“Pain” is a perception that the brain creates from input called “nociception” (pronounced no-si-sep-tion). This is the physiology term to describe the chemical processes that are at work in the body that receive a stimulus, modify it, and transfer it to the brain for interpretation and reaction. The stimulus can be physical, temperature, chemical or inflammatory damage to tissues. The brain processes this nociceptive input, mixes it with other data, and creates the perception we call pain. Everyone’s pain perception and reaction to it may be different.
Not all pain is bad—pain lets us know that something may be harming our bodies that we need to stop. But “pathologic pain” is a type of pain that is no longer serving this helpful purpose. Most of the pain issues we are likely to encounter with our pets in the medical situation are examples of pathologic pain.
Pain can be caused by many things:
- physical trauma, such as falling down or being hit by something
- internal organ problems, such as intestinal upset or kidney blockage
- surgical procedures, such as abdominal surgery or bone surgery
- brain or spine problems, such as a slipped disc, pinched nerve or headache
- degenerative changes, such as arthritis and joint damage
Common pain behaviors are:
- growling and/or purring (cats)
- not grooming (cats)
- not moving from one spot (cats)
- squinting (cats)
- crying and/or whining (dogs)
- glassy-eyed, vacant look (dogs)
- hunched up body (cats and dogs)
- restlessness and changing positions a lot (dogs)
- shaking and trembling (dogs)
- hiding (cats and dogs)
- irritable or aggressive (cats and dogs)
- no appetite (cats and dogs)
- protecting the hurting body part (cats and dogs)
There are current “standard of care” guidelines in the veterinary medical field, but there are no “the best” protocols. A pain management plan must be tailored to your pet, their medical condition, and their pain; charges for these services will vary from patient to patient.
The veterinary profession is sufficiently advanced to recognize and successfully manage pain in our patients. We have medications, techniques and experience that can be customized to the species and the medical condition; current standard of care allows for the vast majority of patients to be made comfortable the majority of the time. Pet owners should feel empowered to be part of the medical decision-making regarding this, and other, aspects of their pet’s medical care. From the common spay procedure to the complex trauma case, reserve the time for these pain management discussions with your primary care veterinarian or your veterinary surgeon.
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