What is Percutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation?

Percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (commonly referred to as 'PENS') is a procedure that involves a vet using an electrical current to disrupt the function of a particular nerve (or group thereof) that is causing a dog an inordinate amount of discomfort. The procedure involves inserting two specially designed conductive needles into the animal's body and running an electric current between them, with the targeted nerve tissue lying in between. The electrical disruption of the nerve results in it no longer being able to transmit pain signals to the brain. This is typically only done if alternative methods of alleviating the dog's pain have been discounted, as the effects of the procedure can be permanent.

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Percutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation Procedure in Dogs

Before the treatment can begin, the vet will need to give the dog a local anesthetic and clean the two insertion sites ready for the electrode needles to be put in. They will also apply an electrically conductive patch known as a 'grounding plate', which will be stuck to the skin near the injection site so that the current can quickly leave the body. Next, they will insert the needles, taking care to situate them close to the relevant nerve or nerve ending for maximum effect. The vet will then run a low voltage current between the two contact points for roughly thirty minutes, this will deaden the nerve and impair its ability to broadcast pain signals to the rest of the nervous system. Overall, the procedure will take around forty minutes to complete, with the majority of the time being taken up by the electrification process.

Efficacy of Percutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation in Dogs

Most vets would describe the results of PENS to be mixed, mainly due to the highly variable and unpredictable nature of the possible results. Some dogs will derive great benefit from the treatment, with the nerve being deadened for the rest of their years, freeing them to resume a normal lifestyle. Others may find the effects of the treatment last just a few months or days before gradually wearing off and allowing the pain to return, whilst others may experience absolutely no effects whatsoever. This may lead some owners to consider a more permanent solution to chronic pain, such as a neurectomy, which involves surgically removing the problem nerve from the dog's body. Although effective in the long term, this can also have side effects such as continual numbness and a loss of coordination.

Percutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation Recovery in Dogs

After the nerve stimulation has been completed, the dog will be free to return home right away. The animal may display a degree of loss of coordination, depending on the location within the body that the treatment affected, but this can be expected for the first couple of days. Because of this, they should be allowed to rest for several days after the procedure, though there is no need to actively prevent them from exercising. Additionally, owners should take care to keep the points where the needles were inserted clean in order to avoid infections setting in. The vet will usually want to set up another appointment within the next few weeks in order to determine how effective the treatment has been and to make sure that the dog is not suffering from any major side effects.

Cost of Percutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation in Dogs

Whilst the procedure itself is relatively quick and uncomplicated, percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation requires significant knowledge and skill in order to perform safely. Because of this, owners can expect to pay between $300 and $500 to have the procedure performed. Alternative treatments meanwhile, can cost far more, with a neurectomy often being over $2,000 in price. Even measures such as painkillers can be quite inexpensive in the short term, but can start to ring up a hefty bill over time.

Dog Percutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation Considerations

Although PENS can be a very effective means of resolving issues with chronic pain (if the procedure is successful), some owners have concerns regarding the overall safety of the procedure. The first factor that is commonly brought up is the fact that there is a small risk of wider nerve damage that may impair the dog's ability to walk and perform other functions. This is because the treatment is often conducted in proximity to larger nerve clusters and may have knock-on effects. That said, these problems can typically be overcome with repeated physiotherapy (which may end up costing just as much as the original procedure).

Percutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation Prevention in Dogs

As discussed previously, the main causes of chronic pain are joint problems and internal injuries. Whilst some breeds of dog are genetically predisposed to developing health conditions such as arthritis, their owners can still put off the development of the problem for some time. This can be done by providing the dog with a good level of exercise in order to build muscle that will stabilize its joints and by feeding it a healthy diet that will aid in the proper development of its joints. However, sometimes there is no clear root cause for chronic pain, at which point the question becomes one of management rather than prevention.