Animal Pain Awareness Month: Don’t let pets suffer in silence

NEW YORK – When we have pain, we can explain where it hurts. Our pets aren’t so lucky. 

Fortunately, there’s growing recognition about pain, both in human and veterinary medicine. People are starting to ask, “if my pet is in chronic pain what can I do about it?” That’s why September has been designated Animal Pain Awareness Month, and clinicians from BluePearl Veterinary Partners are offering suggestions for helping your furry family members when they are in distress.

According to Dr. Elizabeth Goudie, an expert in veterinary anesthesiology and pain management, owners are best at identifying when a pet isn’t feeling well.

“They know their pets and can recognize behavior that is unusual or out of the norm,” she said.  “You really have to be able to read their body language.”

The signs can be subtle. Maybe your formerly voracious dog isn’t finishing his dinner, or your cat stops jumping up on her favorite spot on the back of the couch. Other signs include:

  • Changes in the pet’s gait, the movement you’re used to seeing as they walk
  • Pets who don’t want to run any more – even when you offer them food, toys or encouragement
  • Licking, biting or staring at a spot on their bodies
  • Cats who disappear. When cats don’t feel well, they tend to hide
  • Formerly affectionate pets who no longer want to be petted or even wince when they are touched

If you notice any of these signs, Dr. Goudie recommends contacting your family veterinarian. It can also be helpful to track your pet’s behavior using a journal or a calendar, to help both you and the veterinarian pinpoint which activities might be aggravating the pain.

Common conditions that cause pain include arthritis; unrecognized injuries; chronic pain from an old injury; back pain, including disc problems; and cancer pain. Some conditions can be improved with surgery, while medication can be used to treat others. Other options include physical therapy and alternative practices such as acupuncture and massage.

Just as in human medicine, the understanding of pain in pets has come a long way over time, Dr. Goudie said. Now it’s accepted that pain affects many of our pets, just as it affects our human friends and family members.

Just because pets are getting older, that doesn’t mean they have to live with chronic pain. Be observant, and talk to your veterinarian.

“If you notice a change, or think your pet is in pain, there are things you can do to help,” Dr. Goudie added. “There are a ton of different options out there these days. The goal is to help manage chronic pain to get pets back to playing, eating and loving life again.”