Would You Know If Your Pet Was Suffering From Hidden Pain?

As veterinary professionals, we are advocates for recognising, understanding and treating pain in our patients, pets and companion animals. The very reason we became vets and took a life-long oath was to protect and reduce suffering in animals. Animal Pain Awareness Month is a great way to educate and raise awareness of hidden pain experienced by our pets. 

Acute pain is more easily recognised.  A road traffic accident, a visible wound or an obvious lameness can visibly be seen to hurt. But what about the chronic pain we can’t see? Dental pain, arthritis, certain eye conditions, even kidney disease can all cause long-term hidden pain.

Veterinary medicine has come on leaps and bounds since we began our journey. This means the average lifespan of domestic pets has increased dramatically from forty years ago. Although the average lifespan of a dog is 12 years, and a cat is 14 years, some cats live happily into their 20s and little terriers also seem to go on forever. This means we too need to improve and evolve alongside our pets, to offer the best care possible for a happy, healthy life! 

The Tall Tale of Tabby the Cat and How to Avoid a Catastrophe

Often we are faced with the tear-stained face of an owner, the much-loved family pet carried into the consulting room in a blanket and a sad explanation that ‘their time has come, old age has taken over and there is nothing we can do’. We gently ask what has happened and offer words of heart-felt sympathy, and slowly we piece together a picture. 

Let’s call our imaginary pet cat ‘Tabby’. Over a few weeks, Tabby has been crying at night, urinating near his litter tray but not in it and pestering for food, but walking away from his still full bowl a few minutes later. His coat is bedraggled, and he doesn’t jump onto the sofa for a morning cuddle anymore. Tabby is quite rightly miserable, his family is heartbroken. They have resigned themselves to the devastating fate of, a last visit to the vet. They can see no alternative.  They have tried to tempt him with all kinds of treats and stayed up with him the last couple of nights to no avail. 

What Tabby’s owner doesn’t know because Tabby, being a cat has hidden it so well, is that Tabby is in pain. On examination, we find Tabby has a fractured tooth causing a root abscess. It hurts when he tries to eat, so he has not managed very much. But he is hungry so he cries for food. It hurts when he tries to groom himself so he has let himself go a little. He has arthritis in his hips so hopping into the litter tray or onto the sofa is unachievable without feeling sore. So he gets as close to his tray for a wee as he can but ends up in a puddle. 

The clues are there for a trained eye but to an owner, they may not always be obvious. It could appear that Tabby has given up on life, his mind is wandering and the kindest thing would be to put him to sleep. Of course, sometimes this is the case and the sad conclusion is we have to come to end suffering that we cannot treat. 

However, on this occasion, there is a lot we can do for poor old Tabby. A treatment plan and home care plan can be drawn up with the family and veterinary team working together to support his needs. A health screen, then in for the day to get that abscess sorted out, a groom while he is asleep, x-rays to see the extent of his arthritis and medication to go home with to reduce pain and inflammation, alongside a joint supplement. Tabby now receives regular weight, dental and health exams so his tailor-made plan can be updated when needed. 

Old age is not a disease, but the pain is! Although Tabby’s story is fiction it is based on fact and experience from over forty years of working in veterinary medicine. This inspired us to produce our arthritis awareness video.

You can also take a look back at our previous blogs on dental health and mobility Including the story of how despite being a cat only vet practice we missed the early stages of our own cat’s dental disease!

What can I do to support my pet?

Are you familiar with the signs of pain? If not, this would be a good place to start.

Here are the most common clues your pet may be in pain:

  • Decreased appetite or leaving food

  • Slow to get up or circling before lying down 

  • Decreased activity or less playful

  • Difficulty getting up and down the stairs or onto raised surfaces

  • Difficulty standing after lying down  

  • Over-grooming or licking one area

  • A change in behaviour when handling a particular area or in general

 

You know your pet –  like any other family member they have their own little behaviour traits and routines. If a usually over-friendly labrador, who always greets any visitors at the door, now just lies on the sofa when the doorbell rings ask yourself why? Could it be that their hips are sore and launching themselves up the hallway after getting up from their bed hurts? Maybe this is a sign of arthritis creeping in which as a chronic, progressive disease, needs support.

If you notice changes in your pet’s usual routine always consult your veterinarian – they may need a check over. Early intervention can make a difference in how well these conditions can be managed long-term. 

Prevention is better than cure

Remember to follow our homecare routine W.E.T.S.

 Weigh – monthly weight check to note any unexpected changes.

Examine – nose to tail check of eyes/nose/ears, any sore skin, swollen or painful areas

Teeth – having a gentle check for any sore looking gums, teeth or oral lumps.

We are in the process of setting up our KISS DogCare and KISS CatCare preventative health regime (Keep it Super Simple) By monitoring your pet’s health at home you are more likely to notice any changes quickly. You are then able to consult your veterinarian for advice earlier and start any treatment sooner. 

Help us make Tabby’s story remain fictional and not a reality. Why not help us spread the word by sharing our blog with fellow pet lovers? Next month we will be discussing the real possibility of a looming pet health crisis, our pets have never needed our help more than now!