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Pain Management in Senior Pets: Veterinary Geriatrics

Pain Management in Senior Pets: Veterinary Geriatrics

With advancements in veterinary care, our pets are living longer than ever which means that we see a lot more geriatric conditions in senior pets. Our Dallas vets discuss pain management in older pets.

Pain in Senior Dogs

It's important to begin a discussion about managing pain in dogs by stating that anytime you believe that your pet is in pain it is essential to contact a vet. Pain is an indication of an underlying health issue, whether that issue is an injury, disease or other condition. Your vet can accurately diagnose your pet's condition and provide the best possible treatment options to address the problem and manage your dog's pain.

In recent years veterinary science has come a long way in understanding the nature of pain in dogs and the best way to manage their pain.

Chronic vs Acute Pain

Whether you are discussing humans or pets, pain falls into one of two main categories, either chronic or acute.

Acute Pain in Dogs

When pain is described as acute it means that it began suddenly and is typically sharp, throbbing or burning in quality. Acute pain typically causes more noticeable symptoms and can be easier for pet parents to spot than chronic pain in dogs. Your pup could experience acute pain due to a number of different injuries or conditions, including cuts, bruises, burns, broken bones, or post-surgical pain or infection.

Chronic Pain in Dogs

Chronic pain is typically a dull, ongoing pain that comes on gradually. It can be challenging for pet parents to know when their pet is experiencing chronic pain because the subtle signs of this type of pain tend to be similar to normal age-related changes. Causes of chronic pain in pets include dental health problems, osteoarthritis, and joint disease.

Signs of Pain in Dogs

 Signs of pain in dogs tend to be very subtle. It usually starts as reluctance to do what they have done easily in the past, like jumping up on furniture or in the car, that then progresses to inability to do these things at all. Walks become shorter, or their gait changes during the walks.

What Age Is Considered Old

You've probably heard that one human year equals seven dog years—but it's not quite that simple. That's because individual dog breeds age at different paces than others.

In general, smaller dogs do not age as quickly as large-breed dogs. Here is a general guide:

Small breeds are considered senior dogs around 10-12 years old.

Medium breeds are considered senior dogs around 8-9 years old.

Large and giant breeds are considered senior dogs around 6-7 years old.

Managing Pain in Older Dogs

Geriatric Blood Panel

Although a regular physical exam is important to maintain your senior pet’s health; it only gives your Vet a partial overview of health. The best way to check your pet's health is by performing a comprehensive blood panel where your vet is able to test for various levels and provide direct evaluations of the health of the liver, kidneys, adrenal glands, and immune system.

In addition to helping us make a diagnosis, the blood panel is helpful in determining the prognosis of the disease. A typical geriatric blood panel will measure the following levels:

  • Blood Glucose, BUN, Creatinine, Calcium, Total Protein, Albumin, Globulin, Total Bilirubin, Alkaline Phosphatase, ALT (SGPT), Cholesterol, Sodium, and Potassium.

Pain Medications

Once your dog has a diagnosis, it is important to find the right treatment. More often than not, prescription medication will be necessary to alleviate the pain associated with most issues.

Making Changes to Your Home

It is important that you make your aging pet comfortable at home, especially as arthritis and joint pain can cause discomfort and difficulty moving. Making small changes to your home can make your pet more comfortable. Some easy changes include making sure your pet's bed is soft, cushioned, low, and heated, especially in cold weather. Older dogs have a more difficult time maintaining their body temperature, especially short-coated and slender breeds. Clothes can help keep your pets warm, especially in the winter and your local pet store will have a vast supply of cute sweaters and booties. If your pets are allowed on the furniture, consider getting steps to help your pet jump up more easily. A ramp going down the front/back steps or in/out of the car can be very helpful too.


The right diet is a critical component of your pet's healthcare. We offer a variety of prescription diets that are created to suit the needs of your specific pet and its condition. Different ingredients provide different health benefits, for this reason, the scientists behind prescription diets have formulated condition-specific foods for your pets. Talk to our Dallas vets to determine which is right for your geriatric dog's unique needs. 

Medications Commonly Used to Treat Pain in Geriatric Dogs

Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) 

NSAIDs are used to treat mild to moderate pain and discomfort by impeding your dog's body's production of the inflammatory molecules that trigger pain and swelling. While often effective, these drugs must be used with caution since they can lead to the development liver, kidney, stomach, and/or intestinal problems in some dogs.


Opioids including morphine, codeine, fentanyl, buprenorphine, and hydromorphone are typically used for more severe pain in dogs such as surgical pain, or pain caused by severe arthritis or advanced cancer. This class of drugs can help dogs to maintain a good quality of life by managing chronic pain.


Although traditionally used to help control seizures and anxiety in dogs gabapentin can also be used to manage some types of chronic pain including pain from degenerative joint disease


Vets often prescribe tramadol for dogs suffering from pain due to arthritis, cancer, surgery, or chronic pain disorders. In some cases, tramadol is also helpful in treating anxiety in dogs.

Cortisone & Synthetic Cortisone-Like Medications

Drugs such as prednisone, prednisolone, methylprednisolone, and dexamethasone can have a very profound impact when it comes to treating dog pain thanks to their potent anti-inflammatory properties.

Therapies for Treating Pain in Older Dogs

Veterinary Acupuncture

Acupuncture for dogs can help to stimulate healing and provide effective pain relief for many conditions. In some cases, this therapy can be an effective way to reduce or eliminate the need for chronic medications. Acupuncture for dogs is most often used in conjunction with medications and other treatments.

Cold Laser Therapy for Dogs

Laser therapy can be used to manage your dog's pain by stimulating the lymphatic drainage system which can help to reduce painful inflammation, activating nerve cells in order to block pain signals from reaching your pup's brain, and stimulating the production of endorphins that can be helpful in counteracting pain.


As with people, massage techniques can be used to relax your dog's muscles, reduce stress, improve circulation, and decrease pain. Massage can be especially helpful in pets suffering from pain due to athletic injuries or arthritis.

Neuromuscular Stimulation

When electrical stimulation is used on dogs it can help to strengthen muscles and reduce muscle wasting in dogs suffering from temporary or partial paralysis. TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) can be used to stimulate the release of pain-relieving substances from nerves.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If you think your older dog is in pain, contact our Dallas vets today to book a geriatric pet care appointment so we help give them a pain-free remainder of their life.

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North Tollway Pet Hospital is accepting new patients! Our vets are passionate about the health of Dallas companion animals. Get in touch today to get a 20% discount on your pet's first visit with us, excluding grooming.

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