Back pain is a condition that can deteriorate rapidly and have serious lifelong complications.
Managing spinal pain falls into two categories, medical and non-medical management. Medical management involves giving prescription medications to your dog to help control the pain. Non-medical management involves supportive care and noninvasive techniques such as acupuncture or laser therapy.
What medicinal pain management options are available for spinal trauma?
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) medications are the first-line treatment for spinal trauma. These medications reduce the production of prostaglandins in the body, which contribute to pain and fever. NSAIDs are generally safe, but there are a few side effects to be aware of including vomiting, diarrhea, and rarely kidney damage. NSAIDs are given once daily and are good at helping soft tissue injuries and osteoarthritis.
Gabapentin treats nerve pain, which is especially good as spinal trauma can involve many nerves at one time due to their proximity to the spinal canal. Gabapentin changes the way pain messages are sent to the brain and reduces the frequency the pain message is sent. It is a strong pain killer and the major side effect seen is sedation, which can be addressed by reducing the dose.
Codeine is an opioid that is the same class of drugs as morphine. Codeine blocks pain receptors in the nervous system. Therefore, whilst your dog is still feeling pain, the codeine blocks the sensation being transmitted to the brain, reducing the pain levels overall. Side effects include respiratory depression at high doses and constipation. This is a controlled drug so a limited supply will be dispensed at any one time.
Fentanyl patches are applied to your dog’s skin, providing up to 72 hours of strong pain relief. Fentanyl is one of the strongest pain relief medications available to dogs and blocks pain receptors in the nerves and brain. Make sure your dog doesn’t accidentally lick or eat the patch from their body as this causes a toxic dose ingestion.
Finding the right dose:
After the health check and diagnosis, your veterinarian will prescribe medication, but also book a repeat visit to check the pain is under control. If not, further medication or supportive therapies may be recommended.
What other therapies are available to treat spinal pain?
Acupuncture is a safe technique for treating many types of back pain including intervertebral disk disease, osteoarthritis, spinal nerve pain, and back spasms. Your dog will stand quietly whilst tiny needles are placed at specific points on the body. It works surprisingly quickly and you will notice the difference immediately after the session. Acupuncture works on a short-term basis so repeat treatments, often for life, are needed to help your dog manage their pain levels.
Laser therapy uses light to penetrate the soft tissues, ligaments, and bone. Different frequencies of light affect different structures in the body. Laser therapy is not painful, and its benefits include releasing endorphins (the body’s natural pain killer), muscle relaxation, reducing inflammation, and increasing blood flow to tissues which help speed up the rate of healing in the body.
Physiotherapy helps to improve blood flow to painful areas, increase range of motion in painful limbs, and maintain muscle mass. This is important if your dog is not moving much during their recovery. Physiotherapists will teach you movement and massage techniques to help your dog cope with the pain. These daily exercises can take weeks or months to have an effect but is a natural way of helping your dog recover from serious muscle injury or damage.
What can I do at home to help my dog’s spinal pain?
Make sure your dog has lots of places to rest with good support i.e nice thick padded beds to rest on. You may also need to add rubber matting around the home to help your dog move around if they are having difficulty walking. Here you can find a great ideas for creating a safe space in the home.
I am struggling to cope with looking after my dog at home, what can I do?
It's okay to struggle! Everyone has different levels of stress they can cope with. There is support available. Look for a mobile veterinary technician in your area who can come and help on a daily basis with giving medications, bathing, toileting, and feeding. You can also talk to a veterinarian about boarding your dog at the veterinary clinic if you feel the home care is too much for you. Remember the staff at the vet clinic are experienced in this sort of care so they would be able to provide for your dog’s physical needs, while also making time for cuddles too!
I think my dog’s pain is getting worse, what should I do?
First, check that you are giving your dog’s tablets on the right days at the right times. If you find you have been underdosing your dog, e.g. only giving the tablets once a day instead of twice daily this may be the reason why. Remember, tablets cannot be baked into cookies and some tablets cannot be crushed to help ease of administration- check with a veterinarian first before doing so. If you have to give a lot of tablets, a daily pill organizer can be really helpful.
If you are giving medication at the right time and frequency, ask yourself if anything around the home changed e.g. a sudden outburst of energy or your dog accidentally took a tumble yesterday. This is important information for the vet and may show a different injury, rather than the back injury getting worse.
Back pain has many causes, but also many treatment options, and treatment has progressed rapidly in recent years with the introduction of new techniques such as laser therapy. A combination of medical and non-medical treatment can ensure adequate pain management in your dog while they recover from illness.