What’s New In Pain Relief For Dogs

Humans and animals share many things, including unpleasantness such as acute and chronic pain. As anyone who has experienced pain knows, life can be pretty miserable if the pain isn’t controlled. Normal activities such as sleeping, eating, and moving can be difficult for people and animals in pain. Pain also affects health and can cause ill effects such as stomach problems, abnormal heart rhythms, and poor wound healing.

Even behavior can be affected. Do you feel grumpy and unwilling to participate in family time when you are in pain? Well, your dog likely feels the same way. Pain can cause fear, anxiety, and stress — and relief of pain is a major goal of the Fear Free movement. There are many new drugs and techniques used to treat pain in people, but what is new for dogs? Not as many drugs –- yet! But a few new drugs are available now, and some old drugs are being used in new ways. And more drugs are on the horizon so stay tuned! Let’s talk about the new drugs: Galliprant, Nocita, and Cerenia.

For most painful syndromes, dog-specific non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are used to provide all or part of the pain relief for your pet. These drugs relieve pain from inflammation (heat and swelling), which is a major component of most types of pain. That makes this a very important drug class for pain relief. However, side effects may limit the use of NSAIDs in some dogs. Fortunately, a newer type of anti-inflammatory drug is now available. This drug, Galliprant (drug name grapiprant), works at a different site in the inflammation pathway so it is still decreases inflammation but appears to cause fewer side effects.

Just like in human medicine, local anesthetic drugs are often combined with other drugs to control pain from surgery or trauma. Local anesthetic drugs are one of the most powerful drug classes that we can use for pain relief, but unfortunately the duration of action of most local anesthetic drugs is no more than 4 to 6 hours. The new local anesthetic, Nocita (drug name liposome-encapsulated bupivacaine), has a duration of action of 72 hours. This drug is used at the time of surgery so that your pet is more comfortable postoperatively.

Cerenia (drug name maropitant) may be familiar to you as a drug that keeps dogs from getting carsick. The drug is also used in the hospital to keep your dog from vomiting after receiving cancer or anesthesia drugs. Interestingly, maropitant also contributes to pain relief, especially in patients with stomach pain, and it is now commonly used as part of the pain management protocol for pain following surgery.

Although not new, lidocaine, ketamine, and gabapentin are being used in new ways. Infusions of lidocaine and ketamine and higher dosages for gabapentin may be effective in some pets. And what might be new to you is the fact that dogs often benefit from the same nonpharmacologic therapy used in humans, such as acupuncture, physical therapy, and even massage.

And what else is new –- you! Because of the negative effect of pain on your pet’s health and behavior, we need you to be part of the pain management team. Animals don’t tell us when they are in pain; we have to work to identify pain. One of the most specific signs of pain is change in behavior. Has your dog suddenly stopped greeting you at the door when you come home from work? Does he no longer enjoy getting scratched on the behind? We can’t administer new analgesic drugs unless we know your pet is experiencing pain. So to keep your pet healthy and enjoying time with you, talk to your veterinarian about signs that mean your pet might be in pain.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.