Pain resulting from surgery is one of the most obvious forms of acute pain. Unfortunately, while surgery helps to relieve an underlying problem, the pain it causes isn't always as easy to cure. Surgery (and some invasive diagnostic procedures) can cause significant pain in dogs, but because dogs can't communicate their level of discomfort, it's difficult to provide proper pain medication. If dogs don't get the necessary pain relief, they can lose their appetite and become stressed, both of which reduce the effectiveness of the surgery.
Some surgical procedures are more painful than others. These include orthopedic procedures, which involve trauma to large muscle masses; chest surgery; and surgery of the eyes, ears, nose, or teeth. Dogs undergoing these types of surgeries are more likely to have a high degree of pain and to need a certain level of pain relief. Spay/neuter surgery on young, healthy dogs tends to generate less pain.
Treating Surgical Pain
Veterinarians have learned that the best way to prevent surgical pain is to provide presurgical pain relief. Anesthesia blocks the knowledge of pain during surgery, but now veterinarians can give dogs a combination of pain-relief and anesthetic drugs. Why is this helpful? The anesthetic drugs that veterinarians use today provide quick recovery from anesthesia, which is a benefit. However, that same quick recovery can bring on intense acute pain unless the anesthetic drug is paired with a pain-reliever.
Presurgical pain relief means less anesthesia can be used, as well as less postsurgical pain relief. The improved safety of anesthetic drugs, combined with this ability to provide presurgical pain relief, also allows surgeons to perform more invasive procedures than they could in the past.
Non-Medical Pain Relief for Surgery
Good surgical techniques can also reduce the pain experienced from surgery. These include minimizing tissue trauma by making smaller incisions and preventing tension on suture lines. Bandages to pad and protect the traumatized area are also essential. After surgery, making the dog comfortable on warm bedding as he comes out of the anesthetic haze can also help.
Post-Surgical Pain Relief
Many advances have been made in pain relief for animals, but managing post-surgical and chronic pain is still difficult. That's because not all drugs are effective in every situation. Some cause side effects when used over a long period, and some aren't convenient for owners to give at home. Researchers have hope, however, that a new slow-release narcotic drug will be able to provide convenient, safe, and long-lasting pain relief for dogs and improve the treatment of chronic and postsurgical pain. Currently, no medications are licensed for use in dogs to treat postoperative pain, although some veterinarians, with the informed consent of the dog's owner, may choose to use certain medications to help the dog feel more comfortable after surgery.