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How can we tell if our pets No Descriptionare in pain?


Different species show pain differently.   Because dogs and cats  show pain differently than humans do, a lot of people have concluded that animals don't feel much pain.  In fact, in the old days, it was taught in veterinary schools that animals did not feel pain.  

Yet at the same time the anatomists and the physiologists knew that animals' nervous systems are just like ours.   The nerve endings function in the same ways our do.  There have been studies done comparing animals and humans in pain threshold tests, and they found that animals feel pain at the same stimulation levels as humans.  The pharmacologists who develope and test new pain medications did their original experiments in animals, and they found that what worked in animals also worked in people.

We now know that this is absolutely not true that animals do not feel pain, and pregressive veterinarians believe in doing everything they can to treat pain in their patients.

So why do animals not show pain?  The answer is that they do feel pain, but they do not show that they feel pain with the same mannerisms that humans use to show pain.  Because we are not used to speaking the animals "pain language," we miss most of their "I hurt" statements.

When I ask clients whether they think their pet is in pain, they often respond with statements like these:

"No, he isn't whining so he must not be in pain."

"No, he is still eating so his tooth must not hurt him."

"No, she's a little stiff but she still wants to play."


We seem to expect animals to react very dramatically to pain, and when they don't, we often conclude that they must not be in any pain at all.  Think back to the last time you were is pain.  Did you moan continuously?  Probably not, but you were nonetheless in significant pain.  Remember when you had you wisdom teeth out?  It hurt, didn't it.  But you did not quit eating.  Anybody have arthritis?  I do, but I still enjoy many activities even though it hurts a bit.

Also, we often expect animals to show pain in ways that are contrary to their nature.  It is instinctive for animals to hide their weaknesses, not to bring attention to them.  In the wild, an injured wolf that whines will attract predators like a garbage truck attracts flies.  It would be suicide in the wild for an injured wolf to whine or cry out, so they don't. 

We also expect painful animals to be inactive.  That is what we would do.  But a seriously painful wolf who looks like a seriously injured wolf is at a much greater risk of being attacked than one who does not seem so helpless.  A painful wolf that doesn't stay with the pack attracts predators like hNo Descriptione was sitting on a serving tray.  So they continue to stay with the pack move and act as normally as possible.

We also expect injured animals to quit eating, especially animals with dental pain, because that is what we think would do (even though we don't).  But a wolf with a broken tooth that stops eating rapidly becomes a thin, weak, mal-nourished wolf with a broken tooth and becomes a prime target for predators.  So they continue to eat through the pain.

Then there is the issue of what would you do if you were injured but you didn't know that there was anything anybody could do?  We seem to expect our pets, when they are in pain, to seek us out and somehow communicate to us that they are in pain.  Not only is this against their nature, as we have discussed above, but it becomes even more unlkely and improbable when we consider that an animals has no way of knowing that relief is even possible. 

If you were playing frisbee one day and blew out your knee, what would you do?  I would stay off it for a day to see if it got better, then I would try some OTC pain medicine for a few days while resting it, and if that didn't work I would go see a doctor and have surgery if needed.   But if I didn't know that there was such a thing as pain medicine or doctors or surgery, I would probably just go back to work and carry on as best as I could.  And if I couldn't talk, I probably wouldn't complain about it a whole lot, especially if I thought the predators were watching.


So how do animals show pain?  They show it in very subtle ways.  These ways might include
 
sleeping more  purring more sitting in unusual positions
eating less vigorously being less interactive with humans grooming less
less competitive socially

Notice that all of the above are relative things, and if the pain has been present for a long time, we often forget how they used to be, and we have nothing to compare the current behavior to.

A veterinarian related this personal story of how his own dog showed pain.  In this case, the dog damaged a tooth.  The tooth wasn't knocked out or broken, but it had sustained an injury known as pulpitis, where the sensitive pulp inside the tooth is damaged by trauma.  The injured pulp bleeds inside the tooth, causing the tooth to change color.

The veterinarian relates, "In 1983 my dog Mutley was playing tug of war with our youngest son.  Mutley yelped out and we watched his tooth turn pink.  He completely went off feed for one day. And for the next few days went from the alpha dog in the family to the bottom of the pack. The other dogs would push him away from his food bowl and he let them. The next week I did a root canal on the tooth and the following day he went back to being the alpha male." 

This dog was experiencing severe dental pain, yet he showed only subtle signs.  He only quit eating for one day.  He showed no other sign of tooth pain that the veterinarian could identify, except that he was bothered by the pain so much that he could no longer defend his status in the pecking order. As soon as the pain was relieved by the root canal therapy, he immediately became top dog again.

So how can we tell if our pet is experiencing pain?  There are two ways.  One is by careful observation.  The other is by logic.  We know that the "hardware" of the animal nervous system is identical to ours.  We can therefore expect that things that cause us pain will also cause pain in our pets.  Just because they do not show pain in ways that we expect them to show pain does not mean that they are not feeling pain.  At Sunnyside Veterinary Clinic, we believe that surgery hurts, and that animals can be in significant pain for several days and not show dramatic signs of their suffering.  That is why we treat all surgical and injury patients as we would like to be treated, with plenty of effective, safe pain medication.

The Colorado State College of Veterinary Medicine has produced an 18-minute video on pain in animals. Click here to view it.