Believe it or not, it wasn't very long ago that pain relievers for animals were discouraged. Even when I was in veterinary school (which feels like yesterday but was actually 20 years ago), there were some faculty members who taught that relieving pain in our patients would encourage them to move too much and re-injure themselves. These professors weren't monsters; they were operating with the best intentions and teaching us the best medicine that they knew. Luckily for all of us, this field has changed dramatically for the better.
Your pet now can enjoy the same level of pain control that you or I can. Veterinarians are trained to look for the most subtle signs of pain, and we have tools available to us to lessen it. Morris Animal Foundation, with a steady push from our long-time (43 years!) trustee and friend Betty White, has a long record of scientifically evaluating pain control in dogs, cats, horses, and even wildlife. Since 1992, we have funded 53 studies aimed at reducing pain, and we've made great strides.
Common sense tells us that animals feel pain the same way we do. The philosophy now taught to veterinary students is "assume something hurts until proven otherwise." This assumption might add some time or expense to procedures, but it strikes me that this is the only way we can assure animals in our care never feel unnecessary discomfort.
Veterinarians look for obvious signs of pain, such as holding a leg up or unwillingness to use part of a body, or very subtle signs like slight increases in respiratory rates or changes in pupil size. But really, you know your pet best, and I'm a huge fan of telling pet owners to touch every inch of your animal every week. Not only does this keep you aware of any lumps, bumps, or swellings that might be there, but it also gives you the opportunity to notice any change in behavior in response to you touching specific parts of their bodies.
There is just no better way to know how your pets are doing than to check in with them every day. Besides, everybody loves a massage, whether you have 2 legs or 4.
Pain is a natural part of living, but thanks to research we also know that pain slows healing, increases stress, and reduces quality of life. There are effective ways to prevent and reduce pain in our animal friends, but more ways are always needed.
We at Morris Animal Foundation are committed to continually looking for ways to alleviate pain in our furry friends, and you can help us. I encourage you to visit MorrisAnimalFoundation.org to learn more.