Pain Management for Pets

One of the most difficult parts of being a pet owner is knowing how to best care for pets that are in pain. As pets age, it is important to make sure they are living each day happy and pain-free.

Animals with illnesses or injuries often try to hide their pain, so pet owners should always watch for any changes in their pets’ behavior. If you suspect your pet is hurting, the first thing you should do is to take it to a veterinarian, who can determine the best plan for pain management.

There are many options for managing pain, both long-term and short-term, that can help keep pets feeling good, despite health problems. Dr. Daniel Eckman, a veterinarian at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, has advice for pet owners when working with a veterinarian to choose the best pain management approach for their pet.

“The best strategy for pain management in pets is to identify the source, type, and severity of pain present,” Eckman said. “This will allow you to tailor an individual plan for the pet.”

Eckman said he tends to develop multimodal approaches, in which he combines medications, physical modalities, and other forms of therapy, including laser and shockwave therapy. Physical modalities include treatments such as acupuncture, heat and cold therapy, electrical stimulation, stretching, and massage.

According to Eckman, physical rehabilitation is beneficial for the majority of pets in pain, especially those that are weak or have restricted movement. He explained that physical rehabilitation can help these pets become stronger and more active, which can help to reduce pain.

Eckman said he does not often prescribe natural products for pain relief because they could have negative interactions with other medications that the pet is being given. It is important to tell your veterinarian which natural products you are giving your pet.

“We also do not know exact doses for some of the natural products that are used, as safety and efficacy studies have not been performed on many of them,” he added. “The one product we use most frequently is fatty acid supplementation, as it helps to reduce inflammatory mediators in the joints of arthritic pets.”

For pets dealing with long-term pain management, such as from chronic diseases, Eckman says there are many options that may help.

“As the pain persists or worsens over time, more layers of medications or types of treatments may be needed to continue to address the pain,” he explained.

He said opiate medications are not typically recommended for long-term therapy, as they can cause negative side effects. However, they can be used for short periods of time if pain flares up above normal levels.

Although it may be heartbreaking to see a pet in pain, it is important to not give up hope. There are many options for reducing or even eliminating pain, and a veterinarian can help you find the best option for your pet’s unique needs.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.