Pet Pain Awareness and Management

by Dr. Shelby

September was chosen by the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management to celebrate Animal Pain Awareness. The selection of September harmonizes with human medicine's Pain Awareness Month. What a great reason to take the time to understand what pain is, and how it affects our furry family members!  

There are two different ways that pain is usually categorized: acute pain and chronic pain. Acute pain can be described as a sudden onset of pain due to injury, or inflammation. Chronic pain, on the other hand, is pain that develops slowly or pain that persists beyond the expected duration of acute pain. Acute pain is often easily recognized, whereas chronic pain can be more difficult. The subtle signs associated with chronic pain generally present themselves over an extended period of time.  

There are several reasons pets may experience pain. These reasons include, but are not limited to, injury, surgery, congenital defects, illness, arthritis, or old age. They can be difficult to recognize, but there are signs and symptoms that are frequently correlated with pain. Acute pain may present itself in ways such as whining/crying, decrease in appetite, favoring of body part or area on body, over grooming or licking of particular area, hiding, aggression, exercise intolerance, etc. Due to the body's physiological response to pain, it is essential to treat acute pain. Experiencing acute pain can even slow the healing process.

The most common signs that may be noticed with chronic pain consist of behaviors such as decreased activity, reluctance to jump on or off surfaces (such as couches, beds, countertops, in and out of vehicles), not going up or down stairs, difficulty standing after lying down, anorexia, decrease in grooming (especially cats), changes in urination or defecation habits, etc. It is critical to acknowledge and treat this type of pain because unrecognized chronic pain can sometimes lead to premature euthanasia. If you notice any of these signs or symptoms in your pet, it is a good time to request a pain assessment examination with your primary veterinarian. Keep in mind, if the condition or illness would cause you pain, it is no different for your pet.  

If your pet is experiencing pain, there are several options for pain treatment and management. Commonly accepted treatments involve pharmaceuticals, weight management, acupuncture, and physical therapy. These treatments can be used independently, or in conjunction with one another, for optimal pain management. It is important to discuss all options with your veterinarian in order to choose the best pain management plan for your furry family member. They will be sure to thank you!