ELISE M. ATKINSON, CVT
Until recently, pets were rarely treated for pain unless they were undergoing major surgeries or procedures, such as bone repair.
All that has changed, thanks to research that confirms pets not only feel pain, but it can interfere with their recovery as well.
Pain — and the associated effects of stress, such as increased heart rate — can slow a patient’s recovery. If severe pain is untreated, it may even cause neurological changes that result in severe, chronic pain.
Early Intervention Is Crucial
The veterinary team, which may include a pain specialist as well as the attending veterinarian and technician, will take advantage of the hours immediately following your pet’s surgery to “get ahead” of the pain so that it doesn’t have an opportunity to escalate.
When pain isn’t preemptively controlled this way, higher doses of medication are necessary, and that increases the risk of side effects.
While your pet is still in the intensive care unit, the veterinary team assesses the level of pain and develops a plan to help your pet through the recovery process.
Many factors are considered when creating an individual plan, including:
- The type of procedure and how long it took
- Your pet’s age, breed, and overall health
- The type of analgesics given before and during surgery
- The results of presurgical blood tests of kidney, liver, lung, and heart functions
Most pain management plans are multimodal, which means they combine many pain-relief approaches, such as medications (patches, injections, or pills); warm blankets or warming devices; a quiet, soothing environment; and good, old-fashioned TLC.
Following the surgery or procedure, your veterinarian or technician will explain home-care instructions. Don’t hesitate to call your veterinary team after you are home for reminders or clarification of the instructions. After all, you are an integral part of the team, and you all have the same goal: to ensure your pet’s comfort and speedy recovery.
Although most veterinarians offer some measure of pain relief following surgery, AAHA-accredited hospitals are required to assess and treat every animal’s pain before, during, and after surgery.
“Accredited practices undergo uniform training and develop whole staff awareness of patient pain and the means to minimize patient pain,” explains Doug Jones, DVM, of Animal Health Center in Orlando, Fla.
Putting the standards into practice means that pain management is a consistent focus for veterinarians and staff. Or, as Dr. Jones puts it:
“Pain management becomes an integral part of the accredited practice’s team.”
For more information about pain management, ask your veterinarian for the brochure Managing Your Pet’s Pain from AAHA Press.
Will my pet receive pain medication after surgery?
Ask your veterinarian for detailed explanations of what will be done to control your pet’s pain before, during, and after surgery.
- What kind of drugs will be used? How long will they last?
- Should my pet be tested before receiving pain medication?
- What are the side effects?
- Will you send my pet home with follow-up pain medication?
- What are the signs that my pet is having an adverse reaction to the medication and what should I do if I see them?
If your pet is vomiting, has diarrhea, appears restless, or is behaving abnormally, call your veterinarian immediately.
Pain Management for Pets
What You Should Know About Your Pet’s Pain Medication
Is Your Pet in Pain? (video)
Pain Drugs for Dogs: Be an Informed Pet Owner
Treatment for Pain in Cats
This article originally appeared in PetsMatter Volume 3 Issue 4, published by the American Animal Hospital Association. Copyright © 2009 AAHA. Find out more.