Whether from rambunctious juvenile antics, or age-related arthritis, your pet will likely deal with pain at some point in their life. Pain in pets can be a short-term, or chronic and long-term issue, as in humans. Medications are available, but pain can also be managed with the addition of other modalities, such as cold laser therapy, massage, acupuncture, and chiropractic care.

How can you tell if your pet is in pain?

Understanding that a pet is in pain is difficult, because they don’t usually “say” anything, and seldom yelp or yowl in pain—particularly cats.

Pain or illness signs in pets are often subtle, and may include:

  • Limping
  • Walking stiffly, or with a hunched back
  • Holding the neck out straight
  • Prolonged panting, including when resting
  • Restlessness and unable to get comfortable
  • Difficulty getting up
  • Trembling
  • Decreased appetite
  • Growling and snapping when approached or touched
  • Licking excessively at specific body parts

Cats are experts at hiding pain, and their owners may notice only that their kitty is eating less, or hiding more. One method of assessing cat pain is the feline grimace score, a scoring system that evaluates the ear position, eye contour, and whisker position to measure pain in cats. 

While your dog might be more forthcoming about their discomfort, some also are stoic by nature, and may not “complain” until their pain becomes severe.

Fortunately, once you and your veterinary team realize your pet is painful, despite the lack of clear signals, several management options may help.

#1: Pain medication for pets

Pain medications include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which can be effective for many pets, although dogs and cats metabolize NSAIDs differently, and fewer of these drugs are safe for felines. Other medications include:

  • Steroids — Steroids (e.g., prednisone) can be used to reduce inflammation in pets, but have more side effects than NSAIDs, particularly with long-term or high-dose usage in dogs. Steroids are typically used in short courses to reduce severe inflammation, or treat flare-ups, with other medications then used for long-term management.
  • Opioids  — Used frequently for hospitalized and surgical patients, opioids can be extremely effective for pain management in dogs and cats, but are typically used  short-term. 
  • Muscle relaxants — These drugs can calm muscle spasms that result from nerve irritation in pets, and are often used to treat urethral and bladder spasms in cats with chronic urinary disease.

We may prescribe several medications to treat your pet’s pain, or a combination of medications and alternative therapies, such as those explained below, as part of a multimodal treatment plan. Never administer medications that have not been prescribed by your veterinarian, as many human medications, including ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and naproxen, can cause severe toxicity or organ damage to pets, particularly cats.

#2: Cold laser therapy in pets

We use cold laser therapy frequently at Palisades Veterinary Hospital to manage pain and inflammation, and to promote wound healing. Cold laser therapy stimulates photobiomodulation in the body cells and tissues to increase circulation and enhance cellular activity, which in turn promotes wound healing, and is especially useful following surgery.

Laser therapy works similarly to acupuncture, but without the needles. Most pets tolerate acupuncture needles well, but laser therapy is a great option for needle-sensitive pets. Both laser therapy and acupuncture cause the body to release endorphins, the body’s natural pain-relieving hormone. Many pets are relaxed, and may be sleepy, after laser or acupuncture treatments, because their pain is alleviated.

Laser therapy is non-invasive and does not cause pain, but must be performed by trained veterinary professionals like those in our hospital. The therapy can also help with joint and back injuries, chronic conditions like arthritis, and ear infections. 

#3: Integrative therapies in pets

Alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, massage, and chiropractic, have been around since ancient times, and have become mainstream in human medicine for decades, and in veterinary medicine for more than 20 years. They can be used successfully alone, or in conjunction with medication to manage pets’ pain. Integrative therapies are particularly helpful in pets who cannot take pain medications, due to liver or kidney disease, and in cats, for whom medication options are limited. 

  • Acupuncture — This modality helps alleviate pain through needle insertion at specific acupuncture points, which stimulates the nerves and blood circulation, increasing endorphin release, and reducing painful muscle spasms. 
  • Massage — Veterinary therapeutic massage is the manipulation of a pet’s soft tissues with a therapist’s fingers and hands to stimulate healing and recovery. Massage and myofascial trigger point therapy can decrease muscle tension, improve blood flow, reduce swelling, and improve joint mobility in injured and arthritic pets.
  • Chiropractic — Like human chiropractic, veterinary chiropractic is a manual therapy that focuses on restoring proper spinal alignment to alleviate nerve, muscle, and bone pain.

We can help alleviate your pet’s pain

If you have concerns that your pet is in pain, schedule an appointment with one of Palisades Veterinary Hospital’s caring, compassionate veterinarians, who will examine your pet to identify their pain, and may recommend tests to help reach a definitive diagnosis. They will then formulate with you a customized pain management treatment plan that may include medication, restricted activity, physical and laser therapy, acupuncture, or massage. Palisades’ Dr. Jennifer Johnson is a Certified Veterinary Pain Practitioner, and has special training in pet pain management.

Whether your pet’s pain is acute, such as a ligament injury from playing fetch, or a chronic problem, such as arthritis, our veterinary team can manage your pet’s discomfort, and get them back up on their paws as soon as possible. Call us, and let us help your pet become pain-free.