Pain can be caused by a multitude of conditions, however animals often do not display pain as obviously as we would expect especially prey animals like rabbits. It is important to recognise and treat pain when it occurs.
What are the signs my pet is in pain?
Acute pain, such as a broken limb, will often cause vocalisation. The affected area may be obvious, e.g. holding a leg in the air, or may lead to abnormal posture or unwillingness to walk. Behavioural changes are usually obvious.
Chronic pain, such as that caused by arthritis, often causes more subtle changes. These may include reduced appetite, sleeping more, becoming grumpy or snapping, unwillingness to go for walks or climb stairs, vomiting, panting, and altered posture such as for toileting. Some dogs will obsessively lick the fur over the source of the pain. Cats show pain in different ways, but hiding away, reduced jumping, and poor coat condition can all be suggestive of discomfort.
Pain post-surgery is not uncommon; although your pet may not be back to normal immediately, they should be comfortable moving around without encouragement, willing to eat, and happy to go out to toilet. Hiding away, vocalising and being protective of the surgical sites are signs something may not be right.
How can pain be treated?
The most effective method of treating acute pain is with drugs, known as analgesics. Strong drugs, such as opioids, are normally given as injections into the muscle or intravenously. Anti-inflammatories can be given by injection or orally; the most commonly used drugs are called non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs). There are many different types of analgesics suitable for use in cats and dogs; your vet can discuss the most appropriate treatment for your pet. It is very important never to give animals human medications such as ibuprofen, aspirin and paracetamol. These can be very toxic and sometimes fatal.
For cases of chronic pain other treatments can be helpful for management. These may include joint supplements, physiotherapy/hydrotherapy, acupuncture, and dietary or exercise modification. Warm compresses and cushioned beds can also help with joint pain.
Does pain relief cause side effects?
As with any drug, pain relief can have side effects, though they are very rare. Opioids are mainly given under veterinary supervision; they can cause a mild sedative effect which may be notable after surgery, they can also causing panting in some animals.
NSAIDs are very well tolerated by the majority of animals without any side effects. Some pets are particularly sensitive and may develop vomiting or diarrhoea; in this instance the medication should be stopped and your vet informed. Extremely rarely a cat or dog may have a true adverse reaction and develop gastrointestinal ulceration, or a bleeding disorder, this isn’t common.
If medications such as NSAIDs are used long-term, they can have an effect on the liver or kidneys due to increased work-load to metabolise the drug. We recommend routine blood tests every 6-12 months for those animals on long-term NSAID therapy.
If conventional pain relief becomes insufficient to manage an animal’s discomfort, we often have to turn to human medications, such as tramadol or gabapentin. Gabapentin is used “off-label”, which means it hasn’t been specifically licensed for use in cats or dogs. It does not mean it is not safe, but your vet will assess your animals individual needs before prescribing these drugs.
I you feel your animal is in pain please contact the practice on Kilmarnock 01563 530 775 or Stewarton on 01560 485 193. Should you have urgent concerns out of hours please visit our emergencies page.