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Managing Pain in Research Animals

Various types of analgesic medications are available to provide effective pain relief without interfering with experimental objectives. Analgesic drugs work in various ways to relieve pain. Some, such as morphine and buprenorphine provide pain relief through their action on the central nervous system. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as ketoprofen and meloxicam, relieve pain by decreasing inflammation and, in some cases, direct analgesic action. Long acting local anesthetics such as bupivacaine, provide postoperative analgesia by blocking nerve conduction.

General Principles of Analgesic Drug Use

  • General anesthesia is required for all procedures likely to cause more than slight or momentary pain.

  • Animals that are likely to experience post procedural pain must receive analgesic medication.

  • Analgesics are often administered before or immediately after surgery (prior to anesthetic recovery) to minimize the development of post-procedural pain.

  • Additional doses of analgesic medication may be given on a predetermined schedule and/or based on a subjective assessment of the degree of pain experienced by the animal.

  • A detailed analgesic regimen should be incorporated into the experimental design based on a prediction of how much pain will occur after an experimental procedure. This type of regimen insures that all animals will receive some type of analgesic treatment, but it does not relieve research personnel of their responsibility to observe and evaluate each animal after surgery. Animals that continue to show signs of pain or have other complicating problems after surgery need to be assessed individually and treated appropriately.

Drug Delivery Methods

In most cases analgesics should be administered by injection. Analgesic drugs can be placed in drinking water or food for oral delivery but will not be effective if the animal is not eating or drinking or if the medication tastes bad.