Untreated pain is a common problem that can interfere with your pet’s quality of life. Oftentimes, pet owners are unaware their pets are in pain, since pets often hide their discomfort. Cats, in particular, are masters at hiding pain, as they are both a predatory and prey species. Owners of older dogs who no longer become excited about a nightly stroll, or cats who have stopped playing, often assume their pet’s slower pace is a normal aging sign, when arthritis pain may be the reason. To help make pet owners aware of subtle pain signs, and the impact pain has on a pet’s quality of life, the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management (IVAPM) has proclaimed September as Animal Pain Awareness Month.
At Compassion-First, we believe in helping your pet live their best, pain-free life, and our hospitals offer a variety of advanced pain management therapies. Many of our hospitals have board-certified veterinary anesthesia and analgesia specialists, who also are certified in other pain management therapies, such as acupuncture and rehabilitation. They work daily to help painful pets heal and recover, so they can continue to live active lives.
Why is pain detrimental to your pet’s health and well-being?
Rebecca Salazar, DVM, DACVAA, of Gulf Coast Veterinary Specialists, who is board-certified in veterinary anesthesia and analgesia, is passionate about making painful pets more comfortable. “Pain is as detrimental to your pet’s health and well-being as it is to people,” Dr. Salazar says. “Often, pets will not interact with their owners and may hide. They also may have trouble rising and may be stiff, which can result in decreased water and food intake. Pain has been known to cause detrimental emotional effects on everyday life in humans,” she says, and there is no reason to think that pain does not similarly affect our furry friends. You have undoubtedly experienced pain at some point, and likely understand the toll it can take on your overall well-being. Chronic pain, in particular, can have significant negative effects on a person’s, or pet’s, emotional health.
How can you recognize pain signs in your pet?
While vocalization and limping are easy to interpret, many pain signs are subtle, and pet owners may not easily associate them with discomfort. According to the IVAPM, less-obvious pain signs include:
- Inappetence — Not eating well can indicate oral pain due to dental disease or a broken tooth, and can also represent general malaise and pain.
- Decreased activity — Pain can cause your pet to sleep more and play less.
- Reluctance to climb stairs — Arthritis and limb pain can make tackling stairs difficult.
- Not jumping onto elevated surfaces — Jumping onto the couch or your bed may be painful if your pet has a rear limb injury, or arthritic hip joints.
- Difficulty standing after resting — Muscles and joints become stiff while resting, and your pet may have trouble rising first thing in the morning or following an afternoon nap.
- Excessively grooming or licking a particular body area or region — Referred pain may cause a pet to focus their attention to a particular body area, although the pain may be at a different location.
- Grumpiness — Painful pets often do not want to be petted or handled, and may respond by hissing, scratching, or biting.
- Inappropriate elimination — Painful cats may have trouble stepping into their litter box, while dogs may be too painful to get outside.
- Loss of muscle mass over the limbs and spine — Chronic pain can lead to inactivity, and muscle wasting.
What should I do if I think my pet is in pain?
If your older pet is lying around more than normal, or your cat has stopped eating, schedule an appointment with your family veterinarian, who will perform a thorough exam to determine whether pain could be causing your pet’s abnormal behavior. If your pet is diagnosed with a painful condition, your local Compassion-First hospital will partner with your family veterinarian to provide the most advanced, comprehensive pain management therapies available.
How will my pet’s pain be treated?
Each painful pet’s situation is unique and warrants an individually tailored pain management plan to best address the cause of their discomfort. After a thorough physical exam, pain assessment, and any diagnostic tests needed, a pain management plan will be developed specifically for your pet’s condition.
Pain management includes much more than anti-inflammatory and pain medications. A multimodal treatment plan is designed for each pet to best treat their pain, and may include:
- Veterinary acupuncture — Acupuncture has been used for more than 8,000 years in people and, in recent years, to treat painful pets. Needles placed at specific points along the body’s energy flow stimulate endorphin release and encourage healing and pain relief. Acupuncture can be used to treat many painful conditions, including:
- Muscle soreness
- Intervertebral disc disease
- Back pain
- Laser therapy — A therapeutic laser emits light energy, which the body cells absorb, stimulating faster metabolism and increased circulation. Improved blood flow leads to reduced inflammation, increased healing, and pain relief. Many painful conditions can benefit from laser therapy, including:
- Skin wounds
- Surgical incisions
- Weight loss — Excess weight can incite chronic inflammation, and strain already painful joints. If your pet is carrying extra pounds, weight loss can relieve joint stress and increase energy levels, which can vastly improve their quality of life and overall ability to function.
- Joint supplements — Many supplements can reduce inflammation and improve mobility. Glucosamine and chondroitin are most commonly used, but many products are available, and we advise consulting with your family veterinarian before giving your pet any supplement.
September may be Animal Pain Awareness Month, but at Compassion-First, we strive to help pets live pain-free every day. If you think your pet is in pain, speak with your family veterinarian, who can partner with one of our Compassion-First hospitals to help your pet live their best life.