Shari Sears knew something was wrong with Butterscotch, her 15-year-old cat.
“She would cry and just didn’t seem happy at all,” said Sears, who monitors the cat’s glucose levels and gives her insulin shots to regulate her diabetes. “She was not her perky little self,” she recalled.
Sears took Butterscotch to Veterinary Associates of Cape Cod, an AAHA accredited clinic in Massachusetts, where Thomas M. Burns, DVM, diagnosed her with acute pancreatitis. He included a pain management exam and a management plan with her medical workup.
Veterinary technicians at the hospital monitor patients for pain when they check their temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate. “If the entire team is on board, it equals better pain management for your pet,” Burns said.
Before Butterscotch got sick with pancreatitis, Sears had not thought about pain management but said she saw signs of improvement the first time she visited Butterscotch in the hospital. “She seemed more comfortable,” she said.
Hundreds of pets like Butterscotch benefit from AAHA’s pain management standard, which requires accredited hospitals to assess every patient for pain and provide pain management programs.
“Pre-emptive pain control is an important aspect of the AAHA standards,” said Spencer Tally, PharmD, DVM, at Pet Vet Clinic, an AAHA-accredited hospital in Georgia. He describes pain management as an essential component of the medicine he provides, and believes that it speeds recovery. “We help clients relate to the need for pain control by comparing the pain humans experience with similar procedures or illnesses,” he explained.
When patients are scheduled for surgeries or other painful procedures, AAHA-accredited professionals anticipate the level of pain they could experience and treat accordingly.
“I believe proactive pain control not only eases discomfort for patients but increases the likelihood of a successful outcome,” Burns said.
How can I tell if my pet is in pain?
Here are some clues:
- self mutilation
- excessive licking
- snapping when touched
- hesitation going up stairs
- posture changes
- dilated pupils
- inappropriate urination
- sudden behavior changes
What do you do if your pet is in pain and your veterinarian’s office is closed?
If your veterinarian’s office is closed, call the emergency hospital your veterinarian recommends. For questions about medication, it is very important to follow the directions printed on prescription bottles provided by your veterinarian. Always talk to your veterinarian before you stop or change a dose of any medication. Never give your pets medication, especially human ones, without consulting a member of your veterinary team. Something as harmless as aspirin can harm a pet. Remember that many natural remedies and herbs can also be toxic to your pets. Natural does not mean safe.
What to expect during pain assessments
Veterinary members will examine and palpate a pet’s entire body, which may include flexing all the joints. Your pet may need to sit, stand, walk, and run if arthritis or joint problems are suspected. Be prepared: Pets that are in pain may cry out or try to bite during this exam. This response helps identify a painful area as well as determine the extent of the pain. The exam may include radiographs and a hospital stay so that professionals can observe your pet over a 24-hour period.
What can you do for your pet?
No one wants to see a pet suffer. Educate yourself about the importance of pain management. If your pet is on a pain management program, he/she should be seen regularly for rechecks. Your pet may need more or less medication and the veterinarian is depending on you to monitor your pet closely for signs that a program is working – or that it needs adjustment. Pain management is not just a pill you give your pet. It can include massages, ultrasound, swim therapy, cold/hot packs, acupuncture, and adjustments to your home. For example, raised food dishes can help pets with arthritis or back problems. It is important to talk with your veterinarian to decide what will work best for your pet. After all, who knows your pet better than you?
Questions to ask your veterinarian about pain management:
- Is pain a part of my pet getting older?
- Do you have a pain management program?
- Do you offer alternative therapies such as massage and acupuncture – or do you refer?
- Will you give my pet pain medication before, during, and after surgery?
- Will you send home pain medication for my pet?
- Are there other things I can do at home to help?
International Academy of Veterinary Pain Management: www.cvmbs.colostate.edu/ivapm
Healthy Pet website — ree handouts: www.healthypet.com
This article originally appeared in PetsMatter Volume 2 Issue 5, published by the American Animal Hospital Association. Copyright © 2009 AAHA. Find out more.