Identifying and Managing Your Pet’s Pain

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What You Need to Know About Pet Pain Management

pet sitting, pet sitters, dog walking, dog walkers, Towson, Baltimore

As professional pet sitters and dog walkers we see pets of all ages and are often distraught to see older pets in chronic pain that goes untreated. Not long ago there were few pain medications available for our pets, but fortunately, within the last decade many medications have been developed to help our pets be more comfortable. Most pet owners that we’ve talked to over the years are surprised to learn that these medications even exist and sometimes don’t recognize that what’s going on with their pets is actually chronic pain from arthritis or an injury. More disturbing is that we also see many pets who have recently seen their veterinarian and they haven’t even suggested using the many effective medications available for a pet that is suffering! There is no reason that your pet should suffer in pain when there are so many effective treatments available. If your vet isn’t helping your pet manage chronic pain, ask them why they aren’t and be prepared to change to a more knowledgable vet. Vets are people too and as in any other profession, they are only as good as they want to be. We have encountered several vets who do nothing more than offer Glucosamine/Chondroitin, which is supposed to support joint health by repairing lost cartilage, as a treatment for a pet in severe pain. Glucosamine/Chondroitin is not only worthless as a pain reliever, but recent studies show that these supplements provide no benefit at all in rebuilding cartilage. All you probably need to know about this supplement is that it’s worldwide sales are upwards of $2 Billion. So as someone who has seen many horror stories in the last 17 years, we all need to be well informed consumers, protect our pets, and perform our own research and due diligence so that we can ask our vets the appropriate questions rather than blindly following their advice. If you have a pet that suffers from chronic pain, whether it be from arthritis or an injury, here are the basics that you need to know to help you become more knowledgable so you can provide the care your pet deserves.
Pain Management for Dogs

The principal drugs used in managing arthritic pain are Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs, or “NSAID’s”.NSAID’s are not new and most of we humans take them on a frequent basis: Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), Naproxen (Aleve) and Aspirin. However, there is a huge difference between the medications we take and those designed for dogs. Never, ever give your dog any type of pain medication without first checking with your veterinarian. NSAID’s developed for our pets work in a similar fashion by reducing inflammation and swelling, controlling pain and stiffness, and helping our dogs heal better and faster. However, dog physiology is very different than ours in many ways and they process and metabolize these drugs differently. Typically they’re used to control chronic pain such as arthritis just as Ibuprofen and Naproxen do for us, but giving even a child’s dose of a drug like Tylenol, for example, could kill your pet. NSAID’s must be prescribed by your veterinarian and require a simple blood test to make sure that your dog’s liver is functioning properly in order to metabolize the medication. The most popular medications available from your vet are:

  • Rimadyl
  • Etogesic
  • Metacam
  • Zubrin
  • Deramaxx
  • Previcox
  • Novox

Fortunately, NSAID’s for dogs are available in many forms too; caplets, tablets, liquids and injections. This makes administering the medications very simple. Generally, you can hide the pills in practically anything for most dogs, but if you have a finicky dog don’t forget about Pill Pockets and similar products. They’re soft, flavored treats designed for hiding medications and you just pop the pill or tablet in the hole, fold it over and give it to your pet as a treat. Most dogs and even many cats that we care for eat them without thinking twice.

Pain Management for Cats. Well, It’s Complicated

Unfortunately, things aren’t so simple when it comes to managing pain in our cats. Cats are very unique animals (like we didn’t know that already) and, likewise, have very unique biological systems. Unlike humans and dogs, cats lack a very important liver enzyme pathway which makes them very sensitive to NSAID’s and other pain killer drugs. However, extensive research has shown that some of these products can be used cautiously for cats too, such as Metacam, either for short periods, at lengthened dosage intervals, or at a lower dosage levels. There is also a new NSAID on the market for both dogs and cats called Onsior (robenacoxib). This drug is still very new, only receiving FDA approval early this year, but is still no panacea. It has very specific guidelines for administering it to cats and for short durations. So please check with your vet if you suspect your cat suffers from chronic pain to see what course of treatment will work best.

