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Postcards August 2015 - Is Your Pet in Pain?

How exciting to join The International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management (IVAPM) to celebrate Animal Pain Awareness Month to help educate pet owners on common signs of pain.


What if you couldn’t tell your doctor that you were in pain?  Animals suffer from pain just like we do. Pain comes in many forms: surgical pain, arthritis and cancer, just to name a few.  Acute pain is obvious and distressing.  Chronic pain can be subtle, and masked as “getting old” or “slowing down.”  Age is not a disease, but pain is. There are many options to treat the various causes of pain in animals including pain medications, physical rehabilitation and acupuncture.

Recognizing pain in animals is a challenge, however, there are some species-specific behaviors that can indicate pain and help us recognize it. For example, animals that are natural predators, such as dogs, behave differently when in pain than do prey animals, such as rabbits and horses. Prey animals tend to hide their pain, making recognition of pain even more difficult in these species.

Vital signs such as heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure may be used to assess responses to an acute painful stimulus, particularly during surgery or after severe trauma. These indicators by themselves are not specific enough to distinguish pain from other stresses such as anxiety, fear, or physical responses to certain medical conditions (such as anemia). In other words, an animal can still be in pain even if its heart rate and breathing rate are normal.

Recognizing pain-induced behaviors is difficult or impossible without knowing the normal behaviors of a particular species or breed. Behavioral changes associated with pain may be subtle and not easily recognized during routine checkups or examinations in animals.

Common Signs of Pain in Dogs:

  • Decreased social interaction

  • Anxious expression

  • Submissive behavior

  • Refusal to move

  • Whimpering

  • Howling

  • Growling

  • Guarding behavior

  • Aggression

  • Biting

  • Decreased appetite

  • Self-mutilation (chewing)

  • Changes in posture

Common Signs of Pain in Cats

  • Reduced activity

  • Loss of appetite

  • Quiet/loss of curiosity

  • Changes in urinary/defecation habits

  • Hiding

  • Hissing or spitting

  • Lack of agility/jumping

  • Excessive licking/grooming

  • Stiff posture/gait

  • Guarding behavior

  • Stops grooming/matted fur

  • Tail flicking

  • Weight loss

Natural and holistic pain relief methods for pets, like those for people, have become a topic of much interest. Many different vitamins, herbal preparations, nutraceuticals, and natural remedies are available. Most of these therapies have not been tested in scientific trials, so they are not guaranteed as safe and effective. Some may prove neither helpful nor harmful, a few might be helpful, and others might actually be harmful. If you are interested in giving your pet a nutritional or herbal supplement, consult your veterinarian to make sure it will not interact with any other drugs your pet is taking.

Several scientific trials have been conducted using acupuncture as a pain relief technique for pets, with encouraging results. Soft tissue manipulation, massage, heat and laser therapy may also provide relief from musculoskeletal pain, especially of the neck, back, and hips. Further research is needed to determine the optimal combination of pharmacological (drug) therapies and complementary or alternative techniques for various types of pain

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