Postoperative Pain

Pets, without question, feel pain just as we do. Better pet hospitals treat & prevent pain.



I have often wondered about cats and dogs and pain, especially when Skippy, our wonder cat with 3 legs, had most of his hind leg amputated to the hip.  He came home the evening of surgery and my wife and I took turns holding him all night.  He did not seem to be in pain, but rather out of it or a little crazy from the anesthetic. Isn’t pain medication typically given for this kind of thing, and for such procedures as spaying a dog or cat?  Don’t the cats and dogs feel pain like we do after major surgery?  We would certainly be given pain medication.  What are your thoughts?


Dr. Nichol:

I am glad to get this question. There is a major move afoot among veterinary anesthesiologists to encourage greater use of the many pain relievers that are safe and effective for pets. But until the last several years many of us didn’t think very much about this important issue. We are not proud of this fact. Animals of all species, including humans, feel pain. But as many of us animal lovers often observe, our pets don’t talk. So how do we know if and when pain management is necessary? If pets are like us there are varying degrees of pain among individuals. So how can we know when our treatment is sufficient? We are observant, that’s how.


According to Dr. Robert Paddleford in his recent paper on Analgesics the signs to watch for are: Increased heart or respiratory rate, unwillingness to move, drooling, poor appetite, restlessness, aggressive behavior, and crying (I think we already knew that one). Needless to say, some of these signs are vague. But pets who show two or three together definitely need our help. And we can choose from several drugs and methods of giving treatment.


So which is best? This is a great example of the adage that medicine is still more art than science. What is best for a pet is the pain management that is most familiar and safe in your veterinarian’s own experience. Different cases require different treatments. In our hospital we use pain treatments before surgery. For procedures like spaying and neutering that cause only mild discomfort we use an injection of Torbugesic about one hour prior to anesthesia. The pet is relaxed as he or she goes to sleep and feels a whole lot better for up to 5 hours after recovery. If needed the injection can be repeated. But for fracture surgery or an amputation for a pet like Skippy the Wonder Cat we apply a  Duragesic skin patch the day before surgery.


A pain patch is nifty. Using the same principle as the skin patches for people trying to quit smoking they provide a continuous through-the-skin release of the drug for 3-5 days. We send the pet home wearing a patch and recheck the pet’s comfort a few days later and replace the skin patch if needed. This way no one has to give pills and the pain relief is continuous. Everybody’s happier.


We welcome interest in pain relief. Let’s face it-most injured pets will get well without help with pain. But we love these little guys like our children. Which of us would knowingly deny pain relief to a hurting child? But for us to help every pet with pain we need observant pet owners. So be aware and be the voice for your pets. Alleviating the suffering of animals is a responsibility we all can share.