Alleviation of chronic pain may be more challenging than postprocedural pain; commercially available opiate slow-release transdermal patches or implantable analgesic-containing osmotic minipumps may be useful for such relief. Because of wide individual variation in response to analgesics, regardless of the initial plan for pain relief, animals should be closely monitored during and after painful procedures and should receive additional drugs, as needed, to ensure appropriate analgesic management (Karas et al. 2008; Paul-Murphy et al. 2004). Nonpharmacologic control of pain may be effective and should not be overlooked as an element of postprocedural or perioperative care for research animals (NRC 2009a; Spinelli 1990). Appropriate nursing support may include a quiet, darkened recovery or resting place, timely wound or bandage maintenance, increased ambient warmth and a soft resting surface, rehydration with oral or parenteral fluids, and a return to normal feeding through the use of highly palatable foods or treats.
Most anesthetics cause a dose-dependent depression of physiologic homeostasis and the changes can vary considerably with different agents. The level of consciousness, degree of antinociception (lack of response to noxious stimuli), and status of the cardiovascular, respiratory, musculoskeletal, and thermoregulatory systems should all be used to assess the adequacy of the anesthetic regimen. Interpretation and appropriate response to the various parameters measured require training and experience with the anesthetic regimen and the species. Loss of consciousness occurs at a light plane of anesthesia, before antinociception, and is sufficient for purposes of restraint or minor, less invasive procedures, but painful stimuli can induce a return to consciousness. Antinociception occurs at a surgical plane of anesthesia and must be ascertained before surgery. Individual animal responses vary widely and a single physiologic or nociceptive reflex response may not be adequate for assessing the surgical plane or level of analgesia (Mason and Brown 1997).
For anesthesia delivery, precision vaporizers and monitoring equipment (e.g., pulse oximeter for determining arterial blood oxygen saturation levels) increase the safety and choices of anesthetic agents for use in rodents and other small species. For injectable anesthestic protocols, specific reversal agents can minimize the incidence of some side effects related to prolonged recovery and recumbency. Guidelines for the selection and proper use of analgesic and anesthetic drugs should be developed and periodically reviewed and updated as standards and techniques are refined. Agents that provide anesthesia and analgesia must be used before their expiration dates and should be acquired, stored, their use recorded, and disposed of legally and safely.
Some classes of drugs such as sedatives, anxiolytics, and neuromuscular blocking agents may not provide analgesia but may be useful when