Why Vets Focus on Pain Prevention for Dogs

Sad dog lying in yard
Thinkstock
Signs your dog could be in pain include whining, limping, lethargy and loss of interest in people, other dogs, activities or eating.

Dogs, especially certain breeds, tend to be stoic when it comes to pain. But simply because they don't outwardly complain doesn't mean they aren't suffering. This is why you need to get to know your dog's normal behavior and look for subtle signs of behavior that could indicate pain. These can include whining; limping; lethargy; loss of interest in people, other dogs, activities or eating; wandering restlessly; snapping or growling when touched; or even standing with the front legs on the ground and rear end up (indicating abdominal pain).

A dog in pain is uncomfortable, but that's not the only reason vets want to reduce a pet's pain. Pain can slow healing, interfere with immune function and reduce appetite, all of which can place the dog in a further debilitated state.

It's easy to conclude that a dog with a broken leg or huge laceration needs pain medication, but some illnesses can be extremely painful as well and may also require pain management. Examples are pancreatitis, severe ear infections, cancer, glaucoma, infected teeth, impacted anal sacs, arthritis and neck and back pain.

Why Prevention Is So Critical

Preventing pain is far more effective than trying to manage it after the fact. For this reason, veterinarians now give pain medication before surgery rather than waiting until the dog awakens. Before any surgery, ask your veterinarian how your pet's pain will be addressed.

In the olden days, pain medication wasn't always given after surgery, because the belief was that if the animal didn't feel pain, he might be too active and possibly tear out his sutures while playing. This is no longer the accepted approach, and you should ask that your dog receive appropriate pain medication before any painful surgery. Even for minor procedures, such as a few sutures, or for more invasive procedures, including spaying, and especially any orthopedic procedure, presurgical pain medications should be provided whenever possible.

One class of commonly prescribed pain medications for postsurgical use or for chronic pain includes nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs); these help reduce inflammation, which in turn reduces pain. Some owners are concerned about side effects of certain NSAIDs in dogs. This is why they should be taken only under your veterinarian's supervision, usually with blood testing before the medications are started and periodic rechecks while the pet is taking them to make sure no adverse effects are occurring. Side effects are rare, but if they are seen, your veterinarian can usually try another drug.

Do not give your dog human pain medications unless your veterinarian has directed you to do so. For chronic pain, such as that of arthritis, weight loss (if needed), physical therapy, nutraceuticals, cartilage protectants and other therapies can help reduce pain. Acupuncture has also been credited with pain relief in many instances. For localized pain, your veterinarian may be able to inject a local anesthetic.

Although your dog may not complain, be sure to act as his advocate and provide him with proper pain relief.

More on Vetstreet:

Join the Conversation

Like this article? Have a point of view to share? Let us know!