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Pain can be defined as the recognition by the brain of an unpleasant sensation arising from actual or potential tissue damage. Pain can be classified many different ways however, for the sake of this discussion, we will limit classification to acute pain (pain from surgery, a broken bone, a burn, etc.) and chronic pain (pain from Osteoarthritis (bone and joint pain), cancer, etc.).
For far too many years the veterinary profession considered pain management to be of little consequence. Many excuses were made for not needing to provide pain management such as animals don’t feel pain like humans, pain is beneficial because it limits animal’s activity, or pain relief can hide patient deteriorization. All of these reasons for not using pain medication have been proven false. Actually, the beneficial effects of pain management far outweigh the very few adverse effects that may arise from using pain relieving medications.
The effects of untreated pain in veterinary patients can be rather severe. These effects are quite varied and include decreased blood oxygen, breathing problems, increased calorie demand, destruction of muscle tissue, impairment of the immune system, blood borne bacterial infection, collapsed lungs, delayed wound healing and heart and blood vessel stress. Many of these conditions can be fatal. With this in mind, all surgery patients should have pain medication before, during and after any surgical procedure. Multiple pain medications that work on different parts of the pain process allow lowering of doses, better control of pain and fewer chances of adverse effects.
While acute pain serves a purpose by informing the body of actual or potential tissue damage it also occurs to prevent further damage. Chronic pain serves no physiologic purpose. Further damage cannot be prevented because the pain is created by a disease process that will continue tissue damage no matter what is done. Examples of syndromes causing chronic pain include Osteoarthritis (bone and joint pain), cancer pain and neuropathic pain (chronic disc disease, limb amputation). This pain can occur anywhere in the body. Chronic pain can create a number of temporary to semi-permanent changes in how the whole nervous system functions. Therefore, once again, multiple pain relieving drugs must be used to address the painful disease process as well as changes in the nervous system as a whole.
We also need to remember that the way animals express pain is very different from people. Animals rarely whine and cry with chronic (long-term) pain rather it is their nature to hide pain for survival reasons. The signs of pain can be subtle, from sleeping more to decreased appetite to very discreet lameness. It is important to discuss changes like these with a veterinarian because the earlier a diagnosis is made and intervention is started the better the results will be.
At Broadmoor East Veterinary Clinic we practice pain management everyday. We use many different medications and methods to alleviate pain. We use narcotic, anti-inflammatories, local anesthetics, NMDA inhibitors, Alpha-2 inhibitors and other pain management medications. Procedures such as laser therapy, epidurals, extended release narcotics, multiple combination local infusions and continuous rate infusions of pain relieving medications are all used to ensure quality pain management around surgical procedures and occasionally used to add control to chronic pain conditions. This area of veterinary medicine is a relatively new (within the last ten years) and exciting area that we embrace as a practice. We feel our surgical patients recover faster and our Osteoarthritis patients have a much greater quality of life to which they all deserve.