Treating Cancer Pain in Dogs

August 22, 2018
Every dog experiences pain differently, and the intensity of pain varies according to the type of tumor and the animal's body.

Cancer pain in dogs grows quickly and reaches very intense levels. This fact drastically decreases the animal’s quality of life and is really hard on the owners. Fortunately, veterinary medicine is developing more effective ways to diagnose and control the side effects of cancer treatments. Continue reading to learn how to recognize and manage cancer pain in dogs.

Pain in carcinogenic processes

Pain is usually progressive in carcinogenic processes. In humans, only 25% of patients say they have experienced pain before or during diagnosis. This number rises to 90% in patients with advanced or terminal cancer. This is explained by the pain that takes place during different stages of oncological treatment. Cancer patients often experience severe acute pain during or after chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment.

How to recognize cancer pain in dogs

Diagnosing, classification, or measuring pain is difficult in humans and is even more complex in dogs. Animals have their own language and other behavioral codes. Therefore, humans can’t always understand and accurately interpret what they feel, experience, and express.

A dog with cancer pain

Regarding cancer pain in dogs, you have to consider any comparisons they have with humans. Obviously, you should consider the experience and observations of veterinary medicine and its advances in animal oncology.

Every dog experiences pain differently, and the pain level varies according to the type of tumor and the animal’s body. Older or immunosuppressed dogs usually experience the most intense pain levels.

Main symptoms of cancer pain in dogs

  • Behavioral changes in his routine.
  • Fatigue, depression, or lethargy.
  • Difficulty walking, getting up, or lying down
  • Loss of appetite
  • Altered facial expressions
  • Defensive behaviors or a negative reaction when touched
  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Wining, grunts, and other sounds
  • Loss of urinary and bowel movement control

Cancer Pain Treatment in dogs

The main treatment consists of stopping the cancer from advancing, and preventing metastases as much as possible. The dog will undergo specific oncology therapies (radiotherapy, chemotherapy, surgery, etc.)

A dog getting checked by a vet

As mentioned before, these same therapies often cause the animal a lot of discomfort. Further cancer pain treatment in dogs can decrease its intensity.  Non-opioid analgesics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are the first choice for treating mild pain. Mild opioid analgesics, such as codeine, can be administered when the pain is moderately intense.

In more severe cases, when the pain is very intense, strong opioid analgesics such as morphine can be prescribed. Also, remember that a veterinarian is the only qualified professional who can prescribe suitable treatment for each animal. 

Alternative therapy and additional care

Many non-pharmaceutical methods are available to alleviate cancer pain in dogs and improve their quality of life. However, they do not replace painkillers. Among alternative therapies, you can take a look at acupuncture, aromatherapy, reiki, massages, and relaxation techniques.

You should also use objects and accessories to provide the animal with a higher level of comfort. For example, a cozy bed, massage devices, compresses, thermal pillows, etc. A good diet, which you can complement with dietary supplements, is essential for strengthening the animal’s immune system. 

A man hugging his dog

Most importantly, love and dedication are essential elements for recovery, and relieving cancer pain in dogs. 

Alleviating Pain: experiments with neurotoxin saporin

Recent studies have demonstrated the positive effects of neurotoxin saporin to control cancer pain in dogs. Their objective was to analyze this substance’s effect on the nervous systems of a dog with bone cancer.

The experiments were conducted at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (USA). More than 70 mixed and purebred dogs participated, such as Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers, and German Shepherds.

Half of the participants received injections of neurotoxin P-saporin (SP-SAP) to complement standard veterinary care. Meanwhile, the other half acted as a control group, receiving only standard veterinary care.

Dogs who received injections with this substance responded positively after just six weeks. They didn’t exceed 5 or 10% of the normal pain intensity in the control group. Likewise, they were in a better mood and their limps were noticeably better.

These results also give a bright future for their use in human medicine. Therefore, this new method of relieving cancer pain in dogs could also be effective in humans.