Managing the Pain

When it comes to the day-to-day care of a dog with cancer, pain management is everything. Whether the pain comes from the growth of the cancer or from treatments such as surgery or radiation therapy, pain relief medication may be necessary to hasten recovery. A complete diagnostic workup, a treatment plan with a board-certified veterinary oncologist, and a consult with a holistic veterinarian trained in acupuncture and herbs is the best approach.

Types of Pain

The pain your dog experiences depends on the type of cancer he is fighting. Dull, throbbing pain accompanies bone cancer, while severe pain in the abdomen occurs with bleeding hemangiosarcomas (spleen tumors). Mast cell tumors can sometimes produce burning pain in the skin, and nasal tumors like fibrosarcomas produce pressure-associated pain. Burning and irritation leading to urgency to urinate arise from bladder tumors like transitional cell carcinomas. Frequently, the brain and spinal cord's reaction increases the pain.

Pain Relief

Different kinds of treatments or combinations of treatments warrant different kinds of pain relief. It is often more effective to combine medications and modalities to achieve the best pain relief. Modalities of pain relief include surgery, conventional medications (oral, injectable, and transdermal), palliative radiation, herbs, acupuncture, chiropractic, physical therapy, massage, and heat/cold application. The following tumors often require aggressive pain management:

  • Bone tumors

  • Central nervous system tumors, such as brain tumors

  • Gastrointestinal tumors, such as esophagus, stomach, colon, and rectal tumors

  • Mammary tumors

  • Genitourinary tract tumors, such as kidney and bladder tumors

  • Prostate tumors

  • Oral cavity tumors

  • Intranasal tumors

  • Invasive skin tumors

A dog may experience short-term pain after surgery or consistent irritation from chemotherapy or therapeutic radation. Because dogs do not want to show pain, it may be difficult to recognize, but it should be assumed. Dogs show pain in different ways. Some indicators that your dog may be uncomfortable include loss of appetite, lethargy, disinterest in normal activities, limping, hiding, aggression, and anxiety. If your dog just seems “off,” it is worth trying a pain medication to see if he seems more himself with treatment.

Other pain management strategies include good general nursing care, warm and comfortable bedding, and massages and physical therapy to ease aching joints. Acupuncture is very effective in pain relief.

There's no question that pain weakens an already compromised immune system. To provide relief for your dog and to make his days as comfortable as possible, consult with your veterinarian for effective pain management.

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