Pain: The Veterinarian's Ultimate Opponent
Patapsco Valley View
Volume 15 April 2013
Pain: The Veterinarian's Ultimate
Opponent! Your Pet May Be
Hurting More Than You Know
A rather happy, tail wagging pooch enters the exam room in front of the veterinarian. The one thing that seems pretty obvious to the doctor is the fact that the dog is holding a leg slightly off the ground as he stands happily before her.
“How long has Frisco been in pain?” the doctor asks worriedly.
“Oh, he‘s not in pain,” the owner replies with complete honesty, “he hasn‘t been crying.”
We hear this statement all the time from pet owners who don’t realize the distress that their pet might actually be in. The perceived notion of many people is that if their furry friend wags his tail, acts happy, and doesn’t actually ’talk’ of their pain by crying or whining, then there is no pain.
But this is far from the truth.
Most animals are survivors, with a built in instinct to hide any pain that can be read by other predatory animals as a clue to their vulnerability, and a signal that they are an object of prey.
It is a rare animal who will not ‘bite their lip’ or ’shake it off’ when they have discomfort. This doesn’t mean that when an animal is suddenly hit or kicked, or falls off something high that they aren’t going to cry out violently. What it means is that an animal who feels pain over time normally will acclimate to it and learn to go on with the normal aspects of life to the best of its ability. Dogs and cats are not ’whiners’. Most dogs live to please and will drag themselves up from a comfortable bed to go out for a ’walk’ with Dad or Mom even if it means that the 20 degree cold is going to exacerbate their arthritis.
Cats will normally go about their normal daily habits until they are quite ill, and even then they won’t complain. They will go off and hide under the bed, stop eating, or start urinating out of the litter box. Cats have learned through generations of surviving ‘in the wild’ that they cannot show weakness.
Just imagine how you would feel if you could not avail yourself of your favorite pain killer and had to suffer without relief. That would be unbearable. Yet many pets endure chronic pain day after day because their owners don’t realize they hurt. This is why veterinarians often need the help and knowledge of the people who live with these furry family members to help ascertain whether your pet is in pain and how best to fix the problem.
Pain can be exhibited in a myriad of ways…
Your pet may eat more slowly or may not want to eat at all. He may be more reluctant to get up from a spot on the floor, or pace and have a hard time getting comfortable. He may hold his leg funny or not put full weight on it, or may walk stiff and slow. She may flinch when you touch a sore spot while stroking her fur. In some cases your pet may even nip at you if you touch a sore spot without intending to. Your pet isn’t trying to be nasty. She HURTS!
Some people come into our office frustrated when the dog that was hopping around on three legs an hour ago is now seemingly ‘cured’ as he comes through the hospital’s front door. Your pet may still be in a good amount of pain but the adrenaline rush of going ‘for a ride in the car’ or the fear of ‘seeing the doctor’ tend to overwhelm the pain sensation. Once he gets home Toby is likely going to revert to being a ‘tripod’ again.
So we need you to let us know everything you have noticed about changes in your pet’s behavior. Normally this is a better indicator of pain in an animal that any whining. Animals in pain need attention, and the sooner the pain is dealt with the less likely it will become a serious problem and the happier your furry friend will be.
There are so many new options for pain management available now, but the first step is to determine just WHAT is causing the pain. We may need to do Xrays, or blood work to determine the cause of pain and discomfort. Once determined we can choose a good method of treatment for YOUR pet.
There are many medications available, including several holistic options such as nutraceuticals, accupuncture, and now cold laser therapy. These have the benefit of eliminating pain as well as enhancing healing, usually with no adverse effects, unlike most traditional medicines. And the cost is often the same or less.
Just remember if your pet is acting differently, not moving properly, or favoring a body part they are likely to be hurting. Your veterinarian can help you determine if pain is a part of your pet’s life and what you can do to alleviate it for them.