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The Role of Pain Management in End-of-Life Care for Pet

Updated: Jul 1, 2023



As pet owners, we develop deep emotional bonds with our pets. They become a part of our family, and we want to ensure their comfort and happiness throughout their lives. When our pets reach the end of their lives, it becomes even more essential to provide them with the best possible care and comfort. One crucial aspect of end-of-life care for pets is effective pain management.


Understanding Pain in Pets

Animals experience pain just like humans do, but they may not always show it in ways that are easy for us to recognise. It's essential to be attentive to subtle changes in your pet's behaviour, mobility, and overall demeanour, as these can be indicators of pain or discomfort.


Some signs that your pet may be experiencing pain include:

  • Dog limping or cat limping (favouring one leg)

  • Reluctance to walk

  • Difficulty getting up or lying down

  • Excessive licking - a cat may overgroom resulting in matted fur and a dog may lick a painful joint excessively resulting in bald patches, fur loss or skin redness

  • Changes in appetite or water intake

  • Hiding or avoiding social interactions

  • Suddenly becoming aggressive

  • Pick up habits they previously didn’t have (reacting to doorbells, social cat becoming antisocial)

  • Vocalising (dog whining, dog yelping, dog crying or dog growling)

  • Increased aggression or irritability

  • Lethargy (sleeping more and doing less) or depression (dog depression or cat depression can include most of the above symptoms)

If you notice any of these signs in your pet, it's essential to consult with your veterinarian to determine the best course of action.


For cats, you can download the Feline Grimace Scale which can help you understand your cats' pain based on facial expressions.





Pain Management Options

There are several options available for managing your pet's pain, and your veterinarian will help you choose the most suitable method based on your pet's specific needs and medical condition.


The most common pain management options include:


Medications

There is a wide range of medications available to help alleviate your pet's pain and discomfort, ensuring their well-being and quality of life. Among these medications are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), opioids, corticosteroids, and various other analgesics, each with their distinct benefits and potential side effects. Analgesics are specifically designed to manage and alleviate pain in pets, providing relief from various conditions, such as post-surgical discomfort, injury-related pain, or chronic illnesses.


When it comes to cats, administering medication can be challenging due to their aversion to swallowing tablets. As a result, veterinarians often prescribe liquid medications that are easier to administer and more readily accepted by our feline friends. Your veterinarian will carefully evaluate your pet's specific needs, taking into account factors such as age, weight, overall health, and the severity of the pain. Based on this assessment, they will prescribe the most appropriate medication and dosage to ensure optimal pain relief.


Throughout treatment, your veterinarian will closely monitor your pet's response to the medication, making any necessary adjustments to the dosage or type of medication as needed. This ongoing monitoring is essential to guarantee that your pet receives the best possible care and experiences the highest level of comfort during their recovery or management of chronic pain.




Environmental changes

As your beloved pet enters their golden years, it's crucial to make some environmental adjustments in your home to ensure their comfort and safety. Start by providing easy access to their favourite spots, such as installing ramps or stairs for older pets struggling with arthritis or mobility issues. Consider fall-proofing your cats’ favourite high areas to prevent them from falling from high places. Ensure that their sleeping area is warm, cosy, and free of drafts, as elderly pets are more sensitive to temperature changes. To prevent slips and falls, place non-slip mats or rugs on slippery surfaces, especially in high-traffic areas. Keep their food and water bowls at a comfortable height to avoid straining their neck or back while eating and drinking. Additionally, consider investing in orthopaedic or memory foam beds to alleviate pressure on their joints and provide extra support.


Finally, don't forget to regularly assess your home for any potential hazards, such as loose cords or clutter, that may pose a risk to your ageing pet. By making these simple modifications, you can create a safe and welcoming environment for your elderly companion to thrive.



Complementary Therapies

Complementary therapies such as osteopathy, chiropractic care, and acupuncture can play a significant role in managing your pet's pain. These alternative therapies can be used alongside traditional pain management methods to provide optimal relief and enhance your pet's overall well-being.


Physical therapy is another valuable complementary therapy that can improve your pet's mobility, strength, and overall quality of life. This type of therapy may include various techniques such as massage, stretching exercises, hydrotherapy, or other therapeutic modalities. Dog hydrotherapy, for instance, has become an increasingly popular complementary therapy for older dogs, as it offers a low-impact exercise option that helps maintain muscle tone and joint flexibility.


Acupuncture is yet another complementary therapy that has gained popularity in recent years for its potential benefits in alleviating pain and discomfort in pets. This ancient Chinese practice involves the insertion of thin needles into specific points on the body to stimulate the nervous system and promote natural healing. Acupuncture has been shown to reduce inflammation, increase blood circulation, and release endorphins – the body's natural pain-relieving chemicals. Many pet owners have reported positive results when incorporating acupuncture into their pet's pain management plans.


With most complementary therapies, you may be given exercises or techniques to perform at home, further enhancing your pet's healing process. To ensure the best possible outcome, it is essential to consult with your veterinarian or a certified animal physical therapist who can help design a customised program tailored to your pet's specific needs and conditions. By combining conventional and complementary therapies, you can offer your beloved pet a comprehensive approach to pain management, ultimately improving their quality of life.



It's essential to maintain open communication with your veterinarian throughout your pet's end-of-life journey. Discuss your concerns and observations about your pet's pain levels, and work together to develop a comprehensive pain management plan that best suits your pet's needs. Remember that your pet's comfort is the top priority during this time. By effectively managing their pain, you can help ensure that their final days are as peaceful and comfortable as possible.


Are you thinking of trying complementary therapies? Check out our blog here on alternative holistic therapies to support your pet in hospice care.


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