Pain Management

One of the hardest things for a pet owner is the inability to understand if your pet is suffering or in pain. However, if your pet seems out of sorts or protests as some or all movements, it may be that they are in pain. Pain can be caused by a number of different things, but the good news is that in most cases management is possible.

How might I know if my pet is in pain?
One of the easiest ways to tell if your pet is in pain is by monitoring their behavior. Animals tend to display their pain by exhibiting changes in their behavior and daily routine. Some of the signs or symptoms that you might see include:

Increased vocalization – all animals may display increased vocalization if they are in pain. This could vary from a continual whimper or whine to sporadic yelps and barks. This may be particularly evident if your pet is moving around when they vocalize. If your pet has recently become extremely vocal and the reasons are unclear, you should always refer them to your veterinarian.

Increased/heavy panting (Dogs) – panting is normal in all dogs, and an owner should expect panting to reasonably increase after sustained exercise or in humid conditions. However if your pet begins to pant heavily for no visible reason then it could be caused by stress due to pain. Heavy panting should always be checked out by your veterinarian.

Lack of appetite – Just like humans, animals usually go off their food when they are unwell. A rejected food bowl is a good indication of illness or pain and you should speak to your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Limited/changes in movement – it might be quiet obvious that your pet may be in pain if they are limping or visibly demonstrating discomfort. However, your pet may just avoid specific movements such jumping, climbing the stairs or even just sleeping in their usual position.

Excessive grooming – while some grooming is to be expected, if your pet is displaying obsessive grooming behavior and particularly if they are focusing on a specific area, then this could indicate they are nursing a wound or injury. Even if there is no open wound visible, you should still contact your veterinarian.

Antisocial/aggressive behavior – becoming antisocial is pretty much the only way your pet can let you know that they don’t want to be touched, and this could be because they are in pain. Your pet may also display aggressive behavior to warn you away if they are worried that you may accidentally cause them pain. If either of these changes in behavior occur quite suddenly then it is highly likely that pain is the cause, and you should seek the advice of your veterinarian.

Reduced bladder/bowel control – animals that are in pain may struggle to do their business in the right location if it is uncomfortable for them to move even short distances or get their bodies into certain positions.

Why might my pet be in pain?
There are various reasons why your pet may be experiencing pain and the course of pain management that they need will vary depending on the cause of their discomfort. Your pet may suffer from acute (short lived) pain as a direct result of an injury, surgery or illness, or from chronic pain which is a slow-developing and long-lasting pain. Detection of chronic pain is usually more difficult as your pet develops a slight tolerance for it, and so symptoms may not be as severe or sudden.

Reasons for pain can include but are not limited to:
  • Infection
  • Injury
  • Degeneration of tissue, particularly in joints
  • Post-surgery healing or complications
  • Other complications that come from aging

What should I do if I suspect my pet is in pain?
If you believe that your pet is in pain you should always consult a veterinarian and you must never try and administer pain relief yourself. In order to help your pet your vet must undertake the necessary tests to diagnose the cause of the discomfort. It may be that a course of antibiotics to deal with an infection will help to alleviate their pain and if pain management is necessary, your veterinarian will be able to prescribe an effective analgesic for your beloved animal.

What sort of treatment will my pet be given?
The type of treatment your pet will receive will depend on the cause of their pain. However the standard form of pain management is medication and these are now available in liquids, skin patches and gels as well as pill form.

Steroids tend to be the traditional treatment as they are anti-inflammatory as well as analgesic. However prolonged use is strongly discouraged as they can have adverse side effects, so if your pet is prescribed steroids it is vital that you follow the dispensing instructions exactly.

There are also NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) which are regularly used in pain management, and have demonstrated much fewer adverse side effects.

You may also wish to consider using some holistic treatments alongside standard pharmaceutical care. Acupuncture, homeopathic remedies and massage have all shown to be beneficial in pain management in animals. Your veterinarian will be happy to advise you if they believe holistic therapies will be useful for your pet. Ultimately the best treatment is one that is tailored specifically to the diagnosis and needs of your animal.

When it comes to pain management in pets the most important thing to remember is that each animal is unique and therefore the symptoms that they display, the tolerance to pain that they may have and the root cause of the problem will all be unique to your pet too. We understand that it is traumatizing to see your pet in pain and being unable to help them, which is why we recommend that if you even just suspect that your pet is in pain, you should take him to your veterinarian as soon as possible. As a team you should be able to determine the cause of your pet’s pain and find a suitable treatment that will manage if not completely diminish their discomfort.