Pets and Pain
By Emily Hoppmann, DVM
When you are wondering if your pet is in pain or if a disease or particular procedure may cause them to become painful, it is helpful to keep in mind that anything that is painful for you will likely also be painful for your pet. Although people and the wide variety of pets in the world are all different species, we all process and feel pain similarly. Advances in modern veterinary medicine and surgery have aided in increasing the lifespan of our beloved pets, but also allowed veterinarians to improve the level of care provided to pets throughout their life stages. As pets are living longer and longer, certain geriatric diseases are becoming more common and many of these conditions are uncomfortable for our pets (from osteoarthritis to cancer). These advances have also changed how many of our beloved pets are undergoing more intense surgical procedures to treat a variety of disease processes, from a torn cruciate ligament to aggressive tumor removals. Pain management has become an important specialty area in veterinary medicine just as it has in human medicine. Veterinarians and owners alike want the best for our four-legged family members and that includes top-of-the-line treatments for pain management.
As hard as it is to believe, there was a time when physicians did not think that infants could feel pain and so procedures were performed with no pain medication. However, it was also once thought that animals did not experience pain and knowing when a pet is in pain can still be challenging since they do not outwardly react to pain in the same ways human do. Research has shown that all of us, regardless of age or species, feel pain in much the same way, even if we express it differently. Knowing that pets experience pain in the same way that humans do has allowed the medical community to understand that if a procedure or condition is thought to be painful to humans, it will also be painful to our furry friends as well. Determining if your pet is in pain can be difficult to do since pets go to great lengths to hide signs of pain from us. Since they are not able to vocalize their feelings to us, we often miss subtle cues that they do show that indicate pain; such as a reluctance to go up or down stairs or jump onto furniture, panting excessively, pacing/not being able to get comfortable, being slow to rise after sleeping and loss of interest in playing, running, or jumping (or not being able to be active for as long as they used to be). It is also important to remember that in the wild, an animal that appeared weak or injured would often be rejected by the other animals in his/her group and was more likely to become preyed upon, so hiding any signs of something being wrong was literally a matter of life or death. This is another one of the many reasons that bi-annual examinations are so important. When your pet receives a thorough head to tail exam, your veterinarian is often able to pick up on areas of discomfort that your pet may be trying to hide! In order to offer pets the best care and address all of their needs, proper pain management must be provided to all patients in need (even the stoic ones who do their best to put on a brave face!).
We take pain management very seriously at all stages of a patient’s life. If there is any pain associated with any surgical or medical procedure, your pet will receive appropriate therapy before, during, and after the procedure. If your pet is suffering from either a short-term or long-term painful medical condition, part of the treatment plan for addressing the disease will be an individualized pain management protocol. By working together as a team, we can be sure to keep your pets as comfortable and happy as possible throughout their lives. We want to ensure that our patients are able to live the highest quality life possible well into their senior years!