MSD Manual

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Pet Owner Version

Pain Treatment


Sandra Allweiler

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

Reviewed/Revised Feb 2020 | Modified Nov 2022
Topic Resources

Acute surgical, traumatic, and disease-related pain is generally treated with one or more analgesic (pain-relieving) drugs. Selection of the most suitable drug or drug combination is based on the anticipated severity of pain, the pet’s overall health, and the specific drugs helpful for the species. For more extensive injuries or disease-related tissue damage, analgesics from more than one drug class are often prescribed.

Principles of Pain Management

  • Assess the animal for pain using behavioral clues by watching whether normal behaviors are present and whether any new behaviors have appeared.

  • Each patient should have a customized pain management plan based on anticipating the type, severity, and duration of pain expected (for example, post-surgical pain management).

  • Treatment for pain often involves drugs but should also include other physical treatments, such as compresses, massage, physical therapy, and other methods.

  • Signs of pain can be subtle and difficult to recognize, so animals suspected of being in pain may be treated with drugs and then watched for improvement.

  • Providing continuous (round-the-clock) administration of pain medication is often more effective at relieving pain than giving drugs on an “as-needed” schedule. As-needed dosing is often less effective because it requires that the caregiver be able to recognize pain behaviors that are often difficult to appreciate..

  • Sometimes treatment with combinations of different pain-relieving drugs is more effective. In these cases, smaller doses of each drug can usually provide pain relief.

  • Animals in pain can also have anxiety, so a veterinarian might prescribe an antianxiety drug for use after analgesic drugs have been given.

  • Adequate pain relief after surgery or trauma allows the animal to rest. Dogs and cats often sleep more than usual for a few days after surgery, but a caregiver should be able to wake them up if the dosage of the analgesic drug is appropriate. If your pet cannot rest or cannot be awakened, call your veterinarian for reassessment.

Reducing your pet’s stress and providing all-around good care will maximize the benefit of the pain treatment regimen. Housing conditions, diet, and level of interaction with other animals and people should be tailored to the individual animal. For example, separating a pair of dogs that enjoy playing vigorously together might be stressful for the dogs under normal circumstances. But temporarily separating the dogs after one has had surgery (to allow the incision to start healing) is less stressful for the recovering dog if the human caregivers spend enough time interacting with it. Managing animals that are under stress and in pain requires a combination of good nursing care, nondrug methods (for example, bandaging, ice packs or heat, and physical therapy), and drug treatments.

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