By Julie A. Augustine, MS, DVM
Dogs and cats live very happy and healthy lives these days due to the advances in veterinary medical care, and not just for major injuries or illnesses. Active pets can and will hurt themselves and get sick from less major causes that will need a veterinarian’s help just like humans, similar to the “weekend warrior” injuries that people can have or the “stomach flu” that we may have all suffered from. These days, veterinary medicine has a wide range of medications and procedures that can treat either acute injury or illness as well as chronic health issues.
Pain comes in different forms depending on how the trauma occurs. It can be sharp, dull, deep or superficial; it can be from musculoskeletal injury or gas pain within the GI system. There are different types of pain sensors and nerves that carry pain signals to the spinal cord in different ways, so there needs to be different kinds of pain medications and other forms of pain control to best treat each pet’s individual needs. In some cases, several different pain medications can be given together to treat the pain in different ways and thereby decrease the dose of each medication into a safer range. These different classes of medications will be discussed below.
Another large class of pain medications is the opiates (naturally occurring) and opioids (synthetic). These are powerful pain medications that have varying strengths that can be applied to varying levels of pain. These include (from higher to lower pain control): fentanyl, hydromorphone (Dilaudid), morphine, buprenorphine (Buprenex), and tramadol (Ultram). The majority of these drugs come in only injectable form to be used for more intensely painful situations such at orthopedic surgery, severe trauma such as being hit by a car, abdominal surgery, fractures, dislocations, and similar situations. These drugs work in the brain and spinal cord on specific receptors to help with pain control, but do have side effects such as sleepiness, nausea, and urine retention, so they are usually used in conjunction with other medications in order to decrease the dose and the chance of these adverse effects.
Other pain medications that are used can include certain drugs which, after being used for a different reason, were found to have good pain control properties as well. These include some sedatives (Dexdomitor) and also anti-nausea medications (Cerenia), which can help with internal organ (visceral) pain from GI surgery, pancreatitis, or an ingested foreign body. Acupuncture is becoming a very valuable tool in pain management in pets as well, and can be used alone or in conjunction with systemic medications as listed above to help control pain.
With all of these choices at our disposal, we can ensure that your pet can have a long, active, (mostly!) pain free life! If you have any questions about any of the medications or if you think your pet can benefit from pain medications to improve their quality of life, make an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss the many options!