PAIN CONTROL IN COMPANION ANIMALS
Research has shown that pain is self perpetuating and that each episode of pain triggers the next, making it easier to experience the pain. Therefore, after the animal begins to experience pain it is much more difficult to control because the pet is already cycling through this pain loop. Additionally, research studies indicate that pain will not only cause the animal stress but that the stress will release steroids which will delay healing and recovery.
Interpretation of pain in the various animals we care for can be extremely problematic. In the veterinary field we not only deal with various animal personalities but also various species that show pain differently. As an example, a budgie that is painful will often just sit quietly and appear slightly fluffed, but a Husky will often vocalize at the smallest pain stimulation. Animals, like people, have various levels of pain sensitivity and some animals will be very vocal with minimal pain stimulation whereas others will never show pain sensitivity even though we know they are experiencing a painful condition.
Because of the difficulty of interpreting pain in various animals/species and because of the difficulty of halting pain once it has begun, veterinarians, as your pet’s health care provider, must control pain before it starts. We know if certain procedures are likely to cause pain and we can administer pain control prior to the procedure to prevent the pet from 1) experiencing the pain, & 2) entering the difficult to control pain cycle.
The importance of multi-modality pain control should also be addressed. We are fortunate to have a large spectrum of analgesics (pain medications) available to us in the veterinary field, and by combining different types of analgesics we can often get additive effects, where the combination of drugs work better together than either one alone. A good example of this is the use of a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) and a true analgesic such as a morphine derivative. The NSAID will eliminate the swelling and the morphine derivative will directly control the pain providing a broader spectrum of pain control.
In conclusion, veterinarians understand that animals do experience pain much like we do, but the presence of pain and its control are subjective and difficult to interpret. Therefore, my ideal pain control involves the administration of analgesics prior to a painful event and the prevention of any discomfort. Veterinary medicine of the past poorly understood this concept and approved drugs were not available, however, veterinary medicine has changed and today pain control is an important part of our acceptable standard of care for your pet.
Jill M. Patt, DVM