Let’s face it…Pain hurts.
Broken bones hurt, arthritis hurts, having a tooth pulled hurts, surgery…it hurts. Imagine not having the ability to verbalize where and how much something hurts. This is a serious and potentially debilitating dilemma faced by our pets who experience pain due to illness, disease, or surgery.
Just as in human medicine, advancements in the understanding of pain and the development of safe and effective pain medications is leading to an improved quality of life. Veterinarians are now able to choose from a wide variety of medications and techniques to help ease the pain our pets experience. Untreated pain affects the healing process, interferes with sleep cycles and depresses the immune system. Alleviating the pain our pets experience improves pulmonary and cardiovascular function, shortens post-surgical hospitalization times and improves mobility.
What is Pain?
Pain is defined as an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage. Pain is very subjective and difficult to measure, especially in veterinary patients. Some patients experience seemingly excruciating pain to conditions which one would not normally associate with being extraordinarily painful. In contrast, a different patient with a similar problems may seem to experience no pain at all. One of the two patients needs pain medication, but how does one determine pain in the patient who is showing no signs of pain?
In some situations, we can safely assume a dog or cat is experiencing pain, such as with obvious traumatic injuries or after some surgical procedures. Many times, the evidence is more subtle and we, owners and veterinarians, need to train ourselves to be keen observers and trust in our intuition when assessing our pets.
In dogs and cats experiencing pain, we see behavioral pattern changes. They become withdrawn and inactive, or they may react negatively to being picked up or held. A patient’s appetite is frequently adversely affected by pain. Subtle behavioral changes, may be the only way your pet can communicate pain. Owners seeing such changes in their pets should consult with their veterinarian.
Treating the Pain
Thankfully, veterinarians have access to a variety of medications and techniques to help treat pain in our pets. Our knowledge of how pain works in dogs and cats and our ability to increase comfort has taken some positive and remarkable strides in the past decade. As a dog owner, you have a variety of products available to maintain the quality of life of your pet, even in the face of the degenerative effects of aging and accident-induced trauma the damage and trauma and accidents. When it comes to cats, we should remember that cats are not small dogs. Never give your cat a medication prescribed for your dog. Never administer an over-the-counter pain medication intended for use in people unless directed by your veterinarian. There are numerous safe and effective products from which to choose to treat pain in cats. One must be aware of the potential toxicity of pain medications in cats. You should always consult with your veterinarian prior to administering any kind of medication to your cat. Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), naproxen (Aleve), and other aspirin substitutes used for treating headaches and pain in people, for instance, are profoundly toxic to our feline friends. Also, acetaminophen (Tylenol) must never be given to cats. A single dose of Tylenol may prove fatal to a cat.
Nutraceuticals, NSAIDS (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications), opioids, steroids, and holistic alternatives are all used to help alleviate and mitigate pain in veterinary patients. Most of these medications are safe when used under the supervision of your veterinarian. All medications, however, have potential side effects. Reactions to medications of any type can be variable, subtle, severe, or unusual. Thus, always maintain an ongoing dialogue with your veterinarian while your pet is receiving pain medications.
You and your veterinarian need to discuss the pros and cons of any medications recommended for your pet, especially if they will be taking it on a continuous basis. If you are concerned about a potential side effect associated with administration of any kind of medication, it is best to discontinue the product and contact your veterinarian.
Dr. Scotty Gibbs is the owner of Hilltop Animal Hospital, and a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association and is a past President of the North Carolina Veterinary Medical Association.