By Dr. Gary Borgman
Recognizing and assessing the severity of pain is a challenging and ongoing responsibility for pet owners and veterinarians. Since animals can’t actually speak for themselves, we must rely upon subtle and not so subtle signs and symptoms. The American Animal Hospital Association recently issued two client handouts (available upon request) to assist pet owners in determining if a dog or cat is in pain. Each species specific list relies upon home observation of vocalization, daily habits, activity level, posture, self-protection, aggression and possibly self-mutilation.
Common causes of pain for our pets include dental disease, osteoarthritis, ear and skin infections, eye disorders and of course trauma to the body. When pain is suspected, a careful examination of the patient is needed and often diagnostic procedures such as laboratory tests or imaging are required to get to the bottom of what is amiss. Fortunately we have a number of prescriptions drugs available to help with acute and chronic painful conditions with animals. These medications include steroidal and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and various narcotics.
Dental disease is a very common condition for pets, primarily because pets do not brush their own teeth. Dental tarter and thick calculus can cause gum inflammation and infection of the periodontal tissues resulting in painful infections and abscesses. I recall a poodle named Beau who was presented to me with a very bad attitude. We were unable to examine his mouth because he was very defensive and aggressive but we definitely could smell the infection in his mouth. We scheduled a dental procedure and after numerous extractions of diseased teeth and cleaning of the remaining teeth, he eventually became a very pleasant pet. The owner reported that he was like a new dog. Additionally he no longer smelled badly. No doubt Beau had been in constant pain for a number of years!
Another very common cause of discomfort and pain for dogs is osteoarthritis. Hip dysplasia is very common and the degenerative changes in the hip joints can be very painful and disabling especially in the larger breeds. It is also very possible to have arthritis of other joints such as the shoulder, elbow, and stifle joints, especially if any trauma has occurred. When active dogs tear the anterior cruciate ligament in a stifle, early surgical intervention can greatly reduce the probability of developing arthritis in later life. Regardless of the cause, the pain of osteoarthritis can often be relieved and even eliminated with oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs that are now available. It is often tempting for pet owners to try pain medicines such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or Tylenol but they are relatively ineffective and can be very dangerous. Aspirin and ibuprofen can lead to stomach irritation, vomiting and bleeding ulcers. Tylenol is especially dangerous, especially for cats. A single Tylenol tablet or capsule can fatally poison a cat! It is much harder to detect pain in cats because they are often so inactive during the day but it is important to observe and record changes in behavior routines and habits. The above mentioned handout will be helpful in determining if there are problems.
The veterinarians and staff at Kissimmee Animal Hospital (Tel 407-846-3912) and Poinciana Pet Clinic (Tel 407-518-0880) are available to answer any of your questions and concerns about pain management or other pet health related issues. We are here to help and to serve.