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Kansas State University
128 Dole Hall
Manhattan, KS 66506
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Source: Dr. Butch KuKanich, 785-532-4554,
News release prepared by: Erinn Barcomb-Peterson, 785-532-6415,

Thursday, Nov. 20, 2008


MANHATTAN -- A pain-free pet is a happy pet.

"And when pets are happy, you're happy to be around them," said Dr. Butch KuKanich, a veterinary pharmacologist and assistant professor of anatomy and physiology at Kansas State University's College of Veterinary Medicine.

KuKanich said there have always been common procedures like spaying, neutering and knee surgeries that require pain relievers for dogs and cats. Now that dogs and cats are living longer, KuKanich said that veterinarians are seeing more ailments like arthritis, cancer and other painful geriatric diseases.

This means veterinarians and pet owners are relying on pain relievers more and more. KuKanich said that millions of dogs have been administered non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, often called NSAIDs.

The newer veterinary NSAIDs are generally safe, with only about 1 percent of animals showing any major side effects. He said NSAIDs are probably the most consistent pain reliever, although they may not be fully effective for all animals. Most dogs and cats administered NSAIDs are young, healthy animals like those getting spayed or neutered, he said.

"Looking at older animals, we worry whether their kidneys and liver are working well," KuKanich said. "When they're not, there's a greater chance for side effects. That's when looking for alternative pain relief methods is necessary."

That includes transdermal patches, similar to the idea of nicotine patches that people use to help them quit smoking. Patches that transmit narcotics through the animal's skin are a viable option for some pet owners, KuKanich said. The patches work best when placed on a shaved spot on the side of the chest.

"A veterinarian can send the animals home with the patches, and you don't have to worry about giving your cat or dog a pill six times a day," he said.

However, KuKanich said the amount of pain relief s on how quickly the animal absorbs the narcotic.

"It's going to be different putting it on a dog or a cat than putting it on your shoulder," he said.

The patches also can fall off, he said, which poses a problem for households with young children who may be tempted to eat them.

Another option is codeine, a pain reliever that KuKanich said has been around for a long time but doesn't produce reliable results.

"We don't know exactly how it works," he said. "The same animal could be prescribed vastly different doses."

It's uncommon for veterinarians to give codeine to cats, KuKanich said, because it's easy to mistake straight codeine for Tylenol with codeine, and Tylenol, is toxic to cats. Tylenol is the brand name for acetaminophen.

KuKanich said research for newer pain relief methods is ongoing. He is researching Ultram, a drug similar to codeine, to see what its analgesic effects are on dogs and how long they last.

He said results are showing that Ultram is being absorbed into the blood, but researchers need to find out how often veterinarians should recommend administering it. The Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission is supporting this research, KuKanich said. To meet anti-doping regulations for racing dogs, track operators want to know how long the drug stays in the dog's system, he said.

KuKanich said his other research involves using anticonvulsants like Neurontin in dogs. Anticonvulsants usually are used to treat pain associated with nerves, including shingles in people, he said.

KuKanich said that dog and cat owners should ask their veterinarian about pain relief options and discuss what might be causing the pain if it is unknown. However, if pet owners are looking to their own medicine cabinet to offer some immediate comfort, KuKanich said to be cautious.

"Aspirin can be administered to dogs, but it can cause gastrointestinal problems," he said. "Dogs tend to be more sensitive to these problems from aspirin than people are. Aspirin is not as safe as the newer NSAIDs because up to 15 percent to 30 percent of dogs will experience major side effects."

In addition to acetaminophen, which is toxic to cats, there are other over-the-counter pain relievers that are toxic to both dogs and cats, KuKanich said. This includes ibuprofen products like Advil and naproxen products like Aleve.

"People sometimes don't understand the difference in the drugs -- they think they're all the same," he said. "Even though they're on the same shelf at the drug store, they're not."