2001-Sun Dec 04 19:40:25 MST 2016
Vetstreet. All rights reserved.
Vetstreet does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. See Additional Information ›
If your pet were in
pain, would you know? If you’re like most of my clients, you’d say,
“Absolutely!” But studies show that pet owners — and even veterinarians — aren’t always good at detecting discomfort in dogs and
cats. What’s more, my experience confirms it.
It’s true. Most of my clients seem to assume their pet’s outward calm (or, in some cases, their persistent exuberance) is a sure sign of painlessness. But we’ve learned this isn’t necessarily so.
Over the past couple of decades, veterinary medicine has made great strides in anesthesia and pain control. In large part, this has come about as the result of the recognition that those who can’t communicate with us and don’t necessarily behave as we do may still be feeling the very same pain we do under similar circumstances.
The most notable example of this oh-so-obvious leap in our understanding of other creatures came, surprisingly, from lessons learned in human medicine. Turns out that as recently as the mid-’80s we used to assume that human infants didn’t feel pain the same way we do.
Indeed, it was only when studies demonstrated an increase in survival rates among infants who received anesthesia and pain control during and after surgery that we came to understand the egregious consequences of our misperception: Our babies were literally dying of pain.
Since then, pain-scoring systems have been devised, modified and continually refined to help us better identify not just pain in infants, but also in pets. We’re not so different after all. In this, in particular, it seems we’re quite alike.
But there’s still the philosophical question to grapple with: While pets can't verbalize when they're in pain, they have other ways of showing it. But can we, with our human limitations and biases, ever correctly interpret what we see?
It’s true that we veterinarians have a tough job of determining how best to assess a patient’s pain, even with our fancy-schmancy scoring systems adapted from human pediatrics. After all, so much of it is subjective.
What's more, all animals are given to hiding their pain and distress to some degree. This is an effective evolutionary adaptation designed to help them avoid predators when they’re sick or injured. Even our pets, divorced from their wild cousins though they’ve been, have never lost that natural skill, despite their many thousands of years of domestication.
Like this article? Have a point of view to share? Let us know!
Take our breed quiz to find your next pet.
Get all the best pet news and information sent right to your inbox!
Thank you for subscribing!
We scoured our database of 1.1 million
dogs to find out which male and female
monikers reigned supreme this past…
Christmas trees, fatty foods and other
seasonal items may bring cheer to your
home, but they'll cause harm to your…
Dr. Sarah Wooten takes a closer look at
this curious sleeping habit and what it has
to do with canines’ ancestry.
The Kromfohrlander is said to be
descended from a mixed-breed dog
who was a mascot for American troops.
Check out our collection of more than 250 videos about pet training, animal behavior, dog and cat breeds and more.
Wonder which dog or cat best fits your lifestyle? Our new tool will narrow down more than 300 breeds for you.
If the video doesn't start playing momentarily,
please install the latest version of Flash.
Thank you for subscribing.