Because of age, disease, surgery, and injury, animals can experience pain, sometimes severe or moderate and temporary and other times chronic and unrelenting. For example, arthritis is a chronic pain condition that develops as an animal ages. Despite the source or cause of pain, an animal can find relief in order to function day to day.

Signs of Pain in Animals

The source of pain in an animal, whether it is a dog, a cat, or a horse, may not always be immediately obvious. But, many animals are likely to exhibit the following signs to suggest pain:

  • Withdrawal from activity
  • Vocalizing
  • Limping or moving stiffly
  • Exhibiting personality changes
  • Showing aggression or resistance when touched or picked up (for fear of increased pain)
  • Dogs may increasingly lick the painful area, while cats may neglect their grooming or over-groom.

In cases where the source of pain is not obvious, a veterinarian can run blood and imaging tests to find the source. Animals often obtain relief from pain medications. The most common options for pain management are listed below, along with their benefits and drawbacks. It’s important to note that animals should never ingest the human form of these medications.

Common Pain Medications

  • Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs, or NSAIDs, including Metacam and Piroxicam, are best for mild to medium pain, although veterinarians might prescribe NSAIDs for more severe pain (see reasons below). These drugs prevent the animal’s body from producing enzymes that evoke tissue swelling. They carry similar serious effects for pets as they do for humans, including stomach, intestinal, and liver issues. However, the most common side effects of NSAIDs, such as loss of appetite and diarrhea, are much less severe than they were in the past.
  • As is the case with humans, opioid dependence can happen in animals. An animal starts to need more of the opioid, such as Morphine, in order to manage the pain. For advanced pain management on a short-term basis, opioids, such as morphine and codeine, can ease the animal’s severe pain, emanating from surgery, advanced cancer, or chronic arthritis. However, veterinarians might favor NSAIDs over opioids to be on the safe side.
  • Steroids, such as Prednisone, can reduce the animal’s inflammation from arthritis, allergies, and other conditions. Steroids come with a list of complicated side effects, including Cushing’s disease, which affects the animal’s endocrine system. Again, the veterinarian might turn to prescribing NSAIDs instead of steroids.
  • Antidepressants, such as Tofranil, are known to lessen an animal’s physical and related mental anguish.

Supplements, Herbal Remedies, and Non-Medication Options

  • Nutraceuticals, such as Omega-3 fatty acids, can decrease inflammation in animals with arthritis or other types of chronic pain.
  • The aroma of lavender essential oil can calm a pet unable to rest due to pain and related stress.
  • Traditional Chinese veterinary medicine (TCVM) and acupuncture are natural options pet owners can discuss with their veterinarians. The overall thinking is that the energy within the animal’s body must be aligned in order for the body to function at its best.
  • Sometimes, a simple bed change or a heating pad under the animal can do wonders for alleviating mild types of pain.

Options Have Benefits and Risks

With most of the above options, it is important for animal caretakers and veterinarians to discuss the benefits and risks and how they both relate to the animal’s particular medical situation. Long-term use of any medication has risks. Sometimes a combination of the above options helps, and sometimes medication selections must change over time to provide the most effective and safest relief for the animal. Ultimately, the final decision about treatment has the animal’s best interests at heart.