Comparative and Veterinary Pharmacology

Volume 199 of the series Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology pp 159-189


Pain and Analgesia in Domestic Animals

  • Alex LivingstonAffiliated withUniversity of Saskatchewan, Western College of Veterinary Medicine Email author 

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The biggest challenge to the use of analgesic agents in animals is the determination of the efficacy of these agents. In humans, the verbal communication of the alleviation of pain is fundamental to the effective use of analgesics. In animals, the lack of verbal communication not only confounds the diagnosis and characterisation of the experience of pain, but also challenges the evaluation of the analgesic therapy. As animals possess the same neuronal pathways and neurotransmitter receptors as humans, it seems reasonable to expect that their perceptions of painful stimuli will be similar, and this is a basis for the use of laboratory animals for screening of analgesics for human use. However, as the evaluation in the laboratory animal tests is based mainly on behavioural responses, and although some physiological responses do occur, it is often difficult to separate these from stress responses.

The use of behavioural responses to evaluate analgesics in a range of species is complicated by the fact that different species show different behaviours to a similar pain stimulus, and different pain stimuli produce different pain responses in the same species. Thus behaviours may be species- and pain-specific and this can complicate analgesic evaluation. As most animals possess similar neuronal mechanisms to humans for pain perception, it is not surprising that the standard human pain control strategies can be applied to animals. For instance, local anaesthetics, opioids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), as well as other analgesics used in humans are all found to be effective for animal use. Differences in metabolism and distribution between various species, as well as financial considerations in larger animals can affect efficacy and thus limit their use. In addition, the use of any drug in a species that may be intended for human consumption will be limited by residue considerations.

The treatment of pain in animals presents many challenges, but the increasing public concerns regarding animal welfare will ensure that studies into the nature and control of animal pain will continue to have a high profile.


Pain Pain evaluation Pain perception Pain recognition Analgesic agents