Thursday, April 18, 2013

OUCH! That Hurts - Identifying Pain

By Amanda Brown, Certified Veterinary Technician
Sick puppy - OUCH!
A newly diagnosed illness can be very traumatic for both the family involved and the animal.  Pain management is key in the success of healing and well being for the ill or dying.  Often times we are not aware that our beloved pet is in any amount of pain until they begin exhibiting signs of abnormal behaviors or signs of discomfort.   Instinctively, animals will disguise pain to avoid becoming prey in the wild, so it is not until the pain has become so severe to the animal that we notice changes in their behavior. You, as the pet owner, are most equipped in determining whether noticeable routines and functioning of the animal are related to pain or social manners.

Pain triggers a series of physiological changes that increase stress.  These changes can affect all major body functions and may trigger abnormal body responses.  These modifications to normal body function can decrease the body’s immune system and its ability to work effectively.  For example, potential side effects of stress in animals include loss of appetite; increased heart rate; delayed wound healing; and/or a sudden onset of infection.

According to the AAHA Pain Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats these are common signs of pain:
Loss of normal behavior
Decreased appetite, decreased activity, lethargic, decreased grooming (cats)
Expression of abnormal behaviors
Inappropriate elimination, vocalization, aggression, decreased interaction with other pets or family members, altered posture, restlessness, hiding (especially in cats)
Reaction to touch
Increased body tension or flinching, injured area and touch of regions may illicit reaction
Physiologic parameters
Elevations in heart rate, respiratory rate, body temperature, and blood pressure; pupil dilation
No animal should need to prove that they are in pain, which is why we as veterinary professionals have developed what we call a Multimodal approach to pain management. Multimodal Pain Management (MPM) is a tactic that takes advantage of the synergistic affects obtained by combining two or more classes of drugs to alter more than one phase of the pain pathway.

MPM is the best way to approach pain management, and provides comfort not only to the animal, but the pet owner as well.  Observation, touch, and knowledge of how pain can be displayed combined with how to defeat pain, will now make dealing with an otherwise disheartening situation easier.

The AAHA Pain Management Guidelines also note the following overlooked causes of pain:
Frequently overlooked causes of pain from AAHA
Learning to recognize pain in your pet is one of the most important things you can do for him or her. Pain indicates injury, illness, and decline. Picking up on it early can make a very big difference in your pet's comfort and prognosis.

If you think your pet may be in pain, talk to your vet about options for treating it.  Sometimes the only way we can determine if an animal is in pain is to treat for pain and see what happens. You may be surprised! Your couch potato may become more active, your grumpy old man may become more friendly, and that occasional hitch in her giddy-up may lessen or disappear.
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