The pet owner is one of the best people to assess pain.
Studies in people have shown that those who receive appropriate pain management post-operatively recover more quickly from surgery and have less complications, according to Dr. Ashley Mitek, a veterinarian who is completing an internship in small animal medicine and surgery at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana. But do animals feel pain and require pain management in the same way as people do?
The answer is yes. Veterinary science supports that all mammals have the same neuro-anatomical structures that humans have to perceive pain, and pain medications should not be withheld from animals.
In addition to the obvious ethical reasons for not subjecting an animal to pain and suffering, there are physiological benefits to controlling pain in animal patients.
“Uncontrolled pain is associated with an increased production of “stress” hormones such as cortisol, which can cause many negative effects in the body including slower wound healing, increased blood pressure, decreased gastrointestinal motility, and increased length of hospital stay,” says Dr. Mitek.
After an animal undergoes a surgery, owners should be on the lookout for any signs of discomfort in their pet. According to Dr. Mitek, the pet owner is one of the best people to assess pain since they know the normal behavior pattern for their pet.
“Closely watch your pet’s behavior,” advises Dr. Mitek. “Is he acting like himself, eating and drinking normally? Does he still get excited when you get home? Is he playing with toys?”
According to Dr. Mitek, if your pet does not seem like himself, pants excessively, vocalizes unusually, is depressed, or is reluctant to move around, these may be signs of pain and you should contact your veterinarian immediately and discuss your concerns. If it is after hours and your local clinic is closed, Dr. Mitek advocates contacting an emergency veterinary clinic that can assist you and your pet.
“Like people, each pet will respond to pain differently,” says Dr. Mitek. “Pain is whatever the patient says it is. Therefore, each patient should be treated individually and carefully assessed for any discomfort, especially after undergoing surgery.”
It is also very important to follow the veterinarian’s instructions exactly for giving pain medication at home after surgery. Dogs are commonly sent home with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). An accidental overdose can cause gastric ulcers that can become life-threatening if left untreated. Opioids or narcotics, like tramadol and buprenorphine, are another type of pain medicine that can be prescribed for pets after surgery. Dr. Mitek says that these drugs have minimal side effects, but can cause mild sedation, or upset stomachs.
Owners should never give human medicine or over-the-counter drugs to pets unless directed by a veterinarian.
“Tylenol (also known as acetaminophen) is deadly in cats, and although giving a dose of baby aspirin may be tempting, there are much safer and more effective veterinary-specific NSAIDS on the market,” says Dr. Mitek. “In addition, if an owner were to give a pet an aspirin, a veterinarian may not be able to prescribe another more effective pain medication for several days due to the increased risk of stomach ulceration and other serious side effects.” So save that aspirin for your aching back and if you think Fido’s uncomfortable, call your veterinarian first!
For more information about pain management in pets, speak with your local veterinarian.
By Sarah Netherton