Signs of Chronic Pain in Pets

Unfortunately, one of the most difficult things in this process is to diagnose that your pet is in pain in the first place. It’s simple if your pet just had surgery or experienced some type of injury or trauma, but our pets are notorious for being very stoic and hiding their pain…especially cats. Here are some of the typical warning signs that your pet is experiencing pain:

  • Reduction in appetite or not eating at all
  • Hiding and reduced interest in people and attention
  • Lethargy
  • Sitting immobilized, hunched or in an awkward stance
  • Favoring a sore part of the body
  • Shivering or shaking, especially hind legs while standing (Elvis legs)
  • Difficulty in lying down or sitting
  • Soiling in the house because it’s more painful to get outside to eliminate or in the litter box
  • Aggression, growling or snapping when being touched
  • Loss of normal social interactions with other pets
  • Vocalizing, growling, hissing, yowling
  • Agitation or restlessness
  • Fast, shallow breathing and panting if the air temperature is not a causal factor

If you suspect that your pet is experiencing pain take them to your vet where they can also check body temperature, heart rate, and respiratory rate and pattern to get a more complete picture. It is important to control pain in your pet. Uncontrolled pain will reduce its healing ability, leads to weight loss and debility, and increases risk of infections due to weakened immune system function. Unexplained changes in your pet’s behavior should not be ignored since they can be an early warning sign of pain. Remember, our pets can’t tell us when they’re in pain, so it’s up to us to pay attention to any changes in behavior and take appropriate action.

Warning Signs

NSAID’s for pets have been proven safe and effective just as they have been with humans, but they’re also not without risk and potential side effects in rare cases and especially if used improperly and not as directed. Be very careful and follow the administration instructions carefully and note any changes in your pet while using these medications. Read the client information sheet specific to the medication that your pet is prescribed and familiarize yourself with the potential side effects. Some of the most common side effects are as follows:

  • Decrease or increase in appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Change in bowel movements (diarrhea, black, tarry, or bloody stools)
  • Change in behavior (decreased or increased activity level)
  • Seizure, aggression, or lack of coordination
  • Yellowing of gums, skin, or whites of the eyes (jaundice)
  • Change in drinking habits (frequency or amount consumed)
  • Change in urination habits (frequency, color, or smell)
  • Change in skin (redness, scabs, or scratching)

Should you notice any of these symptoms, stop giving the medication and contact your vet immediately.

Other Ways You Can Help Your Pet

In addition to having your pet on the proper medication there are a few other things you can do to make your pet more comfortable. Omega 3 Fatty Acids (cold water fish oils) have been shown to help reduce inflammation. You can buy Omega 3’s in liquid capsule or in a bottle that you can squirt on your pet’s food. A good quality pet bed is also very important so that you pet can lie down comfortably to take the pressure off their sore joints or other affected areas. Be sure to get a bed with plenty of cushioning, especially for heavier dogs, and perhaps even buy a memory foam orthopedic bed for maximum relief. Feed your pet a high quality pet food (Eagle Pack, Canidae, Orijen, Acana, Blue Buffalo to name a few) and feed them the appropriate amount to keep them at their ideal weight. Excess weight on a pet, just as with people, only exacerbates the pain by putting excess pressure and stress on the joints. If your pet is experiencing pain please be sure to keep young children from roughly handling and playing with them to avoid further injury as well as to avoid potential biting and scratching of your children.

The Bottom Line

If you suspect your pet is experiencing pain be sure to pay attention to the warning signs. Seek veterinary care sooner rather than later and educate yourself about the many medication treatment options available to you today and discuss them with your vet. Remember, NEVER give your pet any pain medications not prescribed or discussed with your vet and don’t increase dosages of prescribed medications without your vet’s approval.

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