Pain is a very important part of dog cancer, since it is one of the main life quality negatives for a canine cancer patient.
However, not many guardians are aware of all of the tools in a veterinarian’s toolbox to help with pain. In this post, we will look at both common and uncommon ways of helping dogs with cancer feel more comfortable and pain-free.
It is important to know about these different tools, so if one is not working well, you may discuss another option with your veterinarian or oncologist. In addition, any intervention can create side effects, and a side effect may mean we have to change course. Being your dog’s primary health advocate is an important part of the Guardianship philosophy discussed in the Guide. You will also find more information about signs of pain in this book as well.
One of the most common ways to help decrease both pain and inflammation is by using a drug class called the NSAIDS. These are the Non-Steriodal Anti Inflammatory Drugs. Common examples are Metacam, Previcox, Deramaxx, and Rimadyl. These meds are suitable for mild to moderate pain. Liver and kidney safety should be established for use with these medications with blood testing. Metacam comes as a liquid, and the others are tablets, some of which are chewable.
The narcotics are also very commonly used. The most common these days is Tramadol. It is nice because in humans it has been shown to have some antidepressant effects, and it could be argued that some dogs with cancer may indeed be depressed. This drug by itself at usual doses is good for mild to moderate pain. At very high doses, it may be enough for severe pain, but the doses will usually cause a lot of sedation. However, this medication can be combined with one of the NSAIDS above for a very nice pain control cocktail without many side effects. This drug comes in a tablet.
For lower grade and chronic pain, there are a couple of neurotransmitter modifier medications that can help certain pain syndromes. These include gabapentin, amantadine, and Elavil. These are better used for long term pain. They can be combined with the other drugs above to smooth out and relax dog cancer patients. They come as tablets and in some cases liquid.
For more helpful information and tools, get a copy of the Dog Cancer Survival Guide
Some vets like Tylenol with codeine for their patients. In my humble opinion, I don’t care for it as much due to the incidence of diarrhea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. But it does indeed control pain very well in dogs.
Sometimes topical medications can aid in pain control, like lidocaine or benzocaine ointments, or cortisone-containing topical preparations. I have used DMSO gel for a nice local anti inflammatory effect as well.
Fentanyl patches can be used for dogs in more severe pain. These are applied to the skin and the narcotic Fentanyl is absorbed into the blood stream. They last for about 3 days, and do cause sedation often. Fentanyl patches are suitable for more severe pain. They must not be consumed by the patient and disposal of the patch should be discussed with your vet.
Acupuncture is good for low grade to moderate chronic pain.
Icing, cold compresses, and hydrotherapy (running cool water over the area) can be helpful for painful, inflamed, or warm areas. Warmth (compresses, hydrotherapy with warm water, etc) and massage are good for cold, stiff, sore areas of more chronic low grade or moderate orthopedic pain.
I hope this helps,
Dr. Demian Dressler is internationally recognized as “the dog cancer vet” because of his innovations in the field of dog cancer management, and the popularity of his blog here at Dog Cancer Blog. The owner of South Shore Veterinary Care, a full-service veterinary hospital in Maui, Hawaii, Dr. Dressler studied Animal Physiology and received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California at Davis before earning his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Cornell University. After practicing at Killewald Animal Hospital in Amherst, New York, he returned to his home state, Hawaii, to practice at the East Honolulu Pet Hospital before heading home to Maui to open his own hospital. Dr. Dressler consults both dog lovers and veterinary professionals, and is sought after as a speaker on topics ranging from the links between lifestyle choices and disease, nutrition and cancer, and animal ethics. His television appearances include “Ask the Vet” segments on local news programs. He is the author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity. He is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Hawaii Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Avian Veterinarians, the National Animal Supplement Council and CORE (Comparative Orthopedic Research Evaluation). He is also an advisory board member for Pacific Primate Sanctuary.
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