Your pet is your beloved companion, and we know you don’t want her to be in pain. But, loving owners often do not notice their pet is suffering, because pets can show pain in different ways than people. If your pet is limping or crying out, she is obviously uncomfortable, but other, less obvious pain signs can include:
- Decreased appetite
- Biting or scratching
- Aversion to being picked up or petted, especially near a painful area
- Reluctance to move around
- Slowing down
Because pets instinctively try to appear strong—rather than a weak prey opportunity—they often override the need for pain relief and go to great lengths to hide their pain. Cats, in particular, will show no obvious signs of illness or pain until the condition is advanced and they can no longer hide their discomfort. Pain signs in older pets are often mistakenly attributed to normal aging changes, but a pet who is pain-free should have a normal activity level and attitude, regardless of age. A senior pet who is slowing down or who has become irritable is likely in pain.
Effects of pain on pets
Pain is detrimental to your pet’s physical and mental health. Pain stimulates your pet’s sympathetic nervous system, also called the flight-or-fight system, and causes cortisol release, which delays healing, and increases her heart rate and blood pressure. Pain also stimulates nerve endings and makes them more sensitive to pain, a phenomenon known as wind-up. The wind-up process makes pain more difficult to treat, compared with prevention before pain occurs. Your pet often can be given less medication to prevent pain before a procedure than she would need to resolve pain.
Diagnosing pain in pets
Before we can treat a pet’s pain, we must diagnose it. At Westerville Veterinary Clinic, we offer a special pain assessment package that includes:
- Thermal imaging of the pet’s body surface, which will detect soft tissue injuries and inflammation, and includes joint pain and muscle spasms
- Digital X-rays
- Interpretation of the X-rays by a board-certified radiologist
- One free laser treatment
Once we’ve diagnosed your pet’s pain and determined the source, we’ll be able to more effectively manage it.
Pain-management options for pets
Many pain-management options are available for your pet. The combination of therapies we recommend will depend on many factors, including:
- Your pet’s pain type
- Your pet’s pain severity
- Your pet’s pain source
- The expected pain duration
- Your ability to administer medications to your pet
At Westerville Veterinary Clinic, we may treat your pet’s pain with one, or a combination, of the following pain-management therapies:
- Anti-inflammatories — Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are frequently used for chronic pain because they reduce swelling, inflammation, fever, and pain without causing sedation. NSAIDs can be used to manage short-term pain, such as post-operative pain, or long-term pain, such as pain from chronic orthopedic conditions like hip dysplasia. Most NSAIDs are safe for long-term use, but gastrointestinal upset or kidney damage occasionally can occur. We may perform periodic lab tests while your pet is taking an NSAID to monitor organ function.
- Cannabidiol tablets or oil — People have experienced the medical benefits of cannabidiol (CBD), and many products now can benefit pets, as well. Although CBD is derived from the cannabis plant, it contains a negligible amount of THC and will not cause psychoactive effects in pets. CBD tablets or oil can be used alone or in conjunction with other therapies to provide relief from chronic pain, such as arthritis. CBD will not cause kidney, liver, or gastrointestinal damage if used correctly.
- Analgesics — Analgesics are medications that interrupt pain transmission to the brain, so pain is not perceived or felt. Analgesics include opioids, such as morphine or buprenorphine; synthetic opioids, such as tramadol; and neuropathic medications, such as gabapentin. Analgesics are often used to treat moderate to severe pain, and can be used to reset pain receptors sensitized by wind-up, allowing the use of medications with fewer side effects to maintain a pain-free state.
- Nerve blocks — Local anesthetic injection near a nerve to block sensation is a most effective pain-management method. Unfortunately, effects are short-lived and nerve blocks are mainly limited to single use prior to painful procedures. Local nerve blocks can sometimes be used to perform minor painful procedures, such as removing a broken toe nail or a small mass, without the animal requiring anesthesia.
- Laser therapy — Low-level laser therapy can treat a variety of painful conditions, including arthritis, surgical wounds, intervertebral disc disease, and cellulitis. Laser therapy works at the cellular level to stimulate healing and decrease pain and inflammation. Used appropriately, laser therapy causes no liver or kidney damage, side effects that are sometimes a concern with chronic medication administration. Laser therapy treatments can be used alone or in addition to medications as part of a multimodal approach to pain management to increase your pet’s comfort.
If you think your pet is in pain, or you have questions about her appropriate pain management, contact us.