In recent years, veterinarians have become more and more aware of the effects of pain on pets and sought safe and effective ways to manage it. Pain doesn’t just make your pet uncomfortable; it has more subtle effects that can cause further health concerns, such as high blood pressure and suppression of the immune system. Intense pain can also result in a slower recovery from their surgery or medical condition.
An interesting study in people with chronic pain showed that they also developed deficits in memory, attention, and mental flexibility that could be attributed to their ongoing discomfort. If dogs are similarly affected, then it could result in behavioral changes that could cause major inconvenience to their pet parents.
These outcomes mean that it’s important that we’re able to recognize when our pet is in pain to maintain their quality of life, but this isn’t always straightforward. They don’t always cry out or limp; the signs can be more subtle. They may lick the sore part of their body or breathe a little faster than normal. They may hide away or alternatively, look for comfort from you. It’s not uncommon for them to show unusual aggression when they’re hurting, which can take pet parents by surprise.
There are two steps to managing pain in pets:
First, it’s essential to work out what’s causing the pain, and your veterinarian can help with this. This means if they’re limping, then x-rays may be needed to look for changes in their bones or joints. If it’s a painful abdomen they’re dealing with, blood tests would be in order to rule out disease in any of their internal organs. When you’ve reached a diagnosis, then the appropriate treatment should make your pet feel more comfortable.
Secondly, medication can be prescribed to ease your pet’s pain. There are many types of drugs that control pain. One commonly used group is the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which include meloxicam and carprofen. They’re often used to manage arthritic pain. Another group of drugs is opioids such as fentanyl, tramadol, and buprenorphine. These are popular for post-operative pain. Like all drugs, pain-relieving medications can have adverse effects. Your vet will take these into consideration when choosing an appropriate drug for your pet so they’ll get the best pain relief with the least risk of an undesirable outcome.
Some alternative therapies are popular for pain relief. Some pet parents find that acupuncture and massage help with arthritic pain, as can fish oil and glucosamine. However, they may not be enough on their own, so you might still need to add pharmaceuticals to your pet’s pain management program.
If you think your pet is hurting, don’t be tempted to give them some of your pain medications. They can make them even sicker. For example, acetaminophen can be fatal to cats and ibuprofen may cause stomach ulceration in dogs. It’s important that you take your pet to their veterinarian to obtain a proper diagnosis so that you can start your pet on the correct (and safe) treatment program.