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July 29, 2011 > Veterinary & Pet News: Pain Management in Pets

Veterinary & Pet News: Pain Management in Pets

Pets experience pain just as we do. However, they tend to hide it much better than humans. As technology has improved and as veterinarians have become more perceptive in recognizing pain, pain management for pets has improved dramatically.

Decades ago veterinarians and pet owners would say pets don't feel pain or at least not the way we do. This statement was seriously flawed and contributed to a false sense of security. Pets do feel pain, but they don't express it the way we do.

The other false belief that existed was that a little pain would keep the pet quiet in order to heal. Fortunately, this belief has been rejected by modern veterinary medicine. Veterinarians are embracing the philosophy that pets should be treated for pain if there is any doubt that it may exist.

There are different kinds of pain. Acute pain comes on suddenly and is usually related to surgery, injury, trauma, illness, inflammation, or infection. Acute pain is easier for pet owners to recognize as pets will often whimper when handled. Fortunately, this type of pain is recognized and temporary in nature.

Chronic pain is severely under-diagnosed and many pets suffer in pain everyday and "just deal with it." Unfortunately, chronic pain is hard to pinpoint by pet owners. The pet may just appear to be slowing down and many owners will believe that the pet is "just getting old." The most common cause of chronic pain is degenerative joint disease, commonly referred to as "arthritis." Other causes of chronic pain include cancer, chronic illnesses, organ diseases, or other chronic bone pain. Because chronic pain usually develops gradually, many pets learn to bear the pain.

Since pets can't tell us when it hurts, pet owners and veterinarians have to pay close attention to pet behavior. Pet's often exhibit behavior changes as a response to pain.

Look for the following signs of pain in pets:
Loss of Normal Behavior
Decreased activity, lethargic attitude, decreased appetite, decreased grooming (especially in cats)

Expression of Abnormal Behavior
Inappropriate elimination, vocalization, aggression or decreased interaction with other pets or family members, altered facial expression, altered posture, restlessness (especially in cats)

Reaction to touch
Increased bodily tension or flinching in response to gentle palpation of injured areas, and palpation of regions likely to be painful (e.g., neck, back, hips, elbows, incision site)

Physiologic parameters
Increased respiratory rate, body temperature, pupil dilation

Fortunately, new and safe treatment modalities are available to reduce pain in your pet resulting in a longer, happier, and healthier life. If you suspect that your pet may be experiencing one or more of the signs listed above or you have any questions or concerns, please contact your veterinarian immediately for help.

Dr Raj Salwan is a second generation Veterinarian and has been around Veterinary Medicine for over 23 years. His interests include Internal Medicine, Surgery, Emergency/Acute Care, and general small animal practice. He currently works at American Animal Care in Fremont and can be reached via email at or

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