“The Good Word” by Dr. Carol Good – Rockford Animal Hospital

*Pain – The Invisible Symptom*

     What do senior dogs and cats have in common with old cars? They both have trouble getting started on a cold day! However, the reasons why are very different. Many owners think their senior pets are just “getting old” (like their car) when they’re reluctant to get up from their bed, especially when it’s cold and wet outside. More than likely, it’s a sign of pain.

“How can it be pain, you say, my pet isn’t limping or crying out when they move?” Well, you’re right, but most cats and dogs rarely cry out or limp until the pain has reached an extreme level.   They are the exact opposite of humans. We learn early, as babies, that crying and showing our pain will get us help and relief, but this doesn’t happen in the animal world. The wild ancestors of our domestic dogs and cats who cried out in pain or exhibited a disability could expect to be preyed upon and eaten, lose their position in the pack or be driven out of their territory by a rival. This has lead to a natural inclination to hide pain and symptoms of illness.

So, how do we know when they’re in pain? The number one thing to look for is ….. whatever causes you to be in pain. After all, if you broke your arm or had surgery, wouldn’t you be in pain? Well, then you can expect a dog or cat to be in pain and need help if they experience the same types of problems as we do. So, the rule of thumb is, if a human would want pain relief for the same problem a pet is experiencing, then a pet needs it too.

Because a pet hides their signs of pain, it can difficult to know when they’re in pain. However, there are some clues. First, a pet may actually hide themselves in the house. This is especially common in cats. If your pet is going off by themselves and this isn’t their normal behavior, chances are, something is wrong.

A second sign of pain is slowness or even refusal to move. Now, sometimes a pet will fool us, because if the incentive is great enough (like the desire to chase a squirrel or eat a treat food), a pet may decide to move through the pain to get the reward. What you really want to watch for is that ordinary things that your pets use to do are no longer being done.

Since it isn’t easy to recognize that your pet is in pain, it’s a good idea to have your veterinarian give your pet a physical exam at least once a year to actively look for painful conditions. This should be done bi-annually in senior pets as the odds of finding painful conditions rapidly increases with age. An added benefit is that early detection and treatment is usually less expensive and more successful than waiting until a small problem becomes a big one.

There are many options for effective pain relief for pets from bedding and climbing aids, weight management, nutritional supplements, laser therapy, chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture, and prescription pain relievers.

Whether the pain is from trauma, disease or dental/surgical procedures, pets don’t have to suffer in silence. It’s up to us as their advocates to recognize their pain and get them the help they need.

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