Your veterinarian relies on you to note subtle changes in your pet’s behavior that may signal pain. Changes in attitude, activity levels, and ability or interest in regular activities like climbing stairs or taking walks are clues that help veterinarians diagnose pain.
Pets often mask pain in the doctor’s office so you are the best source of information about how your pets act at home. Tell your veterinary professionals about any and all changes you have noticed. For example:
- Does your pet strain to get up when he/she first wakes up in the morning?
- Have you seen your dog limping during or after walks?
- Has your cat stopped jumping up to the sunny window to bask in the sun?
You and your family are the only people with access to this valuable information. Sharing it with your veterinary professionals can improve your pet’s quality of life.
Robin Downing, DVM, president of the International Veterinary Association for Pain Management (IVAPM), wants pet owners to ask more questions during exams.
“Clients need to ask veterinarians, ‘Can you tell if my pet hurts? Are you finding any evidence that my animal is in pain?’” she added.
Pain Management New in Animals, Infants
Over the last 10 years, veterinarians have made progress in the prevention, treatment and elimination of pain in companion animals, but the field is relatively new. Up until recently it was believed that pets, infants and the elderly did not feel pain because they could not report it, said Charles Short, DVM, PhD, who has helped develop pain management protocols since 1970. But the future is bright.
The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) recently issued standards for pain medication, which help guide veterinarians in medication decisions, and other veterinary groups have started to talk about coordinating pain care for patients.
As a result, more pets get pain medication after routine surgeries. For spays and neuters, Downing recommends five days of pain medication. When clients ask if an animal needs medication, Downing says, “If the procedure would cause pain in us, it’s going to hurt the animal.”
After running a series of blood tests to ensure safe application, Downing prescribes nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for joint pain and osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease in pets, as well as a chondroprotectant like Glucosamine.
She has also prescribed neurological modifiers to change the way the body signals pain. Downing never uses aspirin to alleviate pain. “There is no role for aspirin for the management of pain in dogs [or cats],” she said. “It’s not safe.”
Education is the key to changing client perceptions about pain. Many clients assume that old age is slowing their pets down when it may be pain.
Signs that May Indicate Pain
Subtle changes, Downing says, are the most important indicators of pain. If your dog has started sitting at the bottom of the stairs and whining when she used to race your kids up, tell your veterinarian. If your cat has become more vocal, or you have seen changes his/her eating habits, tell a veterinary team member.
The key is to report signs early so that you and your veterinary team, together, can treat pain and improve the lives of your pets.
This article originally appeared in PetsMatter Volume 1 Issue 1, published by the American Animal Hospital Association. Copyright © 2009 AAHA. Find out more.