Is my pet painful?

One of the main questions we are asked as a vet is “Is my pet in any pain?” Whether this is a question asked during palliative care of a terminal illness or a pet showing a skin rash. It is one of the most difficult questions to answer as a vet, as we just do not know for sure the pain threshold of our patients we treat.

How do we communicate with our pets?

Throughout vet school we are taught a number of ways to try to assess pain in our patients, supported by multiple research papers. We often use a pain scoring system where we assess the patient and their response to us. This is an important check list we use on a daily basis within the surgery. We look at facial expressions made by cats, their ear and eye position, then for dogs we monitor vocalising and their movement in and out of the kennel. This provides a good way of assessing to some degree whether that animal needs more pain relief.

As vets I would say we would rather give animals more pain relief than they need rather than less. This possibly was not the case 30 or more years ago where many would probably advise to give less, so if that animal is in a little bit of pain they are less likely to move after any surgeries. This is a view point that is not shared by many vets qualifying these days. I think we are becoming better at monitoring and picking up subtle signs of discomfort in our patients.

Is my pet in pain at home?

As our population of pets age we often discuss with our owners at annual vaccinations how their pet (cat or dog) is moving around the house. As animals age owners don’t notice the subtle signs of discomfort originating from arthritis. The phrase “it’s just because they are getting older, they are slowing down.” Often it is due to progression of arthritis in their old joints. Luckily now a days there is more awareness of arthritis in our pets. A simple checklist to consider is as follows;

  • Does your cat or dog manage to jump up onto a side/ in the car?
  • Have you noticed your pet sitting down more?
  • Do they spend time licking specific joints on their legs
  • Have they got any muscle wastage?
  • Can you hear any of the hindlimbs being dragged as they walk?
  • Are they sleeping more?
  • Do they still want to go for walks or seem less keen?

Have a think about the questions above and speak to your vet about them, it maybe that your aging pet could do with a course of anti-inflammatories (as long as they are otherwise healthy) to see if this makes them more comfortable.

Article by Aimee Barker MA VetMB MRCVS