Insider Tips: Pain Management for Your Dog

Insider Tips: Pain Management for Your Dog

This is a topic that I hold near and dear to my heart, and one that I hope will capture your attention because this is an extremely valuable concept that will have a direct impact on your dog’s quality of life.

One thing is very clear to me: no dog owner ever wants to see their beloved pet in pain. And what’s more, no veterinarian wants to see their beloved patients in pain. Knowing that an animal is suffering in silence hurts me deeply and, therefore, helping to avoid this as much as possible has been a major focus of my career over the last few years. I know many of my colleagues go into the field because they feel the same way.

With that being said, at the end of the day, your dog is your responsibility. No matter how qualified or caring your veterinarian may be, you know your pet far better than anyone else and are most qualified to notice any changes in health or behavior that may be red flags that they are in pain.

This is why it’s critical that you, the guardian of your dog’s health and wellbeing, have a basic understanding of the concept of long-term pain management for your pet. Here are a few need-to-knows to help you keep your dog as pain-free as possible.

Speak Up

Oftentimes in the short 15-minute veterinary appointment window, the topic of pain management never even comes up – even with the most caring doctors. Often it is because there are other pressing topics to discuss, or maybe your dog is having a “good day,” so you forget to mention any changes you’ve noticed that could be potential red flags.

As for veterinarians not “picking up on the problem,” it is a proven fact that the minute your dog enters the veterinary office, their adrenalin level rises – which can mask many problems, especially orthopedic issues. You may have experienced this… your dog is limping for days and then when you load them up and bring them to their appointment, voila! The limp has magically disappeared.

This is why we rely on you, our client, to bring light to any potential problems that have been developing. Speak up about any changes you’ve noticed in your dog, no matter how insignificant they may seem – issues that appear small at first can quickly turn into larger problems. Are they walking funny? Sleeping more? Do they have less energy than usual? The more information we have, the better we can help keep your pet happy and healthy.

Don’t Wait Till the Last Minute

Over the years I’ve encountered situations where pet owners have brought their animals in for euthanasia due to the fact that their dog “can’t get up anymore.” In my practice, these incidents are fortunately few and far between because I am a hawk when it comes to identifying pain or functional/orthopedic problems in my patients. But it does still occur and when I look at the patient file, the common scenario is that I have not seen the dog for a wellness check or appointment in years. To be perfectly honest, this breaks my heart as it is something that could have potentially been avoided.

So take advantage of your routine wellness exams. Even if there are no issues you think are pressing with your dog, don’t ignore those notifications you get in the mail that say your pet is due for a check-up. And, as I mentioned, speak up once you get there! You never know what issues could come to light that might save your dog from unnecessary pain.

Educate Yourself

It’s a fact that not all veterinarians are on the same page when it comes to good pain management. For those of you who don’t know, my father, whom I love so so dearly, is also a veterinarian. At the young age of 75, he is still practicing really good medicine with me 3 days a week. I cherish every single moment I practice with him and credit him 100% with molding me into the doctor I am today. Yet, in all of his greatness, still to this day my father is unclear or not “in-tune” with good pain management practices. The reality is… this is not all that uncommon.

Fortunately for my father and our patients, he has me who is hyper-focused on this topic. But there are so many – often very good – veterinarians like him out there that simply don’t put enough attention on pain management practices, and it worries me to think of all the pets out there who are not being treated and suffering more than they have to.

This is why it’s critical that you have an understanding of what “tools you have in the shed” (i.e. what supplements or medications you have available to you), so that you can not only keep your dog comfortable but also keep them moving and functional till the end.

Ask for a Dog Pain Trial

If there is one gift I can give you, it would be understanding the concept of a dog pain trial. You need to accept the fact that your dog is not a human. Therefore, they deal with or manage pain very differently from the way you deal with or manage pain. The reality is dogs are silent when it comes to pain. The majority of the time they don’t cry or even whimper when they are hurting.

A few years back I created what I warmly refer to as a “pain trial” to help owners determine if a dog is suffering in silence. If you have any reason to believe that your pet is experiencing pain, then you need to talk with your veterinarian and request a pain trial. By all means, tell them Dr. St.Clair sent you for this.

Here’s the concept:

If you have any question at all about whether your dog may or may not be in pain, ask your veterinarian to prescribe them these two medications for 5-7 days… as a trial.

  • An anti-inflammatory (such as Rimadyl, Metacam, Deramaxx, Previcox)
  • An opioid pain medication (my favorite is Tramadol, three times a day)

If you give these medications to your dog consistently for a 5-7 day period of time, you will 100% know if your dog is dealing with any kind of pain. If they are, you will notice them being more active, more alert… and, in general, it will be clear that they simply “feel better.”

The result of this “trial” will help both you and your veterinarian make a plan for your dog’s long-term pain management.

Understand the Process of “Tweaking”

Betsy James is a patient of mine whom I love dearly. She is a 13-year-old chocolate lab that I have been treating for many years now. She has some of the worst arthritis I have ever seen in a dog. In fact, it’s everywhere: in her knees, hips, back, elbows, and even her shoulders. But guess what? She is still trucking along with a smile on her face. Why? How? Well, the reality is, because of what l like to call “tweaking.”

I often refer to myself as a “Master Tweaker” when it comes to managing my patients’ joint pain or discomfort. I know it sounds goofy and my clients often shoot me a confused look when I say this, but still to this day, I can’t find any other phrase or terminology that better describes the concept of having to “tweak” the right supplements, medications, or dosage of either over time.

In the infographic below, you will see how the typical process of dog pain management involves “tweaking” the dog’s treatment depending on their age and health. This will help you to understand that there is not a single “magic pill” that will solve your dog’s pain management problems forever, but that it is an ongoing process that must be adjusted over time.

Assessing Pain in Dogs

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The Take-Home

  • Make sure you have at least a basic understanding of pain management.
  • Make sure you bring this very important topic up in conversation with your veterinarian so that you can gauge their awareness or perspective on pain management.