Pain management can make a dog’s life much more comfortable, whether the dog suffers the chronic pain of arthritis or the short-term pain of surgery. Actually recognizing pain and treating pain in dogs can, however, be difficult.
Dogs retain many of their wild instincts. In the wild, an animal tries to hide pain as much as possible: showing pain or weakness can be deadly in nature. Dogs can be very good at hiding their pain, and you may be surprised to find out your dog is in pain.
Recognizing pain requires an awareness of your dog’s usual personality and behavior patterns. If a dog that is usually active and friendly becomes inactive and withdrawn, he may be experiencing pain.
Back pain and arthritis can afflict older dogs. Pain management may be required if the dog has difficulty getting to her feet after lying down or if she is reluctant to get up.
Other signs that pain management may be necessary include:
- aggressive behavior
- avoiding being held/picked up
- difficulty climbing stairs
- dilated eyes
- ears flat against the head
- excessive licking
- excessive saliva
- increase in heart rate
- licking lips
- loss of appetite
- poor grooming
- rapid breathing
- tense stomach muscles
Not all dogs have the same pain threshold or display the same symptoms, which makes recognizing pain even more difficult. Trust your instincts: you know your dog better than anyone. If she seems “off” to you, making a trip to the veterinarian’s is worth it.
Pain Management and Surgery
Experts once thought that some pain after surgery was in a dog’s best interest: if the dog was in pain, she was less likely to be active and would heal faster.
Proponents of canine pain management now dispute this theory. Studies have shown that dogs who receive pain management heal faster than dogs who suffer through post-surgical pain without help.
Owners of female dogs should be aware that spaying is major surgery and that pain management is required after surgery. Discuss pain management with your veterinarian before agreeing to any surgery: if the veterinarian believes that providing post-surgical pain management is unnecessary, you may want to consider using another vet.
Treating a Dog’s Pain with Medication
Treating a dog’s pain often requires the use of prescription and nonprescription medication. Never use non-prescription medication without first discussing pain management with your vet.
Veterinarians may recommend a number of medications for treating a dog’s pain. These can include non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and steroids. For severe pain opiate-based medications such as codeine or morphine may be prescribed. Nutriceuticals can help prevent pain by speeding repair of damaged tissues.
Non-Prescription Medication: Non-prescription medication such as aspirin can be used for canine pain management, but only with a veterinarian’s advice. Most non-prescription pain medications are NSAIDs, or non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs.
Non-prescription NSAIDs may be used when treating a dog’s pain requires acute pain management, but are not recommended for long-term pain relief. NSAIDS can cause intestinal problems and interfere with blood clotting. Some non-prescription medications should never be used for canine pain management, so always check with a veterinarian before treating a dog’s pain.
Prescription Medication: Prescription medication used in canine pain control includes prescription NSAIDs such as Rimadyl and Etogesic. As with non-prescription NSAIDs, these drugs should only be used for acute canine pain management, and even then only used with care.
Other prescription medication used when treating a dog’s pain includes opiates, steroids and even antidepressants.
Opiates such as morphine, codeine, and Demerol are powerful prescription medications used for severe pain management. Opiate medication may be employed for advanced cancer pain management, or to treat serious arthritis.
Steroids such as cortisone reduce inflammation and therefore have important pain relieving properties. Treating a dog’s pain may require steroid medication if the dog suffers from arthritis, inflammation due to allergies or severe skin conditions. While steroids are effective, they produce serious side effects over time and cannot be used for long-term pain management.
Antidepressants may seem an unusual option for treating a dog’s pain, but some are used to for chronic and severe pain management. Amitriptyline, a tricyclic antidepressant, is sometimes used when treating a dog’s pain.
Nutriceuticals: Nutriceuticals are nutrients that help strengthen and repair body tissues. Nutriceuticals also play a role in proper metabolism and are thought to control mild pain. Nutriceuticals are a diverse group, including such substances as:
- chondroitin sulfate
- flax seed oil
- omega-3 fatty acids
- omega-6 fatty acids.
Nutriceuticals are often used in arthritis pain management and may be used to treat pain associated with other degenerative disorders. Best used for low-grade pain management, nutriceuticals can take up to eight weeks before they begin treating a dog’s pain.
Holistic Approaches to Pain Management
Because many prescription medications cannot provide safe long-term pain management, some dog owners and veterinarians are looking at holistic approaches to treating a dog’s pain.
The effectiveness of many holistic approaches to canine pain management remains unproven. Studies have shown, however, that chiropractic body manipulation, acupuncture and therapeutic massage have positive effects when treating a dog’s pain.