For a long time, it was believed that animals did not experience pain the same way that people do. Unfortunately, that meant that pain often went unrecognized and pets were left to suffer without relief.
We now understand that animals feel pain just like we do, and they endure the same debilitating consequences. With that understanding has come a revolution in pain control for animals. Just as in people, pain in our pets should be identified and promptly treated or, even better, prevented altogether.
How do I know if my pet is in pain?
One of the reasons pain has historically been misunderstood in animals is because pets often do not exhibit obvious signs of pain. For example, prey animals in the wild, like birds, instinctually hide pain so they do not appear weak and risk being attacked.
The first step to helping alleviate your pet’s pain is being able to recognize when he is uncomfortable. Signs of pain in dogs and cats can include:
- Decreased activity
- Loss of appetite
- Changes in behavior, including grumpiness or aggression in a normally friendly pet
- Avoiding interaction with people or other pets, especially hiding in cats
- Abnormal posture, particularly a hunched-up appearance
- Vocalizing (whining or crying)
- Limping or being unwilling to put weight on a limb
Common health conditions that cause pain
There are a number of common health conditions that can cause pain. Two of the most common are dental disease and arthritis.
Dental disease is the most common health problem in cats and dogs, affecting nearly 85 percent of our pets. Without regular teeth cleaning, dental disease is unavoidable. As plaque and tartar build up on the teeth, the buried tooth surface and surrounding gum tissue can become inflamed, infected, and start to decay. Cats can even develop cavity-like resorptive lesions on their teeth. If you have ever had a tooth ache, you know that tooth pain is excruciating, yet many pets have advanced dental disease without their owners realizing that they are in significant pain. If your pet has dental tartar, red gums, is eating less, or does not want you to touch his face, he may have tooth pain. Some additional signs include excessive drooling, pawing at his face, and terrible breath.
Arthritis is caused by a multitude of diseases that cause degeneration of one or more bony joints. Skeletal conditions, such as hip dysplasia in dogs and vertebral degeneration in cats, cause inflammation of the joints and serious pain. Limping, abnormal gait, or shying away from being touched can all indicate that your pet may have arthritis.
Even if you haven’t noticed the classic signs of pain in your pet, if he has been diagnosed with a disease that can lead to increased pain, watch closely as time goes on so you can control any pain that may develop.
How can I help alleviate my pet’s pain?
If you think your pet may be painful, call our office. During your office visit, we will perform diagnostic tests and a full pain assessment to determine the source of your pet’s pain. We will then formulate a pain treatment plan that is just right for him.
There are many pain medications and treatment options available for pets experiencing pain; we can prescribe the proper medications that best address your pet’s discomfort. We may also suggest additional therapies, such as rehabilitation, laser treatments, or even ice/heat treatments for you to do at home.
NEVER attempt to treat your pet’s pain with human medications. Many of the anti-inflammatory medications that humans can safely use are extremely toxic to pets. Drugs like aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol®), ibuprofen (Advil®), and naproxen (Alleve®) can be unsafe for pets and should never be given to them without first consulting your veterinarian.
How can I prevent pain in my pet?
Pain is always easier to prevent than treat once present. If we know that pain is likely to result from a procedure or situation, we will suggest the use of pain-relief medications, such as anti-inflammatories and/or analgesics. Surgical procedures, even if routine and seemingly minor (such as spays and neuters) cause pain and require the use of pain-relief medications. Analgesics should also be used prior to other procedures that require sedation or anesthesia because of the level of discomfort involved. By anticipating painful events and using appropriate medications, we can prevent much of the pain that would be expected.
As a pet owner, you keep your pet pain-free by recognizing signs of pain, watching for symptoms of illnesses that are associated with pain, and approving the use of pain medications suggested by your veterinarian. Our goal is to work with you to help your pet live a pain-free life. If you have questions about pain, or if you think your pet may be painful, call our office at 704-827-7422.