Relief from Pain: Pain Management for Dogs
Dogs, especially certain breeds, tend to be stoic when it comes to pain. But simply because they don't outwardly complain doesn't mean they aren't in pain. This is why you need to get to know your dog's normal behavior, and look for signs of abnormal behavior that could indicate pain. These include screaming, whining and limping, but as well as lying curled up out of the way, having little interest in people or other dogs or activities or eating, wandering restlessly, snapping or growling when touched, or standing with the front legs on the ground and rear end up (indicating abdominal pain).
Not only do we wish to reduce pain for the sake of the dog's comfort, but also because pain slows healing, interferes with immune function, and reduces appetite, all of which can place the dog in a further debilitated state.
It's easy to conclude that a dog with a broken leg or huge laceration needs pain medication, but remember that some illnesses can be extremely painful and also need pain management. Examples are pancreatitis, prostate infection, bladder stones, anything involving the bones, glaucoma, infected teeth, ruptured anal sacs, arthritis, and neck and back pain.
It is far more effective to prevent pain than it is to reduce it once it's appeared, which is one reason veterinarians now give pain medication before surgery rather than waiting until the dog awakens. Before any surgery, ask your veterinarian how pain will be addressed. In the old days, veterinarians declined to give pain medication because they thought if the animal didn't feel pain, the dog would be too active and possibly tear out the sutures while playing. This is no longer the accepted procedure, and you should ask that your dog receive appropriate pain medication before any painful surgery. For minor procedures, such as a few sutures or for more invasive procedures, including spaying, and especially any orthopedic procedure, pre-surgery pain medications should be provided whenever possible.
Commonly prescribed pain medications for post-surgical use or for chronic pain include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which reduce inflammation which in turn reduces pain. Some owners are concerned about side effects of certain NSAIDs in dogs, and it's true that some breeds seem predisposed to such problems. This is why they should only be taken under your veterinarian's supervision, possibly with blood testing after a few weeks to make sure no adverse effects are occurring. Side effects are rare, but if they are seen, your veterinarian can try another drug.
Do not give your dog human pain medications unless your veterinarian has directed you to do so. For chronic pain, such as that of arthritis, try gentle massage and the application of heat. Provide a soft warm bed. Acupuncture has also been credited with pain relief in many instances. For localized pain, your veterinarian may be able to inject a local anesthetic.
Although your dog may not complain, be sure to act as his advocate and provide him with proper pain relief.