Chronic pain can be a severely debilitating illness. It compromises the overall well-being of an animal causing reduced mobility, inappetance and weight loss, lowered immunity, altered behaviour and insomnia. Pain perception involves the emotional and behavioural responses to noxious or previously non-noxious stimuli (allodynia). Many progressive degenerative diseases, including osteoarthritis and neoplasia can cause chronic pain. Chronic pain is currently a poorly treated clinical syndrome within veterinary practice. This is most likely because assessment of pain, especially chronic pain, can be extremely difficult. Animals often become withdrawn, less active or unsettled. These subtle clinical signs may be insidious in onset and are often interpreted as ‘old age’ by both owners and clinicians. Many chronic pain states can, however, be controlled with an effective clinical pain management strategy.
Good pain management can see the return of a good quality of life for the animal, a return of normal behaviours such as sleeping through the night, grooming, increased activity (walking, running, jumping onto the owner’s bed, going upstairs) and a happy demeanour. Even if the underlying instigating pathological cause (e.g. tumour) cannot be removed or ‘cured’, a much improved quality of life can often be provided for the animal.
Pharmacological agents, physical therapies and complementary therapies (acupuncture/ electroacupuncture), can be used synergistically to improve pain control and quality of life..
Each patient needs to be assessed individually; therapy protocols depend not only on the clinical presentation, but also on co-existing medical conditions and their treatments, drug tolerances, home environment factors and the overall goals of therapy.