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Improve patient comfort with these 10 analgesic strategies


3 Local and regional anesthesia and analgesia

Local anesthetics provide a cost-effective preemptive analgesic benefit associated with few adverse effects. It is usually possible to incorporate local anesthetics into every surgical event. Local or regional anesthesia allows for a reduction in maintenance anesthetic requirements, predictably improving patient respiratory and cardiovascular dynamics. Applications include facial blocks during oral or facial surgeries, incisional line blocks, intra-articular injections, intratesticular blocks for castrations, and ring blocks before onychectomies. Advanced techniques include Bier blocks (intravenous regional anesthesia of a limb), nerve locater-assisted regional nerve blocks, and continuous soaker catheter infusions.

Lidocaine, the least expensive agent, has the shortest onset of all local anesthetic drugs, but it also has the shortest duration. Bupivacaine has slower block onset than lidocaine does, but it provides longer block duration. Using a combination of these two drugs provides the positive qualities of these two agents and often more than enough drug volume. Studies in people suggest that adding morphine or buprenorphine to the local anesthetic agent mix enhances the quality and duration of analgesia,4-6 and we use 0.075 mg/kg morphine or 0.005 mg/kg buprenorphine in this manner in dogs and cats.

4 Intravenous constant-rate infusions

Analgesics administered by intermittent bolus provide peaks and valleys in drug plasma concentrations. Intravenous constant-rate infusions (CRIs) establish more consistent plasma concentrations and better overall control over drug effects than intermittent bolus administration does. A mu-agonist opioid, lidocaine, and ketamine are most frequently combined in analgesic CRIs, providing an effective multimodal analgesic benefit with low potential for adverse events. Although delivery through a standard drip set is possible, you may prefer the fine control provided by an intravenous fluid pump or syringe pump. Calculators are available to eliminate the worry associated with drug delivery calculations ( Analgesic CRIs can help contribute to a balanced anesthetic program, reducing maintenance agent needs and generally improving patient blood pressure and ventilation.

5 Epidurals

Epidural analgesia deserves your serious consideration. Epidurals concentrate analgesic medications at the nerve root or spinal cord level, gaining substantial patient benefit with minimal systemic effects. The procedure is not difficult to master, and the potential for serious adverse events is low if the proper technique is used.

Morphine is the most common opioid used for epidurals, but hydromorphone, oxymorphone, and buprenorphine are reasonable alternatives. The local anesthetics lidocaine and bupivacaine are commonly teamed with an epidural for superior overall analgesic effect. Ketamine and medetomidine or dexmedetomidine can also be included for additional analgesic effect.

6 Perioperative NSAIDS

NSAIDs provide important patient benefits including peripheral anti-inflammatory and central analgesic activities. Patient comfort is enhanced when NSAIDs are administered preoperatively. Safe administration of preoperative NSAIDs requires effective blood pressure monitoring. Blood pressure management is becoming a standard-of-care issue in veterinary medicine. By establishing a strong blood pressure management program, you open the door to expanded patient pain management options.7

7 Pain recognition and assessment

We want to stay ahead of pain, not wait for signs of pain and then react to them. In fact, one saying about pain management is that if your patient shows signs of pain, you've waited too long to administer its next treatment. Our patients are good at hiding signs of pain. However, there are often pain indicators. The recently released American Animal Hospital Association and American Association of Feline Practitioners pain management guidelines include an excellent review of common indicators of pet pain. And the Glasgow pain assessment short form can help focus staff attention on patient pain after surgery. The best approach is to structure a broad-based pain management strategy and remain vigilant for signs of analgesic inadequacy.

8 Use effective outpatient opioid analgesics

Transmucosal buprenorphine is the preferred opioid for feline outpatient pain management. Research in cats has shown equal bioavailability between buprenorphine delivered transmucosally and intravenously.8 Early results from a recent canine study suggest that dogs may have similarly effective absorption of transmucosal buprenorphine. Dogs generally respond well to the weak mu agonist tramadol (5 mg/kg orally three to four times a day), whereas cats may have poor tolerance for tramadol's bitter taste.

It is generally recognized that butorphanol is not an adequate analgesic for perioperative pain management, even when given parenterally. Its use as an analgesic is further degraded when it is given orally. In people, the enterohepatic first-pass effect removes 80% to 90% of the drug before it has a chance to provide a benefit. The same is true when buprenorphine is mixed with a liquid and swallowed.

Fentanyl patch studies have shown inconsistent drug delivery, with one study showing that one-third of cats receiving a properly placed patch failed to develop any detectable drug plasma concentrations.9 Thus, fentanyl patches should not be relied on as the sole analgesic.

9 Physical rehabilitation

Taking the lead from the human medical community, physical rehabilitation therapy is now regarded as a critical aspect of veterinary pain management. Medications can help dampen pain signaling, but they do not address the associated underlying contributors, such as restricted joint range of motion, muscle tightness, reduced muscle strength, and coordination. By including therapy aimed at these additional factors, patient function, comfort, and resistance to injury improve substantially.

10 Acupuncture

Pain management is arguably one of acupuncture's greatest strengths, and electroacupuncture is the most effective form of acupuncture for pain management. Natural pain relievers (endorphin, endomorphin, dynorphin, enkephalin) and biogenic amines (serotonin, catecholamines) are released during the acupuncture session, reducing patient pain.10,11 There may also be pain relief via the gate control theory12 similar to that obtained through transcutaneous electro-nerve stimulation, a common human physical therapy tool. Patient attitude and appetite can improve with acupuncture therapy, making it a particularly attractive approach for patients with renal disease suffering from pain.

The combination of physical rehabilitation therapy and acupuncture may be a good approach for patients with difficult-to-manage pain, especially for those patients that are intolerant of or poorly served by conventional medical therapy. In addition, by offering these services, you open the door to clients who find conventional medical therapies unattractive.

Robert M. Stein, DVM, DAAPM, and Stephanie Ortel, LVT, BVS, CCRP, Animal Pain Management Center, 2217 Kensington Ave., Snyder, NY 14226. Dr. Stein is the president of the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management (


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7. Blood pressure management. Available at Accessed May 7, 2008.

8. Robertson SA, Lascelles BD, Taylor PM, et al. PK-PD modeling of buprenorphine in cats: intravenous and oral transmucosal administration. J Vet Pharmacol Ther 2005;28(5):453-460.

9. Lee DD, Papich MG, Hardie EM. Comparison of pharmacokinetics of fentanyl after intravenous and transdermal administration in cats. Am J Vet Res 2000;61(6):672-677.

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11. Han JS. Acupuncture and endorphins. Neurosci Lett 2004:361(1-3):258-261.

12. Melzack R, Wall PD. Pain mechanisms: a new theory. Science 1965;150:971-979.


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