Merck Manual

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Principles of Pain Management

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.