AAHA updates guidelines on pain management in dogs and cats

The latest guidelines on pain management in dogs and cats from the American Animal Hospital Association separate out recommendations for cats and dogs while continuing to promote a team approach to pain management that involves the pet owner as well as the practice team.

The 2022 AAHA Pain Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats appeared in the March/April edition of the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association. The American Association of Feline Practitioners endorsed the document and planned to publish the guidelines in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. The previous edition was published in JAAHA and JFMS in 2015.

Dr. Margaret E. Gruen, an assistant professor of behavioral medicine at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, and Dr. B. Duncan X. Lascelles, a professor of translational pain research and management at the veterinary college, co-chaired the AAHA Pain Management Guidelines Task Force.

Cat being examined in a clinic
High-quality clinical trials, using validated outcome measures, are helping define therapeutic approaches for treating pain in cats and dogs. (Photo by Nathan Latil/NCSU)

“These guidelines build on the previous guidelines with updates on management of pain, including discussion of proactive and multimodal strategies,” Dr. Gruen said. “Importantly, these guidelines were written to include useful algorithms for treatment and make it easy for busy practitioners to make decisions regarding the assessment tools and treatment options for their patients.”

In separating out recommendations for cats and dogs, the guidelines are laid out to offer in-depth information alongside flow diagrams and decision trees specific to caring for each species.

“I think there has been a continuing movement toward our thinking about prevention of pain—and being proactive in our diagnoses and management,” Dr. Gruen said. “We all know that pain affects quality of life for our patients, and in the guidelines we tried to take a holistic approach to pain management, including exercise and environmental changes.”

The guidelines expand discussion of species-specific needs, such as cats’ need for vertical space, and cover the caregiver burden when making recommendations for pain management.

 “They also include details for taking a team approach across the hospital, emphasizing the importance of everyone’s role in promoting the recognition and treatment of pain,” Dr. Gruen said.

According to the document, “The primary purpose of these guidelines is to help veterinarians and veterinary team members confidently and accurately create a reproduceable pain assessment in cats and dogs, as well as an initial therapy plan with guidance on reassessing and adjusting the plan as needed.”

The document and additional resources are available online.

A version of this article appears in the June 2022 print issue of JAVMA.