Pets and Pain

By Dr. Cheri Nielsen
Pet Emergency and Specialty Center of Marin (Marin IJ)

Ad special members of our families, it’s difficult to see our cats and dogs suffering. Just like with children, we wish we could take the hurt away. But sometimes that’s just not possible and it’s important to know how to help our furry family members manage pain in uncomfortable situations.

As a surgical specialist at Pet Emergency and Specialty Center of Marin, I have a special passion for helping pets manage painful situations and I urge pet parents to understand a few important points about pets and pain.

1. Understand the different types of pain. Just as in humans, there are two main types of pain your pet can experience — acute pain and chronic pain. Acute pain comes on suddenly and strongly, generally due to injury or trauma. Acute pain typically goes away when the cause of the pain is treated. On the other hand, chronic pain generally lasts longer and develops more slowly. Chronic pain can be difficult to identify and treat because it is often brought on by age or other illnesses.

2. Know how to identify when your pet is in pain. If your pet has just had an operation, it’s safe to say they will be in some pain as they recover. But if the pain source is not so obvious, pet parents should be very aware of changes in behavior. Pets don’t have the ability to complain like we do, so watching for the following behavioral warning signs may help you identify a painful situation:

• Unusually quiet, listless, restless, or unresponsive

* Whining, trembling, whimpering, howling, or constantly meowing

• Biting when they normally wouldn’t

• Constantly licking or chewing at a particular part of the body

• Acting out of character, either aggressively or submissively

• Flattening ears against the head

• Trouble sleeping or eating

• Seeking more affection than usual

• Unable to get comfortable

3. Understand how you can help your pet. PESCM’s veterinary specialists take an individualized approach to pain control. We assess each patient for the source of pain, level of pain, expected duration of pain, along with their personality and any other medical conditions or medications. Understanding that your pet’s needs are unique to it is an important part of managing its pain appropriately.

It’s also important to get involved with your veterinarian in helping to manage the pain because you are often the best judge of your pet’s comfort. I tend to send medications home with a range of doses so clients can vary the amount given at each dose. This empowers them to make the best decisions for their pet as they recover.

4. Know your treatment options and best pain management solutions. Pain control is most effective when used before the pain actually starts. If a pet comes in for a procedure at PESCM, all anesthetic protocols are designed with this in mind. One of the major advantages of having round-the-clock veteerinerian and nursing staff is that patients can be monitored for comfort and kept on the optimal schedule of pain medications after surgery.

It’s also important to point out that many patients will benefit from several different types of pain management therapy. These include multiple classes of pain management drugs, dietary supplements, ice packing or warm compressing, comfortable bedding and even acupuncture.

5. Know what not to do. It’s not OK to give pets human pain medications or even veterinary pain medications for another household pet. Our ER sees too many cases of toxicity and overdose where clients were trying to help their pets be more comfortable by giving them a medication not prescribed to them. There are many options for pain medications in pets with tolerable side effects, but just like in humans, they must be prescribed specifically for your pet to avoid a hazardous situation.

No pet loving family wants to see its pets suffer, so it’s important for all pet parents to be cognizant of their pet’s behaviors. Any time you are in doubt about your pet’s pain level or comfort, it’s always best to consult with your veterinarian.

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