Our furry family members are amazing communicators. We know what they want when they give us a slobbery grin while watching us eat dinner, or when they stand patiently by the door staring longingly at an inviting yard. Our feline friends are especially skilled at training us to drop everything by simply lying on the paperwork that engrosses us, or stepping on our computer––clearly our cat wants to warm their paws or chase some digital fish. However, for all our pets’ amazing skills, they cannot tell us where and when it hurts. Pets, especially cats, have mastered the art of masking pain, and recognizing when they are struggling is extremely challenging. Like humans, animals experience various types of pain, but every pet expresses and reacts to their pain differently.
Types of pain in pets
Understanding your pet’s pain type is the first step in helping alleviate their discomfort. Unless you see your pet cut their paw or injure their leg, you cannot know exactly when and how they were afflicted. The four types of pet pain are:
- Acute — Acute pain is a recent, noticeable response to an undesirable event, such as trauma, bruising, crushing, burning, laceration, or other body injuries. Post-surgical or procedural pain is also considered acute. Acute pain is often sharp, throbbing, or aching, and usually stops three days after the traumatic event. For example, your pet would experience acute pain after a bee sting.
- Chronic — Pain that lasts longer than expected, and is persistent and dull, such as osteoarthritis and joint pain, is considered chronic. An infected tooth can also be a source of chronic pain.
- Cancer — Cancer pain can be acute and chronic. New, fast-growing masses are considered acutely painful, but as the disease progresses, your pet could experience chronic pain from their cancer treatment, or the disease’s long-term effects.
- Neuropathic — Damage to the nerves or nervous system often results in a tingling sensation that is difficult to diagnose in pets who cannot communicate the pins and needles they feel in their limbs.
Clinical signs of a painful pet
Recognizing pain in your pet is often difficult because they show such subtle changes or clinical signs. Some pets are also stoic with their pain, so realizing that something is wrong is nearly impossible for pet parents.
Fortunately, our Animal Medical and Surgical Hospital team members are experts in spotting these subtle changes in your uncomfortable pet. Common signs your pet may be having pain include:
- Change in heart rate
- Increased panting, especially while at rest
- Abnormal barking or meowing
- Reluctance to move
- Change in posture or movement
- Difficulty getting comfortable
- Slowed reflexes
- Decreased appetite
- Depressed or withdrawn behavior
- Mood or personality changes
- Licking, biting, or rubbing a particular body part
Our feline friends experiencing pain may simply hide, eat less, or change their facial expressions. The feline grimace scale is a helpful tool to determine if your cat is in pain.
Taking away pet pain
Fortunately, many treatment options are available to alleviate your pet’s discomfort or pain, but the options do not include any over the counter (OTC) human medication, unless you first discuss their use with your veterinarian. While you never want your pet to be in pain for a second, many OTC medications, such as acetaminophen, have deadly effects on cats. Once your pet’s pain source has been identified, your Metairie veterinarian may prescribe one or more of the following medications:
- NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory) — NSAIDs are often prescribed when your pet has osteoarthritis. Never give them more than the prescribed dose because overdosing can cause gastric ulcers.
- Opioids or narcotics — These medications are most commonly used for acute pain, such as before and after a surgical procedure. Their minimal side effects include mild sedation or upset stomach.
- Steroids — Steroids, such as prednisone, which are used to reduce inflammation, are often prescribed short-term with a tapering dose. Steroids typically have more side effects than NSAIDs and are never prescribed together.
- Muscle relaxants — These drugs aid in reducing muscle spasms from nerve inflammation and are commonly used in pets with back or disc disease, as well as cats with bladder spasms from urinary tract disease.
At Animal Medical and Surgical Hospital, we are passionate about keeping your pet pain-free so they can enjoy life to the fullest. In fact, we recently participated in a clinical drug trial to help a major veterinary pharmaceutical company launch a new pain relief drug that will help arthritic dogs and cats.
If you suspect that your pet is in pain, schedule them for a veterinary exam as soon as possible is critical. Although pain serves a protective role in preventing your pet from further injury, untreated pain decreases the chances of a speedy recovery. Chronic pain also decreases a pet’s quality of life.
If your vet prescribes long-term pain medications for your pet, they may also recommend annual, or more frequent, blood work to ensure your pet’s liver and kidneys are processing the medications.
Our Animal Medical and Surgical Hospital team loves your pet like family. If they are injured, or you think they are in pain for other reasons, call our office to schedule an exam––we are always here to help you and your pet.