that hurts! managing acute pain in pets

Posted by Tasha McNerney on Sep 15 2014

It was once thought that animals did not experience pain in the same way that humans do. But research supports that if a procedure is painful to us, it will be painful to our fuzzy friends as well – even though they may go to great lengths to hide it from us. Because of this, proper pain management has become an important specialty area in veterinary medicine, just as it has in human medicine.

There are as many different types of pain as different ways to treat it. This blog, the first in a two-part series, will discuss acute pain specifically.

Acute pain begins suddenly and is usually sharp in quality. It is useful because it can serve as a warning of disease or potentially dangerous circumstances. Acute pain can be caused by any of the following: surgery, trauma, broken bones, dental extractions, burns, cuts, as well as pain caused by labor. It can also be seen with common pet problems such as urinary infections and ear infections.

Get Exclusive Offers & More

Get Exclusive Offers & More

Be the first to hear about pet-specific news, health tips, exclusive offers and more! Unsubscribe at any time.

Acute pain may be mild and last just a moment, or it may be severe and last for a few weeks. It is different from chronic pain in that in most cases, the pain disappears when the underlying cause has been treated.

If acute pain is not treated, the pain signals remain active in the nervous system and the animal experiences what is known as “wind-up.”

Wind-up is a condition caused by repeated stimulation of nerve fibers, leading to progressively increasing electrical response in the corresponding spinal cord neurons. Animals who experience wind-up due to continuous painful stimulus often have a condition known as allodynia – a painful response to a normally non-painful stimulus.

For example, an animal with untreated pain may negatively react to you simply touching them. Animals’ reactions to pain vary, but most will exhibit signs of pain by not eating, hiding, guarding a painful area, limping, or a reluctance to move. Dogs and cats may become increasingly protective of a painful area and display aggression as their pain becomes more severe.

To address acute pain, it is important to work with your veterinarian to develop a pain management plan. If the pain is due to an infection, your veterinarian may give short term pain medications in addition to antibiotics.

If the acute pain is a result of a surgical procedure there are some questions you can ask your veterinarian to ensure your pet has a comfortable recovery. These questions include:

  1. What is the anticipated level of pain associated with this procedure? (Mild? Severe?)
  2. Will my pet be given post-operative analgesics (pain medicines)?
  3. Will my pet need any physical rehabilitation to help during the recovery process?
  4. What analgesics will be sent home with my pet?

Another way you can ensure your pet is receiving the most comprehensive pain management plan is to look for a practice that has an IVAPM (International Veterinary Pain Management) member on staff.

The IVAPM is an organization that seeks to educate and promote pain management for animals worldwide. It also provides continuing education in the area of pain recognition and treatment. IVAPM members can work toward certification in the management of animal pain. After they obtain this certification, they will be known as a CVPP or certified veterinary pain practitioner. To find a CVPP or IVAPM member in your area, visit the IVAPM website at

My next blog will tackle the more complex subject of chronic pain. Stay tuned!

Protect your pet today

Get the most comprehensive pet insurance in one simple plan