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Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Sue Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), authors of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

Canine Cancer Surgery: Dog Owners…Check on the pain control!

Updated: December 14th, 2018

I have been focusing a bit on osteosarcoma, since this is a common cancer.

This info applies to any big surgery involving cancer in dogs though.  I thought that a few bits of vet-only knowledge would be nice for dog owners.  That way you can discuss the important topic of pain control at the time of a major cancer surgery.

Before the procedure, you might want touch base with the vet about pain control. Pain is a major negative in life quality.

Different vets will have different ideas on pain control.  Those those a bit more on the ball will most definitely be giving pain control a priority.

More modern vets will use a CRI, which is a Constant Rate Infusion of pain controlling drugs. This is a nice thing to do. It means the drugs are constantly flowing into the body through the IV.

Some will give an epidural, which is an injection of pain controlling drugs into the fluid around the spinal cord. Another nice technique to use in combo with other drugs.

Many use a Fentanyl patch, which is a fairly good way to control pain.  You have the patch applied to the dog a day or so before the surgery and it releases fentanyl through the skin. I like to combine it with some other agents for pain control.

My opinion is that one or more of these be used for major cancer surgeries, along with injections of other drugs as needed after the surgery.

Good options for take-home meds are sustained-release morphine and tramadol.  These should be combined with some anti inflammatory like metacam or possibly deramaxx or rimadyl.

Some vets really into new stuff will start the dog on Gabapentin before surgery, or possibly amitriptyline. You can start these days before surgery and they can help with pain control in combination with other drugs.

Drugs I don’t like for real pain in major dog cancer surgery? Buprenex (buprenorphine), only a moderately strong drug, not a big enough gun in my opinion.   Torbugesic (torbutrol) in dogs for take-home pain control is too wimpy and too short-acting.

So, the take home message? First, control that pain!  Multimodal analgesia, or using different ways to accomplish pain control is where it is at.

So be your dog’s health advocate and make sure pain is under control.


Dr Dressler

Leave a Comment

  1. Andrea on September 1, 2009 at 11:13 am

    My 12-yr old Am. Staff Terrier had a large mast cell tumor surgically removed from her front left armpit area ~12 days ago. It turned out to be a Grade 3 tumor. We already have found mast cells in her lymph node area, which could be part of the original tumor they could not remove or growth in the lymph node. She seems to have increased pain from 12 to 2 AM, when she starts panting heavily. She also panted during a reiki session. Have you seen this in other cancer dogs? She is on Tramadol (150 mg x twice daily) and Prednisone (20 mg @ 8 PM, 10 mg @ 8 AM). Does this mean she is just hiding the pain better during the day? Any thoughts on this? Thanks in advance for any advice.

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