Please help me feel better, Doctor!

Please help me feel better, Doctor!
Credit: Stock photo: poor puppy by moovet under royalty free license http://www.sxc.hu/photo/846164

What Is Aleve?

Aleve is the brand name for a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) used to relieve pain and reduce swelling and inflammation; its generic name is naproxen.

While its anti-inflammatory property make it a good choice for treating joint pain related to arthritis, it is not the safest treatment choice for dogs, as it can cause adverse reactions or death.

Dangers of OTC Drugs

Owners might consider giving their dogs Aleve  or aspirin to relieve the pain of simple injuries, or sprained muscles or many types of arthritis. However, before giving a pet an over the counter (OTC) pain pill, it makes sense to get some facts and consider the potential risks. Let us see what one expert has to say. Veterinary experts like Dr. Camille DeClementi recommend not using human formulated medications for animals to avoid an accidental poisoning.

According to Dr. DeClementi, one 220 mg tablet of naproxen ingested by a dog that weighs about 60 pounds can cause ulcers in the GI tract. The dog will die if those ulcers perforate. Whether it is aspirin, naproxen or baby aspirin, to protect your pet's health, always consult your vet first before giving a pet one of these medications. 

The Risk Versus the Reward

Over the counter drugs (OTC) like naproxen are not metabolized as quickly in dogs’ bodies as they are in humans. They may accumulate in the body and cause toxicity or affect the animal’s gastrointestinal tract or major organs. Because of this different metabolism rate, there is a narrow margin of safety for prescribing the right amount. A veterinarian calculates the correct animal dosage of medications based on factors like:

  • The animal’s age and weight
  • Its overall health history and previous medical problems
  • Other medications it is taking
  • The presenting illness (a strained or pulled muscle is medicated in a different manner for pain than chronic arthritis is treated.)

Now that we understand the risk of self-prescribing an OTC medication for a dog, let us discuss some canine-safe NSAIDS.


Currently, veterinarians can prescribe the following canine NSAIDs:

  • Etodolac
  • Carprofen
  • Deracoxib
  • Meloxicam
  • Tepoxalin
  • Firocoxib
  • Generic carprofen

While the final choice of a drug to treat pain should be left up to each attending veterinarian, owners can feel comfortable that these medicines are usually safe and effective and cause few side effects or adverse reactions.

What About Accidental Poisonings?

Poisoning accidents happen. Pills drop and roll into hiding, only to be found by curious pets. Know the symptoms of toxicity and if your dog exhibits any of these, seek professional help immediately.

  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea or tarry stools
  • Lethargy
  • Changes in urinary habits: urinating more or less often

While accidents can happen in any household, taking preventive measures lessen the risk. Here is some expert advice from Dr. DeClementi:

  • Take medications behind a closed-door. If a pill is dropped, it can be picked up easily. If you  drop a pill while your dog is standing at your feet, he could grab it and swallow it before you could retrieve it.
  • Keep medicine bottles stored where the dog cannot get to them. In her words, “childproof does not equate to animal proof.” The dog could knock a bottle off a table, and play with it or chew it open, and then eat the medicine.

Giving any animal drugs formulated for humans makes as much sense as using cooking oil in your car engine. The best course of action is to let your vet evaluate and prescribe any medicines. Use them as prescribed, and do not stop or change any medications, unless advised by the veterinarian.

The information in this article should not be considered veterinarian advice. It is not intended to treat, diagnose, prescribe or cure any ailment. Always check with a veterinarian for treatment advice for animals or before following any advice in articles like the one you have just read.

This article was prepared via a telephone interview with Dr. Camille DeClementi, VMD, DABT, DABVT, Senior Director of Knowledge Management, Senior Toxicologist, ASPCA Animal Health Services, on 09/24/2010.  Dr. DeClementi answered questions and gave advice on the wisdom of giving dogs over-the-counter drugs such as naproxen, aspirin and baby aspirin.