Ash Veterinary Clinic


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How to Identify Pain in Pets

If you ask someone if they are empathetic, most people will say yes. Most of us have been brought up to value empathy and consider it a good thing. We like to think that we can imagine and feel the discomfort and pain of another, which is the definition of empathy. When push comes to shove though, it is often tough to be empathetic to another person’s troubles.

Veterinarians are often frustrated when they see a patient that they believe is in pain and recommend a treatment, only to have the client flatly deny that the animal is in pain and/or claim that the suggestion is only a means of taking money from their wallets. We, after all, have dedicated our lives to the relief of animal suffering and after four years of veterinary medical school, an internship or residency and years of clinical experience, it is tough to hear a client say out loud or in so many words, “You have no idea what you are talking about.”

The fact is that our dogs and cats do not send out the same signals humans do when they are not feeling well. Humans are always vocal and make it pretty obvious something is not right. There are folks with high tolerances for pain who go about their business and keep their aches and pains to themselves, but they are probably the exception to the rule. Humans like to complain.

                Our dogs and cats are often much more subtle. While the client may deny that their dog or cat has dental pain because they are still eating, the fact is that teeth that are fractured and gums that are bright red are painful. The dog or cat with dental pain is still eating because they have no other option. Animals with painful mouths know how to get food into their stomachs. They chew on the side of their mouth that hurts less. They swallow their food without chewing or they take their time with their portion. So, humans who live with companion animals need to watch for clues, especially subtle ones, as indicators that something is wrong.

Orthopedic pain, in the form of degenerative joint disease (arthritis), hip dysplasia and other problems of the bones and joints often can be difficult to identify, especially in the early stages. However, you might notice that your adult dog is sitting preferentially on one hip over another. That is called puppy sitting, and while it is normal in puppies, it is not normal in adult dogs. Cats with arthritis will often start avoiding the graceful floor-to-window catapult and start jumping from the floor to another piece of furniture, like an ottoman, and then cruising over to the sill.

Some clients are attuned to their dogs and cats and recognize discomfort and pain, but do not want to bring their companion to the veterinarian and desire an at-home treatment. Despite what Dr. Google might say, there are medications in your home that may cause more harm than good. Aspirin, Tylenol, Aleve, Advil and the like are found in many medicine cabinets, but those can and frequently do kill cats and dogs and should be off-limits. Fortunately, there are pain relievers specifically designed for cats and dogs that are much safer options.

                In the business, it used to be common that dogs and cats were sent home from their spay or neuter surgery without any medication to help relieve the pain and discomfort. In fact, clients were typically told by the veterinarians that pain control was contraindicated because pain kept the animal quiet and in some way helped with recovery. The good news is that now, we know that is not true. Pain control for animals is provided with every surgery we do.

Many of these behaviors that we attribute to neuroticism in our animal companions are not as much signs of mental illness as pain. Age is not a disease but pain is, and knowing that should make us all feel a bit sheepish. Here at Ash Veterinary Clinic and Emergency Center in Carleton, we want to work with owners to help your animal companion live a happy, healthy and pain-free life. If you have any questions or need to schedule an appointment please call us at 734-782-2827. 

[4:06:25 PM] Dianne Raftopoulos: