Pain Management in Older Dogs and Cats

Pain management in people has become so important that it is now actually practiced as a specialty by some medical doctors. Individuals have been so desperate to control chronic, unrelenting pain that some have even had the offending limb amputated! Fortunately, for our pets, the control of pain has become equally important in veterinary medicine and advancements in pain management are occurring.

What Causes Pain?

Pain can be caused by internal diseases or conditions such as headaches, dental disease, and gastro-intestinal upsets. But the usual cause of pain in older dogs involves muscles, bones, and joints. This is called "neuro-muscular pain." It is often a result of conditions such as hip dysplasia, intervertebral disc diseases, sprains, fractures, muscle tears, and arthritis. Treatment for neuro-muscular aches and pains rarely varies with cause.

The quality of a pet's life, like ours, is influenced by the presence or absence of pain. Since a pet cannot verbally describe pain intensity or location, we have to use history and physical examinations to determine the pain's characteristics. Many animals in clinical situations will disguise pain if they feel threatened or are so excited by the clinic they become momentarily oblivious to the pain. A subtle flinch under your fingers as a spot is probed may be the only clue you will receive. Some owners don't recognize the pain an animal is in and attribute behavioral changes to natural aging.

Treatment of Pain in Older Dogs and Cats

Once pain is identified and localized, treatment may be as simple as applying heat and providing rest. Initial drugs prescribed usually fall within the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug group or NSAID's such as Aspirin and Tylenol. Care must be taken with human drugs in pets! A single Tylenol or acetaminophen tablet can kill a cat. Acetyl salicylic acid or ASA products are excellent for most minor or short term pains, but some animals vomit ASAs and long term use can lead to gastric ulcers or bleeding disorders.

ASA products must be used in dogs and cats at much lower and less frequent dosages. Other veterinary NSAID's of varying strengths and side effects include phenylbutasone, ketoprophen, and metacam. The newest NSAID's are very effective with few side effects and can be used long term, but they can be prohibitively expensive in large dogs. Cartrophen is a drug used to stimulate thesynovial membranes to produce more joint fluid thereby protecting or cushioning joints. In selected cases cartrophen can be extremelyeffective in eliminating pain. Steroids are powerful painkillers for neuromuscular problems, but side effects can affect every organ system in the body with indefinite use.

Herbal and Holistic Remedies

Herbal or holistic therapies for pain control are becoming more popular. These products tend to have mostly inconsequential side effects and can be used indefinitely. Glucosamine sulphates, chondroiten sulphates, grapenol, and shark cartilage are just a few products available in veterinary formulas. A reputable quality source of the components is important to increase chance of successful pain control.

The mechanism by which acupuncture controls pain is still theoretical but the recipients of successful treatments can attest to the effectiveness. There are no negative side effects and improvements can be rapid and long lasting in some cases. A sixteen-year-old dog I treated for a specific muscle spasm astounded its owners by resuming activities it had stopped doing years earlier. The owners had assumed much of the dog's behavioral changes were due to old age.

As our pet population is able to live longer lives, and we seek better quality lives for our geriatric companion animals, we must be sensitive to the aches and pains that accompany aging. There are so many options and choices to control any discomfort our pets may be suffering from. Consult your veterinarian for your pet's best options to meet its individual needs.

Article submitted by: © Jennifer Scott, DVM - Dog Professor Software

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