A diagnosis of chronic pain can seem scary to anyone. Fortunately, many treatment options are available to relieve and improve the symptoms of chronic pain in pets.
Dr. Daniel Eckman, staff veterinarian at the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, says that because every animal is unique, finding the right treatment can be a process.
“Chronic pain can have major impacts on pets, both physically and psychologically, and should be treated aggressively with frequent checks and modifications,” Eckman said.
The best approach to managing symptoms is multimodal treatment, also called combination therapy, which allows for personalized treatment; As part of this holistic treatment system, veterinarians can incorporate a combination of pain relievers depending on the severity of the animal’s pain.
Multimodal chronic pain treatment also typically involves working with a practitioner who is proficient in rehabilitation techniques. These specialists may use techniques such as photobiomodulation (also known as laser therapy), extracorporeal shockwave therapy (in which a high intensity sound wave is directed to an area of the body), acupuncture , massage, chiropractic care, joint injections, and radiation therapy.
Since chronic pain can also take a toll on an animal’s emotional well-being, psychological treatments may also need to be incorporated.
“There’s a big component of anxiety when it comes to how we perceive pain,” Eckman said. “If a cat or dog comes to the veterinary clinic and is very anxious, their response to a painful stimulus may increase. This could lead to additional anxiety, so even when an animal is touched in the home, it could be perceived that pain is going to occur.
For these pets, veterinarians may choose to incorporate antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications into treatment plans. Some pets may also benefit from seeing a behavioral specialist, according to Eckman.
In addition to medical interventions, there are many accommodations owners can make to relieve pets of pain as much as possible.
“Home modifications are important,” Eckman said. “Some of these include the use of ramps instead of stairs, prohibiting animals from jumping up and down, providing food and water at a level for which the animal has enough mobility and the provision of soft bedding for animals to lie on.”
Exercise should also be adjusted to a level the animal can handle.
“Exercise for patients with chronic pain usually needs to be modified to have less of an impact,” Eckman said. “This would include not taking long walks or running on hard surfaces such as concrete or asphalt and not playing uncontrolled ball games in the backyard. At Texas A&M, we would use our water treadmill for easier mobility with less impact.
Additionally, owners should monitor pets closely to ensure the pain does not worsen.
“I recommend keeping activity diaries and completing regular pain or activity surveys if the patient is diagnosed with chronic pain,” Eckman said.
Finding the best treatment plan for a pet is an ongoing process and involves ongoing conversation between owners and veterinarians. By maintaining a positive and supportive environment during treatment, owners can help alleviate the physical and psychological effects of chronic pet pain, one step at a time.