Monday, March 28, 2011

Is Your Animal in Pain?

     As a loving animal caretaker, the thing you likely fear most when thinking about caring for your elderly, special needs or terminally ill animal is PAIN.  Will he or she be in pain?  How much and how often?  How will you know?  What can you do about it?

     While your companion animal may not be able to speak to you in human terms, there is no doubt that he or she is constantly communicating with you - and you are constantly interpreting and usually understanding that communication.  How do you know your animal is hungry?  Angry?  Lonely?  Needs to urinate or defecate?  Wants more attention?  Desires more play or exercise?  Each of these things is clearly communicated to you by your animal.  It may take a little time to learn the animal's communication system, it may take trial and error, it may take a certain amount of guess work, but given time, trust, and desire, you do learn to communication with your animal and interest his or her actions.

The same is true for pain.

     The American Animal Hospice Association (AAHA) developed a pain scale which lists some behaviors you may observe if your animal is in pain.  It is by no means an exhaustive list, but gives you some clues and guidelines to help you observe.  To see the complete AAHA pain scale, click here for our free, printable Tip Sheet.

     Both the AAHA and pain researchers worldwide recognize the following as indicators of significant pain in animals:
  • Vocalizations such as meowing, barking, whining, whimpering, growling, grunting, hissing or grinding teeth - especially if they occur when the animal is moving or the painful area is being touched
  • Guarding or protecting the painful area
  • Flinching or pulling away when touched, especially in the painful area
  • Excessive licking, biting, shaking or scratching
  • Unusual posture or movements, such as appearing stiff or limp
  • Staying away from other animals and the family; in cats especially, the animal may hide
  • Loss of appetite
  • Inactivity and unwillingness to move
     Be sure to check your animals vital signs (click here for our Vital Signs Tip Sheet).  Just like in humans, animals in pain often have changes in respiration (faster, slower or irregular), temperature, capillary refill, and heart rate.  Also look for unusually dilated pupils which, in both humans and animals, indicates pain.

     Always keep in mind that you know your animal and his or her communication skills better than anyone else.  No matter what you read or what anyone tells or asks you, if your gut tells you your animal is in pain, he or she probably is.

     Also, remember that animals "mask" pain and injury.  This means they are very good at hiding it.  This is a survival instinct: a weak, injured or sick animal is an easy target for a preditor.  For this reason, the signs and symptoms may be subtle and it may be hard to vocalize exactly why you think your animal is hurting even when you have a general sense that he or she is in pain.

     Pain should never be ignored in an animal.  Seek veterinary attention immediately if your animal appears to be in pain.  Even in an elderly, special needs or terminally ill animal, we have very good pain control medicines and therapies.  Every animal deserves to be pain-free.

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