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Professional Version

Pain Alleviation in Animals


Sandra Allweiler

, DVM, DACVAA, Department of Clinical Sciences, Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine, Oregon State University

Reviewed/Revised Mar 2023 | Modified Jun 2023

Acute perioperative, traumatic, and disease-related (eg, cancer, pancreatitis, pleuritis, otitis externa Otitis Externa in Animals Malassezia pachydermatisotitis externa in a dog. Note erythema and brown purulent exudate at the entrance to the vertical ear canal. Otitis externa is inflammation of the external ear... read more Otitis Externa in Animals ) pain is generally treated pharmacologically with one or more analgesics. The optimal drug or drug combinations are determined by the anticipated severity of pain, health status, and availability of drugs for the given species. The more extensive the tissue trauma or disease-induced tissue damage is, the greater need of use of analgesics from more than one drug class (multimodal or balanced analgesia).

Multimodal analgesia maximizes the beneficial analgesic effects of multiple drugs via additive or synergistic interactions while minimizing adverse drug effects by employing lower doses.

A perioperative approach to managing surgically induced pain should begin with the administration of an analgesic prior to surgery (preemptive analgesia) and continue with appropriate analgesia throughout the intraoperative period. Three to five days is a useful guideline for the duration of analgesic treatment after acute surgical pain. Depending on multiple factors (eg, procedure performed, rehabilitation plan, species, breed), some animals require a shorter duration of treatment, whereas other animals require analgesia for longer periods.

Aggressive analgesic treatment of several days’ duration should be tapered rather than stopped abruptly. As-needed dosing schedules are less effective than scheduled analgesic doses to treat pain. As-needed protocols require the animal to demonstrate overt pain behaviors to the extent that they are recognized by the veterinarian and/or owner. Aggressive prevention and management of acute pain often prevents wind-up of the nociceptive pathways, hastens return to normal function, and decreases the risk of developing chronic pain syndromes.

Minimizing stress and anxiety by adding behavior modifiers or mild sedatives (trazodone, gabapentin, alpha2 adrenergic agonists) when appropriate and ensuring that overall care and husbandry are in accordance with the needs of the animal can also improve pain management. Proper housing conditions, nutritional support, and interaction with other animals and/or humans should be optimal for the given species and breed.

Appropriate analgesia after surgery or trauma allows animals to rest. For example, dogs and cats often sleep but should be arousable after surgery if their pain is controlled. The use of pain as a means of restraint (ie, to prevent the animal from injuring a surgical site) is unethical.

Managing painful and distressed animals requires a combination of good nursing care, nonpharmacologic methods (eg, bandaging, ice packs or heat, physical therapy and acupuncture), and pharmacologic methods.


  • Huntingford JL, Petty MC. Evidence-Based Application of Acupuncture for Pain Management in Companion Animal Medicine. Vet Sci. 2022;9:252.

  • Dewey CW, Xie H. The scientific basis of acupuncture for veterinary pain management: A review based on relevant literature from the last two decades. Open Vet J. 2021;11:203–209.

  • Silva NEOF, Luna SPL, Joaquim JGF, Coutinho HD, Possebon FS. Effect of acupuncture on pain and quality of life in canine neurological and musculoskeletal diseases. Can Vet J. 2017;58:941–951.

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