“I just don’t want my pet to suffer” or “I will put my pet down if he is suffering.” These are both common and fair statements that I hear in my exam rooms on a regular basis. Nobody ever wants to sit and watch a love one in pain. Here is the issue. I see many pets suffering with pain, and yet nothing is being done about it. WHAT? The real issue is not with us pet owners but actually with our pets themselves.
There is no question when an animal is limping we know he or she is in pain. What about after surgery? Dogs, particularly the larger dogs, will often be up running around within a day of a spay surgery. So does this dog not feel pain? Of course she does. Pets have a very strong survival instinct and hide their pain very well, but don’t be fooled they feel pain.
“But he doesn’t cry so he cannot hurt.” Each and every dog and cat is an individual, and just like humans, some are stoic more than others; like Gregory Campbell who played a conference final with a broken leg or Dr. Horvat who promptly got off the ice after breaking her hand during her hockey game. Many of you know the story of Griffon who was attacked by a couple of dogs and lost his ear, some teeth, and 1/3 of the skin on his neck, not to mention the other 60 or so bite wounds that covered his body. Griffon never cried; Griffon was in pain despite not crying.
This is where our pets do not help us. When pets are suffering often the clinical signs can be very subtle. You would notice if your cat stopped eating, but what if she started to chew on the other side of her mouth. Many cats have dental pain that owners are not aware of, as cats have super stoic powers of hiding any pain or discomfort. When a cat actually reveals to us mere humans that they are sore, they have either been in pain for some time or their pain has surpassed their super-stoic threshold. I have seen dogs with fractured teeth or dental abscesses that would make a grown man cry and yet the dog continues to eat.
What about the middle age dog that stopped playing tug-of-war? The owner did not actually notice that their farm dog had slowed down and wasn’t playing as much. They did not notice the very subtle and gradual change in how their dog went from lying down to standing. What they did notice was after 4 days on Therabites Lady was playing and doing things she had not done in years. Did you know that 60% of cats over the age of 6 and 65% of dogs over the age of 7 have arthritis? Sadly though, 90% of cats and 50% of dogs with arthritis, go untreated as our pets suffer in silence. (For more information check out 6 Clues your pet may have arthritis and 7 Things You Can Do To Help Your Arthritic Pet.)
Veterinary medicine is an always-evolving job and we constantly are learning and improving our treatments so as to improve the quality and longevity of our pet’s lives. I think about when I graduated and how we believed that after spay, a dog or cat was sent home with no pain medication, as we wanted them to feel a little pain so as to keep them quiet. Yikes! I shudder to think that that was once the standard. Studies show in both people and animals proper pain control improves healing time and increases survival time.
“But I don’t want my pet on drugs.” In the world of pain there are many levels of pain, a broken leg vs. a broken nail, and many options for pain control. At the Fraser Valley Animal Hospital we take pain seriously. I am often questioned why would we use a local block at a spay incision site or during a dental when the pet is already under anesthetic. Local blocks allows us to lower anesthetic doses keeping our pets safer, as well as allowing for a pain free recovery. We also use our cold laser routinely on all incisions as it decreases inflammation, speeds healing, and of course decreases pain. For arthritis there are many herbs, diets, and nutraceuticals that can help keep senior pets mobile. And though I know medications can be a concern for many owners, what we must remember is that by controlling our pet’s pain they will be happier, heal faster and live longer. Human doctors do not allow us humans to suffer in pain. We no longer have to bite down on a hard object when a physician is treating something painful. Our advantage though is that we can speak up. We must help our pets “speak up” by watching for subtle changes and making sure we always control their pain.
So remember a pet eating, or a pet that doesn’t whine or cry, does not mean they are pain free which is why each and every pet, whether they live strictly indoors or outdoors, should have and annual health check up with their veterinarian. Remember that in that one year, your pet has aged 5 to 7 years, and in that time things may have changed which your pet maybe hiding from you. Don’t let them suffer in silence.