Chronic Pain In Pets Part 2: Physical And Psychological Treatment

corgi puppy laying on the sidewalk

A diagnosis of chronic pain may sound scary to anyone. Fortunately, many treatment options are available to ease and improve the symptoms of chronic pain in pets.

Dr. Daniel Eckman, a staff veterinarian at the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, says that because every pet is unique, finding the right treatment can be a process.

“Chronic pain can have major impacts on pets, both physically and psychologically, and it should be addressed aggressively with frequent rechecks and modifications,” Eckman said.

The best approach to managing symptoms is multimodal treatment, also called combination therapy, which allows for customized treatment; as part of this holistic treatment system, veterinarians may incorporate a combination of pain medications based on the severity of a pet’s pain.

Multimodal treatment for chronic pain also typically involves working with a practitioner who is versed in rehabilitation techniques. These specialists might make use of techniques such as photobiomodulation (also known as laser therapy), extracorporeal shockwave therapy (in which a high-intensity sound wave is directed at an area of the body), acupuncture, massage, chiropractic care, joint injections, and radiation therapy.

Because chronic pain can also be taxing on a pet’s emotional well-being, psychological treatments also may need to be incorporated.

“There is a large anxiety component when it comes to how we perceive pain,” Eckman said. “If a cat or dog is going to the veterinary clinic and is very anxious, then its response to a painful stimulus can become increased. This could lead to further anxiety, so that when a pet is even touched at home, it could be perceived that pain is going to happen.”

For these pets, veterinarians may choose to integrate antidepression or anti-anxiety medication into treatment plans. Some pets also may benefit from seeing a behavioral specialist, according to Eckman.

In addition to medical interventions, there are plenty of accommodations that owners can make to ease pets’ pain as much as possible. 

“At-home modifications are important,” Eckman said. “Some of these include using ramps instead of stairs, not allowing pets to jump up and down from high places, bringing food and water to a level that the pet has mobility for, and providing soft bedding for pets to lay on.”

Exercise also must be tailored to a level that the pet can handle.

“Exercise for patients with chronic pain usually needs to be altered to be lower-impact,” Eckman said. “This would include not taking long walks or runs on hard surfaces such as concrete or asphalt and not doing uncontrolled ball play across the backyard. At Texas A&M, we would use our water treadmill to aid in mobility with a lower impact.”

Additionally, owners should closely monitor pets to ensure that the pain is not worsening.

“I recommend keeping activity logs and filling out pain or activity surveys on a regular basis if the patient is diagnosed with chronic pain,” Eckman said.

Finding the best treatment plan for a pet is an ongoing process and involves continuous conversation between owners and veterinarians. By maintaining a positive, encouraging environment during treatment, owners can help alleviate both the physical and psychological effects of pets’ chronic pain––one step at a time.

Pet Talk is a service of the School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.


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