What’s new in animal pain management?

Animal Pain Awareness Month is shedding light on all the integrative pain management approaches available, and how they can help offer relief to the 45 million pets suffering from chronic or acute pain in the U.S.

According to the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management (IVAPM), more than 45 million household pets suffer from chronic or acute pain. But unlike their human counterparts, cats and dogs can’t tell us where it hurts. To raise awareness on how to recognize and manage pain in animals, the IVAPM has declared September Animal Pain Awareness Month. The annual campaign aims to provide outreach and information that will help teach pet parents how to recognizing pain in their animal companions, and how to manage chronic and acute pain through traditional and complementary treatments.

Recognizing signs of pain

Because dogs and cats are so stoic, it can be extremely difficult to recognize when they’re in pain. “Their signs of pain are subtle and it’s also part of their survival instinct to hide pain,” says Jennifer Johnson, VMD, CVPP and President-Elect of IVAPM. “That’s why it is so important for veterinarians to conduct pain assessment exams at least annually and certainly as part of regular exams. We know that chronic pain can have significant detrimental effects on lifespan and quality of life. By spotting pain early, veterinarians can better treat and manage pain.”

Besides scheduling your pet in for an annual pain assessment exam, keep an eye out for the following signs:

  • Slowdown in activity.
    • Not going up or down stairs or difficulty standing after lying down can be signs of osteoarthritis.
    • Less play time. Not playing as much as usual can signal pain in joints, neck or back.
    • Less jumping. Reluctance to jump onto surfaces — this especially applies to cats who, when feeling well, love to explore high places. If they are not doing this, it is likely because of hip or back pain.
  • Decreased eating and drinking. While loss of interest in food or water can signal a much more serious medical issue, it can also be a sign of mouth or abdominal pain.
  • Changes in grooming behavior. Increased grooming or licking of an area on the body may indicate pain in that area or indicate referred pain. Decreased grooming, especially in cats, may indicate that it is too painful to twist around.
  • Changes in urine or bowel movements could be related to pain and may indicate inability to maintain the position to eliminate.  Cats may also have trouble climbing in and out of the litter box.
  • Increases in respiration may be caused by pain.
  • Changes in routine. Changes in sleeping patterns and favorite places to rest may also indicate your pet is in pain.

 A look at pain management options

When it comes to preventing and managing pain in animals, the first step is to adopt a healthy lifestyle. By feeding your pet a bio-available diet and providing regular exercise that caters to his needs, you can set your companion up for a longer, healthier and happier life.

Once all the basics of good health have been covered, consider asking your vet about non-pharmacologic options for pain management. Therapies like acupuncture, pulsed electromagnetic field therapy, laser therapy and chiropractic care are much more cost-effective than traditional pain medications, and can work wonders to reduce pain.

“It is important to realize that pharmacological pain management — ie using ‘drugs’ — is not the only solution to pain management,” says Dr. Johnson. “There is good evidence in veterinary medicine that by using a multi-modal approach to pain management, we can tackle the pain from many different avenues and pathways in the body, leading to better outcomes in patient relief. “In fact, fewer  drugs may be necessary when we combine non-pharma options such as physical therapy, heat/cold therapy, acupuncture, laser therapy and pulsed electromagnetic field therapy. As with humans, using less pharmacologic options can be safer and finding pain management solutions that are complementary will decrease the use of opioids.”

This September and always, make a vow not to dismiss signs of pain in your pet. If you notice something is amiss, consult your veterinarian immediately for a full examination, and ask her for more info on complementary pain management options.


Animal Wellness is North America's top natural health and lifestyle magazine for dogs and cats, with a readership of over one million every year. AW features articles by some of the most renowned experts in the pet industry, with topics ranging from diet and health related issues, to articles on training, fitness and emotional well being.