Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
Bottom Line
Pros
Cons
Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

17 Models Considered
6 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
245 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best dog pain relief and arthritis medications

Last Updated September 2020

Just as humans are prone to more aches and pains as they grow older, so, too, is your dog. But while you’re able to seek medical attention on your own for health concerns, your pooch is entirely dependent on your care. Dogs do suffer from arthritis and other painful conditions as they grow older, but just because these health issues are common doesn’t mean you should ignore them. There are medications specifically made for dogs to address these issues and help your pet be more comfortable.

It’s important that you not write off any signs of pain in your pet, such as limping or lethargy, as normal signs of canine aging. Luckily, there are quite a few dog pain relief and arthritis medications available, both by prescription and over the counter.

If Fido doesn’t seem to be quite himself these days, it’s time for a visit to the vet to pinpoint the problem and figure out a solution.  Our buying guide contains helpful information about some of the treatments your dog’s veterinarian is likely to recommend. We’ve included some of our favorites, too.

Aging is a normal part of a dog’s life, but pain doesn’t have to be. There are very effective medications available to keep your dog feeling its best.

Key considerations

OTC medications

There are several pain relief and arthritis treatments for dogs that are available without a prescription. Most are intended to proactively ward off arthritis pain and inflammation before it gets severe rather than treat pain that’s already occurring. Over-the-counter (OTC) supplements and treatments are excellent options if your dog is only occasionally showing mild signs of arthritis, or if you hope to keep your aging pooch feeling its best. Most of these treatments include a blend of active ingredients. The following are some of the most common:

Glucosamine: This combination of glutamine and glucose is produced naturally in dogs’ bodies, but production slows as they age. Glucosamine supplements help lubricate the joints, as well as encourage the growth of healthy cells and repair of damaged cells in cartilage.

Chondroitin: Another natural substance, chondroitin helps prevent the breakdown of cartilage in aging joints. It’s particularly effective when paired with glucosamine.

MSM: Methylsulfonylmethane is a natural anti-inflammatory and pain reliever.

Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids improve health in a variety of ways, one of which is the reduction of inflammation that leads to joint pain.

Boswellia serrata: This herbal supplement has strong anti-inflammatory and pain-reducing abilities.

CBD: Cannabidiol oil is derived from the cannabis plant or hemp, but it does not have the psychoactive qualities of THC. Instead, CBD helps to relieve anxiety, inflammation, and pain.

Curcumin: Sourced from the spice turmeric, curcumin has anti-inflammatory qualities and also helps reduce pain.

Aspirin: While aspirin for dogs is sold without a prescription, it’s best to talk with your dog’s veterinarian before using it to relieve your pooch’s discomfort, because excessive use can lead to ulcers and digestive system bleeding. Be sure to use only aspirin dosed for dogs and buffered to protect your dog’s stomach. 

Prescription medications

While OTC supplements can help ward off the earliest stages of arthritis pain, it’s quite possible that eventually your dog will need something stronger. Your veterinarian can prescribe one of several medications to effectively reduce your dog’s discomfort and help it enjoy its golden years. These are some of the most common prescription pain relievers for dogs.

NSAIDs: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are the largest group of prescription medications used to treat arthritis and other painful conditions in dogs. While their pharmacology is complex, basically, NSAIDs work by reducing the production of prostaglandin, a chemical released by cells that has several important functions throughout the body but also causes inflammation, pain, and fever.

You may well take NSAIDs yourself to treat your own arthritis, headache, or other painful conditions–ibuprofen and naproxen are two very common NSAIDs that are both available over the counter–but do not share your pain treatments with your pooch. Your dog’s digestive system, liver, and kidneys handle drugs differently than your organ systems, and what is a safe treatment for your condition could be harmful or even fatal to your dog. Instead, your veterinarian can prescribe NSAIDs specifically formulated for canines and dosed to your dog’s weight.

The most commonly prescribed canine NSAID is carprofen, also sold under the brand names Rimadyl, Vetprofen, and Novox. Other common NSAIDs that are FDA approved for use in canines include the following:

  • Deracoxib (brand name Deramaxx)
  • Firocoxib (brand name Previcox)
  • Grapiprant (brand name Galliprant)
  • Meloxicam (brand name Metacam)
     

While most dogs can take NSAIDs without problems for long-term effective treatment of arthritis, there is always the potential for side effects. The most common side effects to watch for include the following:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Reduced appetite
  • Lethargy or reduced activity level
     

If you notice any changes in your dog’s health or behavior after starting an NSAID, call your veterinarian.

Gabapentin: Gabapentin, often sold under the brand name Neurontin, is another medication that’s used to treat nerve pain and seizures in humans but is often prescribed by veterinarians to treat chronic pain, seizures, and anxiety in dogs. It’s fairly common for dogs to be tired or a little unsteady on their feet when first starting gabapentin, but this side effect usually goes away as the dog’s system adjusts to the medication. More serious side effects that warrant a call to the vet include diarrhea, vomiting, excessive fatigue, or bulging eyes.

