Overcoming Pain

Why people experience chronic pain, and the power they have to de-intensify it

If Only the Horse Whisperer Could Feel My Pain

Vigilance and veterinarians work in tandem to bring your pet through the pain.

Humans in pain tend to complain. However, animals instinctually hide pain; we generally don’t hear from our pets until the pain is so bad they cannot hide it anymore. So how do you know when your pet is in pain?

Because our animals aren’t able to tell us when something is wrong, it is important for the owner to take note of any change in an animal’s behavior. An owner must look for any of the following signs, as they may be a pet’s way of saying "I am in pain":

• Being unusually quiet, listless, restless, or unresponsive

• Whining, whimpering, howling, or constantly meowing

• Biting

• Constantly licking or chewing at a particular part of the body

• Acting funny and out of character, either aggressively or submissively

• Having trouble sleeping or eating

• Seeking a lot more affection than usual

• Unable to get comfortable (constantly changes positions to find the most comfortable position)

If you suspect your pet might be hurting, consult your veterinarian for help. Your veterinarian will help you figure out the problem and discuss the available options. Be prepared to answer questions about your pet’s behavior, activity level and tolerance for being handled; he or she will need to have a sense of baseline behavior. An animal’s actual mobility is also an important gauge of pain. Does the pet now have difficulty rising from the floor or navigating steps?

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Many animals, especially cats, naturally disguise signs of pain to protect themselves from predators. However, the lack of obvious signs of pain does not mean they aren’t experiencing pain. If a particular injury or experience is one that sounds painful to you, it is fairly safe to assume that that same event may also cause pain for your pet..

Alas, chronic pain is long-lasting and often rather insidious in its presentation. Some of the more common sources of chronic pain are age-related disorders such as arthritis, but it can also result from illnesses such as cancer or bone disease. This pain may be the hardest to deal with, because it can go on for years, or for an animal’s entire lifetime. Also, because it develops slowly, some animals may gradually learn to tolerate the pain and live with it. This can make chronic pain difficult to detect.

There are many pain medications currently available for pets. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are a class of drugs extensively used in both human and veterinary medicine for their anti-fever, anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties, and they are the most commonly prescribed pain relievers for animals. Inflammation—the body’s response to irritation or injury—is characterized by redness, warmth, swelling, and pain. NSAIDs work by blocking the production of chemicals produced by the body that play a role in inflammation.

Unfortunately, the same side effects that haunt humans can complicate the treatment of pets. NSAIDS are associated with gastrointestinal ulcers and actual perforations of the intestine and stomach, and kidney and liver toxicity, and therefore must be used with caution in animals with pre-existing kidney or liver problems. Some of the most common side effects of NSAIDS in animals reported to the United States Food and Drug Administration include:

• vomiting

• decreased to no appetite

• decreased activity level

• diarrhea

While your animal is taking NSAIDs, continuously monitor the pet for these side effects, in addition to looking for blood in the feces, tar-like stools, yellowing of the whites of the eyes, or yellowing of the gums. These signs may indicate ulcer disease or liver damage secondary to NSAID use. The appearance of these signs should prompt a call to the veterinarian. In some situations, the treatment may be worse than what is being treated.

Vigilance and veterinarians work in tandem to bring your pet through the pain, and allow for continued treatment of that pain.

Mark Borigini, M.D., is a board-certified rheumatologist who has devoted his career to treating illnesses that cause chronic pain and disability.

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