Ouch! That hurts. Pain in our pets.
By: Dr. Leslie Carr
I recently attended a veterinary educational conference that focused on pain management in cats and dogs. There are many new studies completed and pending that support the benefits of managing pain in our pets. Chronic Pain Management in human medicine is a HUGE field of practice. Yet veterinary medicine has been slow to catch on. That brings up my favorite question; “Why is that?” Maybe we do not recognize our pets are painful?
How do animals communicate they are in pain? They don’t speak English, Spanish or Japanese. They do however speak the universal language of dog (or cat). It is up to us as owners and veterinarians to interpret that language. The language of dogs and cats is interpreted through activity, posture and facial, tail or ear positions. Colorado State University has a wonderful, easy to understand pain scale for our furry friends.
Click on the links for an informative pdf of:
Colorado State grades pain on a scale of 0-4. Zero being pain free and four being severe pain. Grade 1 and 2 pain is a bit trickier sometimes. Grade 3 and 4 pans is very apparent, owners recognize it quite easily.
As a veterinarian, I often hear clients say things about their pets such as; “Oh, he isn’t painful, he is just getting older and slowing down.” Or “She can’t jump on the furniture (or into the car) any more, but she isn’t crying or anything.” How many of us humans moan and cry when we are sore and achy? Yet we take aspirin or other products, don’t we?
Sometimes when pain becomes chronic, slowly getting worse, it doesn’t seem all that noticeable to us. That is just the way it is. I know when I was having problems with arthritis in my thumbs; I changed my lifestyle to accommodate what I could no longer do. When the pain became unbearable, I elected to have surgery. What amazed me most postoperatively was the absence of pain. I was so used to chronic pain, it never dawned on me that it could go away. I hear this from my clients frequently after a pain management plan has been started with their pet. It amazes owners how much activity their four legged family member regains.
A cat or a dog that is pain free is content, doesn’t mind being touched, is comfortable at rest and is interested or curious about its surroundings.
Grade 1 pain reflects more restlessness, less curious or distracted by surroundings. Your pet may react to being touched by flinching, looking around at you or whimpering. Cats generally do not vocalize at this stage, but you may notice a change in the normal routines of the cat or withdrawal from its surroundings. Grade 1 pain signs may be subtle and difficult for owners to see. Not all grade 1 pain needs to be treated, but this may be a great time to start a joint supplement or a possible weight loss program (if your pet is overweight).
Animals with grade 2 pain look uncomfortable when resting or may be reluctant to respond to you. They are aware of their surroundings, but may not be as eager to interact with them or with people. Dogs and cats are less able to jump or climb stairs. The ears may be droopy or the facial expression may be worried. Dogs cry or lick at painful areas when not attended. When painful areas are touched, your pet may cry, flinch or pull away. Cats with grade 2 pain may have a loss of appetite or a rough hair coat from lack of grooming. They often lay curled and tucked up, seek solitude or be overly quiet. Their eyes may be dull. If the painful area is touched, the cat will respond aggressively hiss, scratch) or they may try to escape. Pets with grade 2 pain should have a pain management plan created for them by their veterinarian. The plan may include supplements, medications, weight loss, chiropractic or acupuncture treatment and possible physical therapy or rehabilitation.
Recognize any of these signs in your pet? There are solutions!
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