Tramadol: An opioid painkiller, tramadol is often prescribed short-term to reduce post-surgical pain in dogs. It’s also sometimes prescribed as a long-term treatment for arthritis, cancer pain, or other painful conditions that don’t respond well to NSAIDs, or as an adjunct to NSAID therapy. Unlike NSAIDs, tramadol doesn’t treat the cause of pain but instead affects the brain’s ability to process pain messages transmitted by nerves. Most dogs can safely take tramadol, but call your veterinarian if your pooch experiences any of the following side effects:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Tremors
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dizziness or instability while walking
  • Excessive sedation or drowsiness
     

Adequan: A form of glucosamine that’s only available as an injection, Adequan is a very effective arthritis treatment for dogs, but it does require several visits to the vet because it’s injected twice weekly for four weeks and then typically monthly after that.

DID YOU KNOW?

NSAIDs are the most common prescription dog pain medications for treating arthritis.

DID YOU KNOW?

Over-the-counter supplements can help ward off arthritis and keep your dog more comfortable.

Dog medication prices

Because there are so many types of dog pain relief and arthritis medications, and because they are sold both over the counter and by prescription, the price range is a wide one. But still, these treatments are typically not too expensive, and it’s hard to put a price tag on your dog’s well-being.

As a general rule, you’ll pay a lot more for prescription medications directly from your veterinarian. If your dog will be taking the medication long-term, it’s normally much less expensive to order the drug through an online pet pharmacy. Keep in mind that many factors influence the cost of a medication, including dosage and whether it’s a brand name or a generic. Here are some very rough guidelines:

NSAIDs: Most prescription NSAIDs cost from $15 to $40 for 30 doses.

Gabapentin: This costs around $10 for 30 doses.

Tramadol: This costs around $25 to $30 for 30 doses.

OTC supplements: These typically cost between $20 and $35 for a supply that lasts one to two months.

CAUTION

Never give your cat any medication prescribed for your dog. Felines do not metabolize medications in the same way dogs do, and the results could be disastrous.

Tips

While medication plays an important role in keeping your canine free of arthritis pain, there are lifestyle changes that can also help reduce discomfort.

  • Keep your dog at a healthy weight. This is very important. Excess weight puts more stress on already painful joints. Talk to your vet about dietary changes, if necessary.
  • Keep your dog moving. Even though your dog might not be able to accompany you on long jogs anymore, it’s still important to keep it moving. Several short walks each day help keep joints lubricated and prevent stiffness. It’s especially helpful to walk up and down hills.
  • Give your dog a padded bed. A cozy, padded bed will keep your aging canine comfortable while it snoozes. Orthopedic foam provides exceptional support for sore joints. If your dog sleeps outdoors, a heated bed is a must during the winter.
  • Install a ramp. Doggy ramps make it easier for arthritic or elderly pooches to get on and off the couch or your bed, as well as for larger dogs to get into the car.
  • Provide traction on slick floors. Aging dogs sometimes have difficulty walking on smooth floors such as wood or tile. Give your dog assistance by laying down area rugs over nonslip pads where needed to provide more traction.
  • Try alternative treatments. Massage, acupuncture, water therapy, and laser therapy are all options for helping your arthritic dog feel better.
If your dog shows signs of pain, including limping, stiffness, or loss of appetite, it’s time for a visit to your veterinarian.

FAQ

Q. Can I give my dog OTC pain meds intended for humans?
A.
Unless it’s under the direction of your veterinarian, never give your dog common OTC human pain relievers, including Tylenol, Advil (ibuprofen), Aleve (naproxen) or regular aspirin. All of these medications can be toxic to dogs in large doses, potentially causing kidney or digestive system damage.


Q. Can my cat take the same pain medications as my dog?
A.
Just because Fido and Fluffy share a bed and a water bowl doesn’t mean they can share medications. Never give your cat a pain medication prescribed for your dog, particularly an NSAID. Cats are much more sensitive to these drugs, and their bodies do not metabolize them well, leading to potentially serious side effects. There are pain medications for cats, including specially formulated NSAIDs, so if you have an arthritic feline, talk to your vet about treatment options.


Q. How do I know if my dog is in pain?
A.
Your pooch can’t tell you directly that it’s hurting, but it can show pain through body language and behavior. Arthritis and other painful conditions often show through these symptoms:

  • Limping or favoring one leg
  • Difficulty standing, especially after sleeping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Refusal to use stairs
  • Difficulty jumping up onto a favorite couch or chair
  • Reduced activity, such as sleeping more
  • Aggression or irritability
  • Yelping or crying when trying to stand or walk
  • Shivering or panting
  • Tail tucked instead of wagging freely
Other Products We Considered
The BestReviews editorial team researches hundreds of products based on consumer reviews, brand quality, and value. We then choose a shorter list for in-depth research and testing before finalizing our top picks. These are the products we considered that ultimately didn't make our top 5.
The team that worked on this review
  • Bronwyn
    Bronwyn
    Editor
  • Ciera
    Ciera
    Digital Content Producer
  • Jennifer
    Jennifer
    Writer
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer
  • Michelle
    Michelle
    Writer

BestReviews wants to be better. Please take our 3-minute survey,
and give us feedback about your visit today.

Take Survey