I always say we are fortunate to live in a society where we have the means and ability to take such good care of our pets. I know this is a cliché, but our pets are part of our families. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard the phrase, ” my mom worries more about her little dog than she ever did about us kids”. Bottom line, we want our pets to live comfortable, happy lives. One of the things we need to be aware of in our pets is the management of pain. Dogs and cats, as well as all other animals, do feel pain.
In my 20 years of practice, the attitude toward pain management has continued to evolve. We now understand how important pain control is for our pets’ well being, comfort, and ability to recover from an injury or surgery. We have at our disposal many different medications, supplements, and procedures available to help alleviate pain. I classify animal pain in two very broad categories. These are not official, textbook type classifications, just my own simple way to decide how to treat an animal that I think is in pain. The first one is trauma. Whether it is from an injury or surgery, pain management is an important part of our protocol at Snake River Veterinary Center. Even our routine dog and cat spays and dog neuters go home with pain medication. In fact, it is standard in most practices and should be expected. Pain causes stress in animals, which in turn causes the release of cortisol by glands in the body. This actually slows the healing process. Alleviating pain decreases stress, stops the release of cortisol, and speeds the healing process. We can all relate. When you and I undergo painful injuries or procedures, we appreciate a little pain management too. When we feel better, we recover faster.
The second type of pain is chronic pain from diseases such as arthritis. You know, the kind of pain many of us feel as we get a little older. Dogs and cats can also suffer from chronic pain. Animals are tough and sometimes they don’t show their discomfort in the same way people do so it can be difficult to assess pain in our pets. Some of the signs of pain may be as simple as they are reluctant to jump in to the car or on to the couch like they used to. Maybe their appetite has decreased or they won’t chase the ball. Sometimes they will growl or offer to bite someone if the think that person might cause them pain. We often attribute a pets slowing down because of age. I often hear, “he is just getting old, Doc, I don’t know what to do”. The good news is that we can manage the older pets’ pain, making them much more comfortable and returning them to their normal activities. It may be as simple as periodic oral medication. We can also prescribe supplements, special diets, and injections in more serious cases. Each pet is different and we use different approaches for each individual. I would like to add a caution here, DO NOT use human over the counter pain medication on your pets. Ibuprofen and Tylenol are toxic to pets. Visit with a veterinarian before giving your pet ANY human medication.
As many of you know, I am an avid waterfowl hunter. Due to this habit, I own a herd of Labrador retrievers. My oldest and most reliable lab is named Addie. She is 12 years old now and her and I have spent many hours together hunting ducks and geese. She is my right hand “dog” so to speak and holds a special place in my heart. She loves to go with me and is always a willing participant. The passenger seat of the pick up is her spot and if you sit in her place, she will give you dirty looks, just ask some of my hunting buddies. Recently, I was going to take her with me for a ride in the pickup. When I called her, she hid in her dog kennel and wouldn’t come near the pick up. I thought it was just her being stubborn (one of her less desirable traits) but quickly figured out she didn’t want to jump in the truck. An exam and x-rays told me she was starting to get sore in her hind end. She had already had knee surgery and years of hard work were beginning to take their toll. I started her on an anti inflammatory and a joint supplement and within a few days she was acting much better. Initially, I was concerned that her hunting days were over but she is feeling so much better that I think she will get to tag along again this season. Of course, more as an observer than a hard core participant but at least she will get to go along which will make her very happy.
So, whats the “take home” message here? First, if your pet is injured or undergoes a surgical procedure, expect them to be treated for the pain associated with the procedure. Second, if you have an older pet that is beginning to slow down a little and is having a harder time getting around, there are things we can do to keep them comfortable and active. Give us a call if you have questions and we will help you determine how to best help your pet.