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Pain in Dogs

By: Dr. Rhea Morgan

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  • The goals of treatment are to identify the source of pain and remove it, and to use medications to alleviate the pain. Initially the pain must be localized to a specific site, then a diagnosis made as to the cause of the pain. Specific therapy is designed to alleviate the underlying cause.

  • Alleviation of pain involves the use of analgesics (drugs that numb the pain sensors) and anti-inflammatories. Whenever possible, a diagnosis of the cause of the pain and therapy for that cause should be instituted prior to administration of pain medications. Administration of analgesics and anti-inflammatory drugs as an empirical, symptomatic treatment can be dangerous.

  • Many different types of analgesic drugs are available for use in dogs. Injectable pain medications that may be used include butorphanol, buprenorphine, hydromorphone, fentanyl, morphine, and oxymorphone. Two oral analgesic drugs that may be used in dogs are butorphanol and Tylenol with codeine.

  • Anti-inflammatory agents are divided into two categories, steroidal and non-steroidal drugs (NSAIDs). Steroidal agents, such as prednisone and dexamethasone, are reserved for the treatment of certain specific diseases or conditions. Two non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents that are available in injectable form are flunixin meglumine and ketoprofen. Oral anti-inflammatory agents used in dogs include aspirin, buffered aspirin, carprofen, etodolac, ketoprofen, and deracoxib. The dosages of these medications that are used in dogs are quite different than that used for people, so these drugs should never be given without consulting with your veterinarian. Overdosage with these medications may result in serious illness and side effects.

  • Supportive care may also be indicated during the period of diagnostic testing and the initiation of therapy. Supportive care may include the use of intravenous fluids, supplemental nutrition, keeping the animal quiet and confined, the use of cold or warm compresses, and altering the temperature of the environment.

    Home Care

    Administer any prescribed medication as directed by your veterinarian. Observe your pet's general activity and appetite, and watch closely for improvement in the signs believed to be associated with the onset of pain. If signs should worsen, contact your veterinarian immediately.

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