Pain Management for Dogs

There is nothing worse than seeing your dog in pain. One of the things I am most proud of in our profession is the advancement in treatment of pain in dogs. The American Animal Hospital Association released The Pain Management Guidelines during my presidency. These guidelines were created to not just treat pain but to classify it and help to recognize it. At our hospital we have a pain management program that was started well before the guidelines were released. Our staff is trained to recognize and classify pain in every patient. Whenever possible we will treat pain before it occurs. This is called preemptive pain management. It is very important when we do surgery of any kind because when you treat prior to a painful event it requires less medication. This makes your dog more comfortable and it is safer.

The following information will help you to understand pain management for dogs.

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. The dog may be reluctant to climb stairs, show a decrease in activity levels, or resist 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:

  • Whimpering or vocalizing - or becoming quiet, withdrawn and inactive.
  • Aggressiveness when approached, as they try to protect themselves from further pain
  • Holding the ears flat against the head.
  • Increased licking of the affected area.
  • Decreased appetite
  • Reluctance to walk, run, climb stairs, jump or play
  • Stiffness or limping
  • Lagging behind on walks
  • Soreness when touched
  • Change in personality

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 that will be 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 during and after surgery.

There are many types of drugs used to prevent and lessen pain. Your veterinarian will chose the appropriate drugs 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 liver, kidney, stomach and/or intestinal problems and many NSAIDs will prolong blood-clotting time. NSAIDs are used to treat mild 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 used to treat severe surgical pain, and may also be used in advanced cases of cancer or to control severe arthritic pain. Opioids have a place in selected cases to maintain a good quality of life for the dog.

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. They are often used to reduce arthritic, allergic or dermatologic discomfort. However, they have potential long-term side effects, and should be used with caution.

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!

A huge part of our pain management program for dogs is to be sure you know how to recognize pain. If you are not sure the safest thing is to let us know and we will get you in to evaluate your dog for pain. We pride ourselves on the most progressive treatment and prevention of pain in your dog.

Give us a call as our AAHA Accredited pet friendly staff would be happy to assist in all your pet health concerns.

Our Pet Health Mission

Our mission at Newport Harbor Animal Hospital is: "To provide the highest quality veterinary care for our patients and the best service for our clients. Our goal in every case is a healthy pet and a happy client."

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