Pain management in companion animals has changed greatly over the last 10 years. Pain in our pets is now thought to be similar to the pain that people feel instead of a previously perceived tolerance to pain. Managing pain in our pets is important for a variety of reasons. Pain not only impacts an animal’s quality of life, but it slows healing, contributes to the development of illness and has been proven to shorten the lifespan of an animal. Much research has gone into identifying what causes pain in animals, the physiology of the development of pain and the different modalities for interrupting the pain process.
There are many aspects to managing pain in our pets. Most pain management involves the use of pharmaceuticals, but lifestyle changes, such as weight loss, neutraceuticals, and physical therapy can also lessen and shorten the pain that our pets experience.
Using a variety of medications with different actions affecting different steps in the development of pain creates a more effective treatment for pain. This is called multi-modal pain management. Whether blocking pain before it starts or managing pain once it is present, more than one class of medication is often used to achieve the best outcome. The most commonly used classes of pain medications are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), opioids, corticosteroids, and topical and local anesthetics. Anti-anxiety medications, antidepressants, sedatives, and muscle relaxants also play an important role in pain management because anxiety and tension can enhance pain.
The most effective way to manage pain is to block it before it starts. This is not always possible, but when the onset of pain can be predicted, as with elective surgeries and procedures including sterilization (spay/neuter), declawing cats, removing masses, or performing dental cleanings, the pain associated with the procedure can be greatly lessened by giving medications before any pain or inflammation exists. Administration of medication before, during and after a procedure provides the most adequate pain management.
If pain is already present, there are many classes of medications to help block or relieve the pain and keep it from progressing. Common causes of unpredictable pain are orthopedic disease (osteoarthritis, torn ligaments, spinal trauma or broken bones), organ inflammation (kidney, liver, pancreas, muscle or skin), and cancer. Recent research has shown that medications such as amantadine and gabapentin, which work on the way pain is processed by the nervous system, can help with chronic pain in dogs.
Non-pharmaceutical compounds, neutraceuticals, have been used in recent years for joint health in animals. The common combination of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate helps to nourish joint cartilage and reduce inflammation associated with aging or joint disease.
Regardless of the cause, type or duration of pain, an uncomfortable pet is an unhappy pet. Pain decreases the quality and length of an animal’s life. At Westgate Pet Clinic, we strive to keep all of our patients free of pain and would be happy to discuss your pet’s condition with you.