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Pets and pain management

Learning about pain management can greatly improve the health and vitality of your pet.
Learning about pain management can greatly improve the health and vitality of your pet.
Lisa Kropp

When humans are in pain, a few simple words are all that is needed to make discomfort known. While pets cannot tell us when they are in pain, various signs can. Effective pain management is a vital part of caring for your pet and assuring their comfort. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, pain control can also help your pet recover more quickly and lessen the chance of serious complications or even death.

“Some pets are stoic and will exhibit few overt signs of pain,” said Mark Stickney, DVM, College of Veterinary Medicine, Texas A&M University. “Pet owners must be attuned to their pet’s normal behaviors. The most consistent sign of pain in an animal is a change from its usual behavior.” According to Stickney, some signs that your pet is in pain are vocalizing, decreased appetite, reluctance to play, jump, or climb stairs, lethargy, limping, growling or hissing when touched in a painful area, trembling, and excessive salivation.

Understanding signs of pain is important for any pet parent. According to the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management, an animal’s behavior and interactions can be unique to the type of pain it is experiencing. An animal’s reaction to pain is also dependent upon its personality and degree of pain. There is a lot of variation when dealing with pets and how they exhibit their pain. Just like in people, different kinds of stimuli or injury can cause different levels of pain.

Although Stickney cites vocalization as an indicator of pain in pets, some animals will display less obvious reactions, according to Bonnie Wright, DVM and assistant professor of anesthesiology at Colorado State University.

“Animals will be seldom vocal about their pain. They will have more demeanor changes,” said Wright. Prolonged activity changes such as decreased mobility and different sleeping patterns are signs that can easily be confused for symptoms of old age or laziness.

“One thing for pet owners to do that can help determine if their pet is in pain is to think back about if things with the pet have changed over time,” said Wright. “There is also the importance of determining chronic pain or acute pain. These are really different in terms of signs.”

According to Healthypet.com, chronic pain is long lasting and usually slow to develop. Some of the more common sources of chronic pain are age-related disorders such as arthritis, but pain can also result from illnesses such as cancer or bone disease. Pain stemming from these illnesses may be the hardest to deal with because it can often continue for years or even for an animal's entire lifetime. Also, because it develops slowly, some animals may gradually learn to tolerate the pain and live with it. This can make chronic pain difficult to detect.

Acute pain, on the other hand, comes on suddenly as a result of an injury, surgery, or infection. It can be extremely uncomfortable for the pet and may limit mobility. However, this type of pain is usually temporary. It generally goes away when the condition that caused it is treated.

“When dealing with acute pain, we can address the issue of pain management post-operatively,” said Wright. “We can use drug-type tools and regional techniques such as nerve blocks.”

The use of regional nerve blocks for oral surgery in dogs and cats is synonymous with quality patient care. Dental nerve blocks provide excellent pain management for many oral procedures. They are easy and inexpensive to perform and provide a rapid onset of action. As pain management becomes more of an important issue in veterinary medicine, an understanding of how pain develops and spreads becomes greater.

While medication is a common form of treatment, there are simple remedies that a pet owner can perform to help diminish aches and pains. Preventative measures such as massaging, observing the pet’s diet, and watching for changes in exercise are all beneficial ways to uncover any potential problems.

Contact the Birmingham Pet Clinic for more information on how to deal with managing pain in pets.

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