We are honored to have a wonderful guest blogger today, Dr. Shelley Brown of Harmony Veterinary Center, Arvada, CO. Dr. Brown practices integrative veterinary medicine, including acupuncture, cold laser, and homotoxicology. She is a member of the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management. 

I hear it all the time–“My pet’s limping, but she’s not in pain” or “Surely he’d cry out if something hurt”.

How many times have we ourselves suffered our pains in silence?  Do we scream and moan every time something hurts?  And why do we limp, unless something hurts?  Its easy to fall into the trap of believing our pets don’t experience pain simply because they don’t tell us about it.  However, a recent study showed  that 90% of cats over the age of 12 have significant arthritis on x-rays,  yet most of their owners reported their cat is “fine”.  This level of arthritis on a human x-ray is associated with moderate to severe levels of pain, requiring medications and other treatments for relief.  Most animals are wired to hide their pain so they are not perceived as “weak” by other animals, but that doesn’t mean they don’t experience pain.

The physiology of pain production, transmission, and perception is nearly identical between people and animals.  A cascade of hormones and other substances are involved in translating a painful stimulus into a nervous impulse that is ultimately perceived by the brain as painful  So we can make the general assumption that if something is painful to a person, it will likely be painful to an animal as well.  You might ask the question “Is it really that bad that our pets experience some pain, especially if they don’t complain about it?”  Numerous studies have shown that the consequences of untreated pain in pets include:

  • increased risk of infection
  • suppressed immune system
  • delayed wound healing
  • decreased food and water intake (which have further consequences)
  • decreased mobility
  • altered sleep patterns
  • behavioral changes such as irritability, hiding, guarding postures, restlessness, etc.
  • increased blood pressure
  • increased heart rate
  • increased respiration rate
  • changes in white blood cell counts
  • increased catabolism (protein breakdown)
  • hair loss
  • weight loss
  • accelerated aging
  • shortened lifespan

Untreated pain can also lead to wind-up, where the nervous system becomes hypersensitive to pain stimuli.  In cases of chronic or severe pain, the nervous system can become sensitive to non-painful stimuli , meaning a gentle touch can be perceived as painful.   We wouldn’t appreciate experiencing this ourselves, so why put our pets at risk for this?

Next time, we’ll talk about how to recognize when our pets are in pain.

 This is an extremely important subject that deserves far more attention than it usually gets. When Dr. Brown and I attended vet school, pain management was just starting to gain traction. Even now, most pets are inadequately treated for pain, and this has serious consequences for their quality of life as well as longevity.