Vail Pet Talk column: What to do when your pet is in pain
Ryan Summerlin December 27, 2012
Treatment of pain in animals has made great advances over the years and pet owners have more options available now than ever before. Treatments may include pharmaceuticals, neutraceuticals, alternative and physical therapies, or combinations of various strategies. The old adage of “the more they hurt, the less they move” used to be applied post operatively with the belief that an animal in pain was less likely to re-injure a surgery site. Conversely, we now understand that treating pain actually promotes healthy tissue healing, while untreated pain slows healing and weakens the immune system. Animals have the same physiologic structures that we have and feel aches and pains just as we do. Therefore, it is important to be able to recognize signs of pain in our pets and be able to make informed decisions on treatment options to ensure quality in your pet’s life.
Many pet owners may be unaware of the numerous options available for treating pets who suffer from chronic pain. Degenerative joint disease is the No. 1 cause of chronic pain in dogs and cats, and can stem from injuries or natural development of irregularly developed joints. The signs can begin with a generalized decrease in activity and progress to trouble getting up, difficulty with stairs or getting into vehicles, and a reluctance to exercise. Animals in pain are often restless at night or may whine, whimper, or pant excessively.
Research has shown that first and foremost if a pet is overweight, they should start a weight loss program with the goal of achieving a lean body mass index. Obesity not only adds to the stress put on joints, but current research shows that fat cells release pro-inflammatory enzymes that cause pain and speed the degenerative processes within joints.
Pharmaceutical medications developed to treat arthritis and degenerative joint disease include non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, narcotics and neuromodulators, such as gabapentin (neurontin) or amantadine. While any drug can produce unwanted side effects ,they are typically rare when used correctly but risk always has to be balanced against the benefits of treating uncontrolled pain. NSAIDs, for instance, can cause stomach ulcers and kidney damage in animals just as they can in humans and some of these drugs cannot be used in cats or should not be used in combinations. Therefore, veterinarians require regular monitoring of patients who are using any of these medications.
Neutraceuticals, like glucosamine and chondroitin, MSM, anti-oxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, are slower acting therapies that may require weeks or months for positive effects. Because the FDA does not regulate this category of medications, safe dose levels and proven benefits have not always been proven. However, there is some evidence that many of these drugs have disease-modifying properties and the benefits may continue even after the drug has been discontinued. Several prescription diets available from your veterinarian contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids and have been shown to have dramatic anti-inflammatory effects. At this point, most of the drugs in this class are considered safe and do not require extensive follow up testing.
Other options available for treating chronic pain include alternative therapies such as acupuncture, cold laser therapy and veterinary orthopedic manipulation. These non-invasive or minimally invasive techniques are becoming more popular and have dependable, proven efficacy for treating a wide variety of conditions. A word of caution however, when allowing a human chiropractor to work on your a pet, Colorado law states that they must work under the supervision of a veterinarian.
There is physical therapy, stem cell and platelet rich plasma injections, Adequan injections, and the list goes on. In fact there are so many options for treating chronic pain I would need another full page (which they won’t let me have). Remember pain management is never “one size fits all” and the best approach is likely going to be some combination of the options given here, what is termed a “multi-modal” approach. Talk to your veterinarian to see what program fits best into you and your pet’s lifestyle to keep them moving and active through their golden years.
Feel free to email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Veterinarians Charlie Meynier and Tom Suplizio practice at the Vail Valley Animal Hospital and ER, with locations in Eagle-Vail and Edwards. On-call vets are available after hours, and an emergency hospital in Edwards is open 24 hours a day. For more information, call 970-926-3496 or visit www.vailvalleyanimalhospital.com.