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Find information on animal health topics, written for the veterinary professional.

Treatment of Chronic Pain

By Peter W. Hellyer, DVM, MS, DACVA, College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Colorado State University

As in acute pain, both drug and nondrug methods can be used to treat chronic pain. Some drugs that relieve acute pain are also used to treat chronic pain, such as opioids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Depending on the situation, other drugs, such as an anti-anxiety or anti-convulsant drug, might be added to the treatment regimen.

Nondrug treatment of chronic pain depends on both the cause of the pain and the species of animal. For example, in a dog suffering from osteoarthritis pain, the goals of treatment are to increase the dog’s ability to move around, to limit the progression of the disease, and even to help repair the tissue within the affected joints. Some or all of these goals might be achieved by weight control, moderate exercise, extra bedding or padding, and added warmth during cold or damp weather. Excessive exercise should be avoided because it causes further strain on the joints. Treatment with certain protective agents, such as chondroitin sulfate or glucosamine, may help heal the cartilage, prevent further breakdown of the cartilage, and stimulate cartilage regrowth. However, the effectiveness of these agents is still being reviewed and may vary based on the specific product used, how it is administered, and the animal’s overall condition. Acupuncture and physical therapy have had some success in relieving osteoarthritis pain.