managing chronic pain in pets with a multimodal approach

Managing chronic pain in pets through a multimodal approach

Do you know how to manage chronic pain in your pets, or how to recognize if they are living with pain regularly? September is Animal Pain Awareness Month and is intended to help pet owners learn to recognize the signs of pain in their pets, as well as help them understand the range of pain management therapies available today.  

Chronic pain can diminish the quality of our pet’s life, make them uninterested in activities they have always loved, and can even cause them to isolate away from their family. You can learn how to recognize if your pet is in pain in our recent blog post. 

How to manage chronic pain in our pets

Osteoarthritis is the leading cause of chronic pain in cats and dogs and is often a factor when considering euthanasia. But there are many ways to manage chronic pain, and pets usually experience the best results when following a multimodal treatment approach. The sooner pets get started on a pain management treatment plan, the easier it is to help them stay active and healthy for longer. Talk to your veterinarian about how properly managing your pet’s pain can help keep your pet by your side for years to come. Your pet’s treatment plan will need to be reviewed and modified over time.  

A multimodal treatment plan for pain can include:  

  • Weight lossKeeping pets at an ideal weight and maintaining an ideal body condition score is one of the most important things pet owners can do for their pet’s overall health and to manage pain. Any extra weight on pets can put additional stress on joints, contribute to the breakdown of cartilage, and cause painful inflammation. If your pet is overweight, this will likely be the first thing your veterinarian encourages you to address to help manage your pet’s pain.  
  • Regular, low-impact exercise – Some pet owners think that rest is the best way to help their pets in pain feel better. While rest is important, particularly after surgery, getting regular, low-impact exercise is a key component of a comprehensive pain management program. This can include walking, swimming, and using an underwater treadmill. Regular exercise helps to keep joints lubricated and helps to build and maintain muscle strength. If your pet is not already exercising regularly, start slowly and build up duration gradually. Always end walks before your pet starts limping or lagging behind.  
  • Therapeutic exercise – Joint pain can be diminished by building strength, stability, and range of motion through targeted exercises, similar to how human physical therapy focuses on building strength and improving range of motion to decrease pain. There are simple exercises you can do at home with your pet to help them build strength, but it is recommended you consult a veterinary rehabilitation specialist to get started. They can show you the right exercises to help your pet, as well as correct form and how often each exercise should be performed. Always make sure your pet is properly warmed up before working on any therapeutic exercises.  
  • Manual rehabilitation therapies and therapeutic modalities – Manual therapy can include joint stabilization, passive range of motion exercises, massage, and stretching. Therapeutic modalities can be helpful in reducing inflammation and can include laser, electrical stimulation, pulsed electromagnetic field therapy, extracorporeal shockwave therapy, and more. These modalities can also stimulate the healing process in addition to reducing inflammation.  
  • Prescription pain medications – Your veterinarian will likely prescribe pain medication such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS) to help your pet stay more comfortable. There has been extensive research into the safety and efficacy of NSAIDs and they are considered a cornerstone of pain management programs. With any medication, there is always a risk of side effects. Talk to your veterinarian about side effects to watch for and follow the prescribed dosage carefully.   
  • Injections – This can include stem cell therapy, hyaluronic acid, platelet-rich plasma, and steroids. Steroid injections can damage cartilage and are typically recommended for chronic pain that no longer responds to other pain management treatments.  
  • Surgery – Surgery can often help to reduce pain and lameness and help restore pets to higher levels of functioning. Surgery is not right for every pet or every condition, but it can have positive results for pets with developmental orthopedic diseases or injuries such as cranial cruciate ligament ruptures. If your pet has been showing signs of pain, talk to your veterinarian about whether a surgical consultation is recommended for your pet.   
  • Home modifications – When pets are living with chronic pain, getting around can become more challenging. Consider putting down rugs or yoga mats near your pet’s bed to help them get up safely. Adding in carpet or treads on stairs can help pets have more confidence when navigating them. Ramps can help pets get up on couches or beds without the impact on their joints.  
  • New treatments are becoming available all the time. As veterinary professionals and researchers learn more about chronic pain, new treatments are being developed, tested, and made available to more effectively manage pain. Animal Surgical & Orthopedic Center is proud to be at the forefront of new pain management treatments. We routinely host free continuing education events for veterinary professionals to learn about breakthrough treatments and when they might be appropriate for their patients.  


Posted September 14, 2021 by Animal Surgical in Joint pain management, Pet Health with No Comments

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