How Do I Know If My Animal Is In Pain?
Many years ago, it was believed that animals did not feel pain, at least in the same way that people do.
Now, most veterinarians and other scientists agree that animals experience pain in much the same way
as we do. Unfortunately, as our animal companions near the end of their lives, pain (or some level of
discomfort) is a relatively frequent complication. Although animals may sometimes exhibit obvious signs
of pain such as crying or moaning, subtle signs are much more common. You, as your pet's companion
and caregiver are in the best position to recognize the signs of pain or discomfort in your friend.
Some people find that their bond with an animal is so strong that they can sense discomfort in their
companion. Do not discount this feeling. Discuss your concerns with your veterinarian If you feel
resistance, or that your concerns are not being adequately met, politely ask for a referral to another
veterinarian, ideally someone with a special interest and training in pain management and/or palliative
care. Fortunately, recent work in both the human and animal fields has produced a wide variety of new
medications and other approaches that can effectively minimize or eliminate pain. No animal should
have to live (or die) in pain!
Listed below (Adapted from the International Association of Pain Management) are some things that you
might see in a pet with pain or discomfort. Remember, though, that some of these things can be seen
when your pet is simply anxious or is in poor health.
Signs Associated with Pain in Animals
* Hunched back
* Guarding (protecting) the painful area
* "Praying" position (front legs and head on floor, hindquarters in the air)
* Sitting or laying abnormally
* Attempting to rest in an abnormal position
* Head hanging down
* Bearing no or partial weight on affected limb or limping
* Thrashing or Restless
* Trembling or shaking
* Weak tail wag or low carriage of tail (in dogs)
* Limited or no movement when awake
* Slow to rise
* Screaming, whining, or crying
* Barking, hissing, or growling
* Lack of vocalization (no greeting bark or purring)
* Acts out of character
(gentle dogs may bite or become aggressive; aggressive or playful cats may become docile or quiet)
* Poor or no grooming
* Decreased or absent appetite
* Dull, sleeping excessively, or noticeably less active
* Inappropriate urination or defecation, or not moving away from it
* Licking wound or surgical site
* Sitting in dark places or hiding
* Retreating to quiet areas of house for long periods of time
* Hyperventilation (rapid shallow breathing, esp. in cats)
* Vigorous attempts for escape, often with marked aggression
What can be done to minimize or eliminate my animal's pain?
Fortunately, there are a plethora of treatments available to help manage pain in animals. Many of these
treatments have only become available or widely known in the past few years. These treatments may
* Physical therapy methods such as massage, application of heat/cold, exercises
* Drugs including NSAIDS (e.g. Rimadyl®, Metacam®), Narcotics (e.g.Morphine, Tramadol,
and related drugs), Steroids (e.g. Prednisone), and other medications
(e.g. Gabapentin, Amantadine)
* Nutraceuticals (food supplements), such as Chondroitin, Glucosamine, and MSM
* Alternative treatments such as herbs, acupuncture, flower essences, etc.
Frequently, especially in severe or chronic (long standing) pain, a combination of methods may be
required. Most veterinarians can work with you to develop a complete treatment regimen to minimize any
pain that your pet is feeling.
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