Pain Management for Injuries and Chronic Processes


Signs of Pain

Pain management in our pets can be obtained many different ways, but we first have to be able to recognize that they are in pain. Because pets don’t have the ability to talk it can be difficult to recognize the more subtle signs that they show us. Some of the many signs of pain include reluctance to move, moving slower or limping, changes in breathing patterns (e.g. shallower breaths or increased panting), licking or chewing at the painful area, decreased appetite, decreased interest in normal activities or their environment, trembling, whining, yelping, growling or even aggression. While all of these signs can also be due to other causes it is important to know that they can be pain responses as well and it may be a good idea to have your pet seen by a veterinary professional


Cats can show additional signs of pain than the ones discussed in dogs such as not grooming themselves as well, or not using their litter box as well as they once did. Your veterinarian will obtain a thorough medical history to help you evaluate for signs of pain and perform a thorough physical exam. Much like people however, all animals perceive pain and react to it differently. One dog may yelp and try to bite when you even get near his painful shoulder, while another dog will let you manipulate the same painful joint and only alter his breath or twitch an ear. Once an animal is determined to be in pain, the next step is to come up with a pain management strategy that works both for them and for you as the owner. A multi-modal approach to pain management is practiced to “attack” the pain from different sides. Several aspects of this approach will be described.


Where to Start

Once we understand that your pet is experiencing pain there are many options for managing pain and improving patient comfort. There are several types of medications that can be used for pets; the most common place to start is by using NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories). While there are many human NSAIDs readily available such as Aspirin, Ibuprofen and Tylenol, these are often very toxic to our pets and should be avoided. A safer option are the pet specific medications that act similarly. Much like us, all medications may have adverse effects so your vet may require regular blood work to ensure your pet is tolerating the medication well.

In addition to pain medications there are other measures that can also be used to help manage pain. Weight loss in our overweight or obese pets often makes the biggest impact on pain associated with arthritis and can reduce the amount of medical management required. With less weight to carry, the joints don’t have to work as hard and may experience less friction or pressure.



Some orthopedic conditions, either heritable or acquired, may require surgery to help ease pain. In these cases, surgery may help to alleviate long term pain that occurs when the joint is not able to move the way in which it was designed.

Alternative Therapies

Some other alternative therapies that may be helpful include nutritional supplements, hot or cold compresses, physical therapy, acupuncture, massage or laser therapy. Some of these modalities are newer to the world of veterinary medicine but are growing in popularity as they appear to be effective in managing pain. Physical therapy can include short walks or swimming to allow the joints to move and build muscle while minimizing pressure on them. Cold compresses can be helpful to reduce inflammation with acute injuries while warm compresses can help improve circulation and healing in more chronic pain situations. Environmental changes may also be made to provide extra comfort. For example, if your cat that is arthritic loves to be up on top of things, then creating ramps or additional ledges for him may improve his quality of life. Similarly, if your cat is having difficulty getting into the litter box you may try either adding steps into the box or cutting the opening lower so that your cat does not have to reach as far to enter the box.

Overall, it is important to not just give up when it is noticed that your beloved pet is in pain. Chronic pain does not have to be the end of the road and just because your pet is older doesn’t mean he should have to live with the pain. A talk with your veterinarian may show there are many options for you and your pet that may greatly improve his quality of life.