Analgesic drugs can often be administered to manage pain in animals used in science, and this is a cornerstone of refinement. The American College of Veterinary Anesthesiologists (ACVA) states "it is preferable to empirically administer analgesics pre-emptively if there is any question that a procedure will induce pain in an animal."

Since animal pain assessment can be challenging, it can seem simpler to give all animals a standard dose of analgesic. However, fixed dose regimens have been identified as one of the factors contributing to inadequate pain management in humans, and should also be avoided in animals.

Treatment of pain should be tailored to the individual animal, and should be based, in part, on the species, breed, age, procedure performed and degree of tissue trauma, individual behavioural characteristics, degree of pain, health status, and availability of drugs and techniques.

Selection of the most appropriate analgesic drug or technique requires veterinary judgement.

To control animal pain, it is important to:

  • administer an appropriate analgesic that provides the required intensity of pain relief (drugs with known analgesic properties are opioids, a-2 agonists, local anaesthetics, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drugs)
  • consider use of a combination of analgesic drugs from different drug classes (i.e. multi-modal analgesia) that may greatly enhance analgesic effects while allowing for reduced dosages and minimizing adverse effects
  • consider administering analgesic drugs before the onset of pain (pre-emptive analgesia) to allow for better control of pain during the postoperative period
  • administer the analgesic at an appropriate dose
  • monitor the animal carefully and modify the dose or frequency of administration as needed
  • continue administration of the analgesic at appropriate time intervals
  • stop administering the analgesic at an appropriate time after surgery
  • ensure that non-pharmacological approaches to alleviating pain in animals are suitable (e.g., good husbandry practices and nutritional support)

This section was adapted from the ACVA position paper on the treatment of pain in animals and the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) website.

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