This week on Ireland AM, Pete and Anton discussed the often neglected issue of pain in animals, focussing in particular on the long term pain caused by arthritis. They were joined by two Golden Retrievers and Pete’s own elderly cat, Sushi, all of whom suffer from arthritis linked to old age.
To watch the video, follow the link at the foot of this page.
Animal Pain Awareness Month focusses on how to recognize and manage pain in animals.
Pain is one of the most unpleasant experiences to affect living creatures.
As humans, we can tell other people when we are in pain. It’s much more complicated for animals. They cannot directly communicate their sensation of pain to their human carers, and the detection by humans of pain in an animal can be difficult. Great care needs to be taken to ensure that animals do not suffer unnecessarily.
Humans used to believe that animals could not feel pain
In medieval times, it was the common belief that animals could not feel pain. It was believed that animals did not have any consciousness, and that they functioned by automatic reflexes only. In the seventeenth century, Rene Descartes and his followers deliberately beat animals to death to “demonstrate” that they had no feelings.
The view of animals as as “automatons” persisted for a long time, and even now, some people find it difficult to accept that animals have emotions. Animals cannot tell us about their thoughts, sensations or emotions, and since these things cannot be physically observed, some people would say that they cannot be proven to exist. However most thinking people would say that if an animal looks as if it is sad, it probably is sad.
The truth is that humans are animals too: if we feel pain, there is no reason why they should not feel pain
If an animal looks as if it is in pain, it almost certainly is in pain.
- Animals have the same nervous system as humans.
- Animals have the same microscopic pain receptors in their skin.
- Animals have the same areas of brain that are associated with pain sensation in humans.
- If an animal endures a procedure that is painful in humans, they show the same type of behaviour as a human in pain.
Of course they feel pain, just like we do.
The progress of pain relief in recent times
Vets have not always been good at providing pain relief for their patients. Thirty five years ago, a survey showed that 70% of dogs and 98% of cats in veterinary teaching hospitals received no pain relief after major surgery. However the situation has changed completely in the past twenty years. If the survey was repeated now, it would show a complete transformation in this area, with nearly 100% of animals receiving full pain relief.
Most people still have the mistaken belief that animals only feel pain if they vocalise (yelping in dogs, miaowing in cats). But if you think about humans in pain, you realise that silence rather than noise is more likely to mean pain is being felt. And this means that many animals literally suffer in silence because their carers don’t realise they are in pain.
So what is Animal Pain Awareness Month?
The annual animal pain awareness initiative coincides with human medicine’s Pain Awareness Month and includes outreach and information campaigns aimed at helping vets educate consumers on how to recognize and manage pain.
The different types of pain
There are two types of pain that need close attention.
- “Acute” pain after surgical operations needs to be minimised, and that is the responsibility of vets.
- “Chronic” pain, such as that felt in arthritis, dental disease or long-term ear disease, is more likely to happen in the home situation, and so owners need to be aware of this.
The following are common signs that might indicate an animal is suffering from chronic pain:
- a slowdown in activity (e.g. not going up or down stairs, less play time, less jumping/a reluctance to jump onto surfaces);
- decreased eating and drinking;
- changes in grooming (increased grooming or licking of an area on the body may indicate pain in that area or referred pain, while decreased grooming, especially in cats, may indicate it is too painful to twist around);
- changes in urine or bowel movements;
- increases in respiration – breathing more quickly than normal
- changes in routine, including different sleeping patterns or not resting in the usual places.
If in doubt, ask your vet
Vets often carry out pain assessment exams as part of regular check ups e.g the annual health check and vaccination
What can owners do?
- Adopt a healthy lifestyle for the pet, including low-impact exercise and a healthy diet
- Keep a record of possible signs observed in the pet to discuss with your vet
- Make sure their pet has a comfortable bed to rest on
What can vets do to help animals in pain?
High quality prescription-only daily pain relief is now widely available
Note: you cannot give human pain relief to pets – many dogs and cats die every year following toxic reactions after people have done this
Hippocrates said “The work to subdue pain is divine” .
For vets and pet-carers, this should be one of our principal aims.Watch the video by clicking on the link below