Why is pet pain a concern?
Pain serves no purpose and robs an animal of joy and quality of life. In today’s world of pain medications, it is both right and ethical to relieve pet pain.
Pain serves as a warning signal of a problem, or a potential problem. To ignore these signals can lead to further health issues.
In addition, untreated pain prolongs recovery from illness, injury, or surgery and can actually increase complications.
Overweight animals can additionally suffer from maladaptive pain…. a syndrome when fat releases inflammatory chemicals, thereby actually increasing pain in an overweight pet.
What are sources of pain?
- Altered anatomy
- Repetitive injury
- Eye injury
- Oral problems
- Abdominal issues
- Struggling for air
Does my pet have pain?
Pain assessment in your pet has both personal dimensions and clinical dimensions.
Assessing pain on your pet personally may not be easy, as your pet will likely always try to show you their best side. They will be as happy as they can be when you are present. What you need to know is how your pet acts when you are not present. A hidden camera would be perfect, but we don’t usually have that convenience!
In addition, we must remember that in the wild, showing pain is a sign of weakness. Our pets, though domesticated for thousands of years, have well-ingrained instincts that dictate resisting any show of pain, weakness, or vulnerability.
Signs of pain at home may include:
- Change in behavior: Reluctance or refusal to do usual activities, withdrawal from family, lethargy, licking particular areas of the body, flinching or moving away from touch, decreased grooming in cats, aggression or decreased interaction with other pets, unsettled, “worried” expression, droopy ears, lies curled up
- Changes in appearance: Limping, stiff gait, arched back, failure to wag tail, muscle tremors, licking painful areas, altered facial expression, stiff neck, altered posture, increased panting, pupil dilation
- Crying or moaning: A pet that is crying or moaning is in severe pain—a “10” on a 1 to 10 scale. You don’t want to see your pet reach this point.
When we begin to assess pain clinically, we look at multiple issues:
- Is there a limp or change in mobility?
- Does the animal refuse to move a body part?
- Are there muscle tremors in a particular area of the body, or possibly all over?
- Is the pet wagging or using its tail normally? Pain in the back or pelvis will generally deter any tail wagging.
- Does the animal refuse to move altogether?
- Where is the pain emanating from?
Types of pain-relieving medications
It is important to know that pain medications must often be instituted first to relieve the animal’s pain so that they can tolerate any other forms of therapy.
- NSAID’s: A large acronym to describe the class of pain medications that include such things as ibuprofen, aspirin, and the like. In veterinary medicine, we lean toward the use of more sophisticated NSAIDs that have tremendous anti-inflammatory properties in addition to their pain-relieving abilities. Examples: Rimadyl, Previcox, Deramaxx, Metacam
- Morphine (Opioid-type drugs): Incredibly safe and effective pain relief, but with little anti-inflammatory ability. These will often be used alone or in combination with NSAIDs when significant pain relief is warranted.
- Tramadol (codeine-type drugs): Same uses as morphine
- Steroids: No greater anti-inflammatory exists than steroids, and through this quick and effective approach, pain is often relieved. Steroids also produce a euphoric effect, meaning an animal will just mentally feel better. Steroids are often just used short term, if at all.
- Transdermal medication: Applied to the inner ear every 5 days for pain relief and mild tranquilization.
- Anti-depressants: Often valuable in treatment because of added pain relief.
Can I try something I have at home?
Yes and No.
Aspirin is the most often questioned medication for pain in animals. It actually is a fairly poor pain killer, about 30 times less potent than currently prescribed pain medications. But aspirin is a great fever reducer if that is necessary for the treatment. It may be helpful in mildly painful conditions. Aspirin also has to be controlled in its usage because of its blood-thinning properties. Always ask us for a dose.
Ibuprofen also has limited usefulness in animal health because it is hard on the kidneys and stomach. A single dose or two can be used to get over a hump in a pinch.
Tylenol is toxic to cats but is occasionally used in dogs for nerve pain.
All other human prescription meds are rarely used because of potential side-effects.
What else can be done for my pet’s pain?
- Natural anti-inflammatories:
- Omega fatty acids: Reduces inflammation.
- SAM-e: Amino acids that reduce inflammation and increase the “feel good” brain chemicals.
- Glucosamines: Works behind the scenes to improve joint health and structure, thereby preventing further breakdown of joints and the associated pain.
- Hyaluronic Acid: Enhances joint fluid for proper joint fluid and cushion.
- Fish oil: Contains omega fatty acids and prostaglandins, both of which reduce inflammation.
- Antioxidants: Oxidative processes in the body contribute to inflammation and tissue breakdown, so antioxidants are helpful in all forms of healing.
- Lifestyle changes:
- Weight management if necessary
- Controlled exercise
- Rearrange basic amenities to reduce unnecessary movement
- Soft bedding
- Heated beds
- Alternative therapies:
- Orthopedic manipulation: Many pain reflexes can be lessened by the application of a stimulus to the spine, which triggers nerves to relax.
- Laser therapy: Thru the application of laser energy, cells are energized to heal and blood flow to the area is stimulated, thereby reducing inflammation.
- Cold therapy: Used in the first 36 hours to reduce inflammation and limit pain.
- Heat therapy: Used after 36 hours to stimulate healing and relax muscles and nerves.
- Massage/physical therapy: Always a consideration for long term relief.