It’s one of the most helpless feelings a pet owner can experience: Fluffy or Fido is in pain, and you don’t know how to make it better. Maybe they stepped on a piece of broken glass and cut their paw. Or, they ate something that didn’t agree with their stomach and are now lying in a ball whimpering. Or maybe they’re having an unexpected flare-up of arthritis. Whatever the case may be, they are hurting, the veterinarian’s office is closed for the night, and you just want to alleviate their pain.
While it may be tempting to rummage through your medicine cabinet for one of your go-to pain relievers to share, you very well could make the situation worse. In fact, several human medicines are toxic to dogs and cats. So what are the best pet pain meds? And how do you know what’s right for your animal?
Are human drugs safe for pets?
Unfortunately, many of the common over-the-counter pain relievers for humans are dangerous for dogs and cats. “Advil (ibuprofen) and Tylenol (acetaminophen) should never be used in your pet,” says Kristi C. Torres, Pharm.D., a pharmacist in Austin, Texas, and a member of SingleCare’s Medical Review Board.
While acetaminophen is toxic to both dogs and cats, felines are especially prone to poisoning death, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), because they lack an enzyme to properly break it down in the liver.
Meanwhile, aspirin as a pet pain med is less dangerous, but Dr. Torres says it’s best not to risk it.
“Some vets may say that using a coated, buffered aspirin would be acceptable in an emergency situation, but it will likely make your animal’s stomach very upset and possibly cause a stomach bleed,” she explains.
Even if a human drug seems “safe” for a pet (for instance, Benadryl is typically okay for both human and pet consumption), the dosing will likely be very different for your furry friend. “It’s important to recognize that an animal dose of any drug is not simply a percentage of a weight-based dose in humans,” says Jeffrey Fudin, Pharm.D., the managing editor of paindr.com.
“For example, if the dose of a drug is 75 mg in a 150 pound human, that does not mean that the dose is 37.5 mg in a 75 pound dog. Dogs and cats metabolize drugs very differently from each other and from humans,” Dr. Fudin explains. “What’s acceptable in one animal could be dangerous or even fatal in another. It is always best to seek advice from a veterinarian before giving any medication to your pet.”
Prescription pain relief for dogs and cats
While there are a number of OTC human medications you should never give your pet, your vet may prescribe a pain med for your pet that’s commonly prescribed for humans—albeit at a different dosage and a potentially different formulation. If it’s available at your local pharmacy, you can use your SingleCare card to save.
Gabapentin, for instance, is an anticonvulsant and nerve medicine used to control seizures and alleviate pain associated with shingles in humans. But in recent years, it’s also been prescribed to dogs and cats for chronic pain and nerve pain. “It also has a calming effect on both animals,” Dr. Fudin says.
According to Dr. Torres, gabapentin can be given as the oral capsule available for human use, but if your pet requires the liquid version, they’ll have to prescribe a formulation especially for animals. “The human liquid formulation contains xylitol, which would be toxic to your pet,” she says.
Tramadol, an opioid used to treat moderate to severe pain, is another medicine on the interspecies list. Though, once again, your vet will need to calibrate the appropriate dose for your pooch or cat.
3. Rx-only NSAIDs
Though OTC NSAIDs are off-limits for your pets, there are a handful of Rx-only NSAIDs that can be prescribed by a vet. For the most part, each species has their own unique prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication, but there are a few canine and feline prescription options that are also used in humans (etodolac, celecoxib, meloxicam). Prednisone, an Rx steroid medication used in humans, can also sometimes help pet pain.
Natural pain meds for pets
Prescription medications aren’t the only option for pain relief in your pet—there are a handful of natural remedies that may be worth trying. These are usually considered in conjunction with other pain medications.
“Many pets experience pain related to arthritis and joint-related ailments. Ginger and turmeric are two natural roots that can be purchased in a grocery or health store, and grated onto the pet’s food in small amounts each day for natural pain relief,” Dr. Torres says.
Then there’s CBD (a.k.a. cannabidiol), which has become a popular anxiety and insomnia tonic for humans. In pets, it is largely safe in the proper dose (side effects can include sedation and a drop in blood pressure), but its pain-relieving effects are largely anecdotal at this point. Studies are still investigating its efficacy in animals.
Bottom line: With so many unknowns regarding OTC and natural pain relievers for pets, it’s always best to check with your vet before giving your pet any type of pills or supplements.