Is your pet suffering in silence?

1st February 2022

Can you imagine how it feels to have raging toothache, or be in chronic arthritic pain every day and not being able to reach for the pain killers, book an appointment with the doctor or even communicate with those you love about how you feel because you have been conditioned not to show pain?

Sadly, this is the case for many of the nation’s pets.

Veterinary research has shown that 60% of cats over 6 years and 80% of dogs over 8 years are suffering with chronic and painful inflammation of the joints or osteoarthritis, and dental disease in both dogs and cats often goes undiagnosed as we may see bad breath as “normal” or tend not to spend much time looking in our pet’s mouths. 

If we think about how animals would behave in the wild, it helps us understand how easily our beloved pet could be in pain without us noticing.

In the wild, if an animal gets injured or is suffering with chronic pain, it has little choice but to live with it. Animals are preconditioned to continue to eat when they are in pain, as it is essential for survival. Therefore, we should not take “eating fine” as being a sign that our pet is not painful. Even a pet with the most awful dental disease that may be in excruciating pain, may still eat to survive.

For some species, it is also important to hide pain, so they don’t look weak to other animals. In the wild, this may allow the animal to survive predators. Animal ability to hide pain is assisted through the release of pain killing hormones, such as adrenalin, which helps the animal to continue to behave as if no pain were present.

This adrenalin may also play a part in your pet continuing to play enthusiastically at times. The release of this hormone will override the pet’s pain in the short term. However, in the same way that we may not feel pain from a hard work out at the gym until the next day, our pets will also still feel painful once the adrenalin has passed.

If we understand the role of adrenalin, then this helps us understand that just because an animal “still wants to play” or “still wants to go for their walks” this is not a reliable indicator of whether they are in pain. 

Even veterinary professionals have puzzled over recognising pain in pets for many years and continue to keep evolving in our knowledge. Sometimes, even for those of us with years of experience, the only option is to set up a pain management trial to assess whether the pet seems happier once pain medication is on board.

At Blackwater vets we are passionate about pain relief, and proudly employ our own qualified physiotherapist. We fully recognise the importance of a complete pain management program that works primarily for the pet, but also that is achievable for the owner. We use proven and effective pain medication alongside environmental management and an overall holistic plan that may include physiotherapy or laser therapy.

Pain is so very complex in animals as they are so very good at hiding it but as a starting point think about whether you have noticed any subtle changes in your pet’s behaviour;

  • Is their overall demeanour different?
  • Do they display hiding behaviours?
  • Are they showing guarding or defensive behaviours?
  • Are they grumpy if you touch them? Maybe they seem less happy wearing a harness than they used to
  • Do they seem to struggle when going to the toilet? Find it harder to cock a leg or squat? Are they having toileting accidents?
  • Do they seem more reluctant to play?
  • Are they hanging back on walks?
  • Are they sleeping more? Don’t assume this is “just old age” as it may be a sign of pain
  • Are they reluctant to go upstairs or to walk on hard flooring?
  • Do they show signs of struggling to get up after sleeping or appearing stiff at first?
  • Are they restless at night or struggle to settle?
  • Do they vocalise more?
  • Do they limp?

Please look at our website where we have a lot more information and where you can download mobility questionnaires for both dogs and cats so you can start to assess in much more detail whether your pet is in pain.

If you are in doubt, then please call us for some advice as we know you will agree that it is not acceptable to leave a pet suffering in silence.

Even if your pet is young, this does not mean they cannot be suffering with osteoarthritis, or tooth pain. Veterinary evidence certainly suggests that many dogs can start with osteoarthritis changes as young as a year old.

Whilst you will need an appointment with a vet for a full diagnosis and potentially a prescription for pain medication, we do also offer nurse appointments for some initial advice or even just to discuss whether we feel an appointment with a vet is necessary.

Approaching pain management is very much about a holistic approach and sometimes simple steps such as moving sleeping areas, putting rugs down on slippery floors and managing exercise and diet can make all the difference. Our fully qualified veterinary nurse and physiotherapy professionals can help guide you, and then refer you for a veterinary consult as necessary.

Call us on 01206 384999 and our knowledgeable reception team will advise you on next steps. We know that you will be as passionate as we are in ensuring that our much-loved pets of Mersea do not suffer in silence.