Keeping your pet pain-free is crucial to maintaining his or her quality of life. Our veterinarians use a multi-modal approach to pain management that includes anti-inflammatories, opioid drugs, local anesthetics, general anesthetics, and even epidural anesthesia to effectively combat pain at all levels.
If your pet is dealing with acute pain, our goal is to prevent the nerves from perceiving and remembering this pain so that it does not become chronic pain. For this reason, pain-management protocols are a part of the treatment plan for all invasive procedures, such as surgeries. If your pet is already dealing with chronic pain, our veterinarians can create a customized pain management plan based on your pet's individual needs and medical issues.
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, lead to incorrect assumptions about the ability of dogs to feel pain. Because we now understand more about how dogs feel pain, we now know how to recognize and manage it.
What is pain?
Pain has as many definitions as there are injuries, conditions and individuals. Many experts define pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage.” Pain is very subjective and difficult to measure. Since dogs instinctively hide their pain to prevent potential predators from targeting them when they are injured, pain assessment in dogs can be challenging. The manifestation of pain is widely variable from dog to dog. It is important to note that just because a dog doesn’t cry, limp or show other obvious signs of pain, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t in pain. A good general rule of thumb is that if it would hurt you, it most likely hurts them.
How can I tell if my dog is in pain?
With obvious injuries or after surgical procedures, we can reasonably assume that the dog will experience pain. Although the signs may be subtle, careful observation will often reveal signs of pain in most dogs. Most dogs experiencing pain will change their behavior patterns. You often will see a reluctance to climb stairs, a decrease in activity levels, or notice that the dog resists being held or picked up. These subtle signs may be our only clue that the dog is hurting.
Arthritic pain is common in older dogs and anyone who has witnessed an older dog struggle to rise or be unable to stand after lying down can imagine the discomfort these dogs must endure.
Other signs of pain include:
• They may be violent and vocalize – or be quiet, withdrawn and inactive.
• They may be aggressive when approached, as they try to protect themselves from further pain, or they may be subdued or withdrawn.
• Their ears may lie flat against their head.
• They may lick the affected area.
• Decreased activity
• Reluctance to walk, run, climb stairs, jump or play
• Difficulty rising from a resting position
• Lagging behind on walks
• Soreness when touched
• Yelping or whimpering in pain
• Acting aggressive or withdrawn
• Exhibiting other personality changes
How is pain treated in dogs?
If your dog is undergoing a surgical procedure, do not be afraid to ask about the type of pain management provided for your dog. Some surgical cases do not require postoperative pain management, while others require medications for three to ten days after the procedure. In most cases, your dog should receive pain-relief medications before and after surgery.
There are many types of drugs used to prevent and lessen pain. Your veterinarian will make appropriate drug choices based on your pet’s specific needs. Some common veterinary pain-relief medications include:
Non-Steroidal-Anti-Inflammatory-Drugs (NSAIDs) – These drugs interfere with the body’s production of inflammatory molecules that trigger pain and swelling. NSAIDs must be used with caution because there is potential for stomach and intestinal problems and prolonged blood-clotting time. NSAIDs are used for low to moderate pain and discomfort.
Opioids – Used for more severe pain, this class of pain relief medication includes morphine, codeine, fentanyl, buprenorphine, butorphanol and hydromorphone. They are also used in advanced cases of cancer or severe arthritic pain. Opioids have a place in selected cases where the quality of life for the dog can be maintained
Corticosteroids – Cortisone and synthetic cortisone-like drugs such as prednisone, prednisolone, methylprednisolone, and dexamethasone are potent anti-inflammatory medications and can have a very profound impact on the patient. However, they have potential long-term side effects and you should consult with your veterinarian when they are employed on a long-term basis to reduce arthritic, allergic or dermatologic discomfort.
Pain is something that no pet should experience needlessly. By closely observing your pet for subtle signs of pain and by working with your veterinarian, your pet can enjoy a long, pain-free life!