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Berks County dog in pain

When it comes to recognizing pain in animals, we kind of stink. We are learning more and more all the time, but even in the veterinary medicine field, identifying and treating pain in pets is just beginning to be aggressively studied and understood.

As a pet owner, you can help our team at Conrad Weiser Veterinary Hospital by advocating for your furry family and letting us know when help is necessary. To help, though, you need to understand pain in pets and how to recognize it. 

What We Know About Pain in Pets

Even in people, pain isn’t simple. We don’t always experience it the same way and it is a little nebulous to even begin to define.

When we extrapolate the concept of pain to animals, it becomes a little more mysterious. While not so long ago we thought that animals did not experience pain, we do know now that this isn’t true. 

When an animal is subjected to something painful, we see physiological changes that indicate that pain is being experienced. These include things like:

  • Inflammation
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Slowing of digestion
  • Dilated pupils
  • Decreased healing capacity
  • Decreased appetite
  • Disruption of sleep/rest

Adaptive pain is a normal response to tissue damage, such as that expected to occur after an injury or surgery. If not managed well, though, adaptive pain can cause changes in the brain and spinal cord that result in maladaptive pain. This is a detrimental process that can have negative long term repercussions. 

Calling Out Pain When You See It

As your pet’s medical team, our staff makes it our business to treat pain wherever we see or anticipate it. We aren’t with you around the clock though, and a huge responsibility falls to the pet owner to identify pain in pets so that we can help.

Many pain scales exist to detect and rate pain in pets, but they all take into account similar behaviors, body language, and physical characteristics. 

Your pet may be in pain if you notice:

  • Vocalizations (whines, howls, growls, yelps, groans)
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Variations in normal social behaviors
  • Self trauma (biting, licking)
  • Decreased or increased self grooming
  • Protective or guarded behavior
  • Uncharacteristic aggression
  • Disinterest in normally engaging activities/items
  • Differences in normal posture

Being able to notice your pet is in pain is important. So many assume that just because an animal isn’t whining there isn’t any pain, but we know that is simply not true. Let us know right away if you have any suspicion so that we can help. 

Fighting Your Pet’s Pain

When we detect or anticipate pain in pets, we are often able to effectively combat it. Modern veterinary medicine affords us many options when it comes to managing pain, and our efforts are often most effective when we take a multimodal, or multifaceted, approach. 

Medications are typically the center of most pain management plans. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) are often used to reduce pain and inflammation. We also may utilize steroids in some situations. Additional medicines include gabapentin, amantadine, amitriptyline, and high doses of omega 3 fatty acids.

Always resist the urge to medicate your pet at home without veterinary supervision. Some human medications can be harmful or even toxic. Even previously prescribed veterinary drugs may not be appropriate in a given situation. 

Pain in pets can have serious consequences, and no one wants their sweet baby to suffer. When we work together as a team we have a better chance at identifying and combating pain effectively and efficiently. And who doesn’t want that?