Controlling Cancer Pain in Dogs

When a dog is diagnosed with cancer, a successful outcome of treatment is dependent on the cancer being detected early enough before a tumor has spread throughout the body. Unfortunately, at a late stage the cancer can’t be controlled and the prospect for recovery is poor. At this point, controlling cancer pain in the dog involves nothing more than administering a pain medication and making the dog as comfortable as possible.

During the several stages of cancer, a dog may be in pain, although in the beginning stages a dog is unlikely to suffer from much pain. When a tumor starts to grow inside the dog’s body, it may press against its internal organs or bones and cause a lot of pain.

“Stages” and “Grades” of cancer are theoretically close in meaning, but they are not the same. The stage of a tumor usually refers to how far along it is. To determine the stage of a dog’s tumor, a veterinarian will look at the size of the tumor, the number of tumors, and whether the cancer cells have invaded the bloodstream where they can travel to other sites in the body.

A late stage tumor, or late stage cancer, usually means the cancer has advanced to the point where it is more difficult to cure or treat the cancer and force it into long term remission.

An early stage tumor or early stage cancer means that the cancer has not progressed very far along. Usually these types of cancers are found in only one site of a dog’s body and have not spread to any other parts of the body and are located only where the tumor or cancerous cells were found.

The grade of a cancer describes how aggressive it is. A low grade cancer is one that is not very aggressive, whereas a high grade cancer is much more aggressive. Aggressive cancers grow quickly, invading the area around the tumor, or they enter the dog’s bloodstream and spread to other parts of the body.

Pain medication can help lower the pain and suffering of cancer, and the decision of when to administer medication has to be determined by a veterinarian.

The most common pain medication prescribed for dogs with cancer are analgesics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs). Depending upon the severity and spread of the cancer, a vet may also prescribe steroids. The main difference between NSAIDs and analgesics is that NSAIDs are able to control the pain and also reduce swelling. Common NSAIDs include aspirin or Rimadyl (generic name caprofen). Analgesics prescribed to dogs with cancer include tramadol and fentanyl.

In the last stages of cancer, when there is not much that can be done to help the dog, pain relief medications may be the only treatment a vet administers. Opiates are prescribed in these cases as the NSAIDs or analgesics are no longer effective for the intensive pain.

Radiation Therapy is also used to help manage pain in dogs with severe cases of cancer. Radiation therapy is administered on a regular schedule and will help relieve the dog’s pain, but it won’t remove cancerous cells and cannot stop their further growth. Radiation therapy is usually only recommended during the last phases of cancer when there is not much that can be done to help the dog.

Human pain medication should NEVER be given to dogs with cancer. Human medications usually include toxic ingredients that damage a dog’s liver and kidneys.

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