Pain management in pets is one of the more difficult aspects of veterinary science, due to the fact that animals will typically hid their pain as much as possible due to their natural instincts to appear healthy. Due to the fact that they will show as few telltale signs that they are in pain as possible, we cannot know for certain that the drugs, treatments and therapies are working without noting the small behavioral changes that would show improvement when compared to the past. In animals who are elderly are in a weakened condition already, it can be very difficult to notice the differences without careful observation. In cases of chronic arthritis where the animal may have been struggling with pain for years and may be lethargic and slow moving naturally, the expectations of seeing the animal running and playing would probably never happen, so the determinations of if the pain management program is working or needing to be modified is reliant on far more subtle observations. While there are many different approaches to pain management and hundreds of possible combinations of drugs, surgeries and therapies, coming the the correct mix for your particular animal is probably going to be a process of educated trial and error until the animal appears happier and healthier. There are no x-rays that actually show pain, they only show the makeup of the bones, joints and internal organs that can cause the pain.
Most pain management programs in pets come about as a result of the pet parent noticing changes in their pet’s behavior. Where they used to run and play, they are now beginning to lay still and sleep more. Other potential signals that an animal is in pain is excessive panting, avoidance of touch,licking their feet or body parts, whining and limping. If you are noticing changes in your pet that involve any of the symptoms that are discussed above, or potentially any other changes to your pet’s behavior, it is probably time to speak to your veterinarian about pain management. The first step will be a thorough examination of your pet to see if the source of the potential pain can be pinpointed. In many cases, x-rays can show areas where bones may be rubbing together, nerves may be pinched and arthritis is progressing. Once these kinds of determining factors are explored, the next step is to begin to consider the options to see if the pain might be able to be relieved surgically or through therapy, or if there is no alternative except ongoing managing of the pain. When the options of eliminating the sources of pain are exhausted, the next logical step is to attempt to reduce the amount of pain that is being endured. This is where pain management in pets becomes a series of decisions based upon how severe the pain is, the quality of life of the animal, and the ability of the pet parent to bear the financial responsibility of the drugs and therapies.
The most common form of pain management in pets is treating older animals who suffer from arthritis. Just like human beings, over time the body does not function as well as it did when younger, and the lack of adequate padding between bones causes them to rub together and cause damage. In other cases, arthritis or degenerative joint disease causes inflammation of the joints which leads to ongoing, localized pain. In cases like these, the treatments are much the same in pets as in humans, combining a diet that assists in keeping bones and joints healthy and supplemental drugs which will reduce inflammation and pain. In cases of arthritis in pets, many times the pain management process will involve a combination of anti-inflammatory drugs like Rimadyl and pain reducers like Tramadol, which is the generic name for analgesic drugs like Ultram, Tramal and Zydol. Rimadyl must not be used in larger portions than are prescribed by your veterinarian due to potential complications like liver damage that can result from over-use. Narcotic-like drugs that reduce moderate to severe pain can be used in larger percentages to body weight (generally .45 to 1.8 milligrams per pound of body weight every 8 to 12 hours for Tramadol,) which is why in many cases pet owners will find that they quickly hit the limits that Rimadyl can be safely used within, and the next step in attempting to relieve pain is the increasing of the dosages of the drugs like Tramadol. The veterinarian will usually experiment with dosages over time, asking the pet owner to watch for signs of improvement and adjusting the medications dosages until the correct balance is achieved that keeps the animal as pain-free as possible. It can be expected that this process will take a few visits discussing the animal’s demeanor with the veterinarian. Side effects of narcotic drugs like Tramadol can include tiredness, difficulty breathing, loss of appetite, constipation, diarrhea and vomiting. Overdosing on any drug should result in an immediate visit to an emergency veterinary center, as it can cause the pet’s lungs and heart to stop functioning.
The last option must be considered if the animal cannot find relief from the options that are available. If the quality of life of the pet is compromised and there are no options left that effectively manage the pain, euthanasia is a consideration. While no pet parent wants to consider this option, in many cases there are no other options that can assist the animal and the pet suffers needlessly. This decision is an extremely difficult one that must be made with careful consideration from both the pet owner and veterinarian.
Keeping your pet as happy and pain free in their senior years is a challenge, and the options for pain management that are at the disposal of pet parents have a very large range, many times now extending into treatments that were once only considered for humans. Acupuncture, massage and alternative medicine has become popular in the past decade for animals, as have therapy centers where everything from physical rehabilitation to water therapy programs can potentially provide results that were not possible before. Pain relieving surgeries that were once thought of as “only for humans” are also available through specialized centers. All in all, there are many potential pain relieving options at your disposal, and either your veterinarian or a specialist recommended by your veterinarian can help your pet to live out their older age comfortably.