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Pain Management For Senior Pets

Education > Dog Health & Behaviour 10th April 2019
 


With improved veterinary medicine and the ability to provide appropriate diets and daily care, many pets are living longer. This means our dogs and cats remain "seniors" for a significant portion of their lives. In general, dogs and cats are considered senior when they are 7 years old and above. Some large-breed dogs are seniors once they are over 5 years old.

Besides scheduling regular health screenings, dental care and grooming, our senior pets benefit from a balanced diet to maintain a healthy weight (avoid obesity), regular low impact exercises, as well as companionship for mental and emotional well-being. Pain management is also an important area in senior pet care.

"Decades ago, we used to believe that pain helped to keep our pets quiet so they could heal faster. I'm glad this attitude has changed. Our goal in pain management is to always improve patient comfort, mobility and quality of life while minimising the risks of side effects from medications."

WHY IS PAIN MANAGEMENT IMPORTANT?

To improve the welfare of our four-legged friends, of course! We are all familiar with painful conditions and the way they affect our well-being. Pets feel the same. Studies have shown that pain relief speeds up recovery process, whether from surgery or injury. More importantly, pain relief may extend the life span of your pet because it reduces stress and increases the sense of well-being.



ACUTE PAIN AND CHRONIC PAIN

Acute pain is sudden, usually resulting from injury, surgery or infection. It is extremely uncomfortable but seldom lingers, and usually resolves when the cause is treated. Chronic pain usually develops slowly. It rarely disappears and can persists for years, sometimes even for the rest of your pet’s life. Arthritis, cancer or bones diseases are common causes of chronic pain. Due to slow progression of the pain, some pets learn to tolerate it and live with it, making detection difficult.

TELL TALE SIGNS THAT YOUR PET IS IN PAIN

Our pets cannot tell us in words that they are in pain. However, we can tell they are hurting if we pay close attention to changes in their behaviour:

  • Unusually quiet, restless or listless
  • Keep to themselves and not keen to interact or socialise
  • Whine, whimper or howls for no apparent reason
  • Irritable, growl, bite, snap
  • Excessively licking a particular part of the body
  • Flattening the ears against the head
  • Trouble sleeping or eating
  • Unusually aggressive, submissive or attention-seeking

MULTIMODAL APPROACH TO PAIN MANAGEMENT

Multimodal pain management involves multiple methods of treatment that work together to relieve pain. It involves both pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical options. The goal is effective pain relief with the least medication, thereby minimising the harmful side effects of drugs used.  



Pharmaceutical options for pain relief include the use of medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), local anaesthesia (used during dental and surgical procedures), analgesics and steroids. These medications work by blocking chemicals in the pain pathway. They are effective and offer predictable results, hence they are commonly used as first line pain relief, especially for acute pain. There are many pet-specific drugs that are more effective with reduced side effects when prescribed responsibly.

Other medications help to reduce pain by improving and repairing damaged joints, e.g. polysulfated glycosaminoglycans is commonly used to manage arthritic pain. Apart from medication, nutraceuticals (herbs and health supplements) are used for pain management, e.g. joint supplements, fish oils, tumeric. However, their efficacy may be variable, dependant on the quality, strength and manufacturing standards. Image below: X-rays of a dog with normal hips versus a dog with osteoarthritis.



Non-pharmaceutical options for pain relief include diets for weight reduction (for pets with joint disease) and other diets to provide joint benefits, e.g. with added fish oils, antioxidants to minimise tissue breakdown (again for pets with joint disease). Other popular options are acupuncture, rehabilitative physiotherapy, chiropractic. The environment may also be modified to improve the welfare of pets with painful diseases, e.g. soft bedding, padded flooring to prevent slips, easy access to food, water and toilet. 

IF YOUR PET SUFFERS FROM CHRONIC PAIN (E.G. OSTEOARTHRITIS), SOME BASIC LIFESTYLE CHANGES CAN OFFER RELIEF.

  • Control weight and incorporate light exercises (e.g. hydrotherapy) to decrease joint stress and improve muscle tone and flexibility
  • Provide easy access to litter boxes or garden for elimination (e.g. gently-sloped ramp)
  • Raise food and water bowls to a comfortable level
  • Provide non-slip floor surfaces (e.g. yoga mats) to help your arthritic pet get up and walk more easily
  • Provide comfortable but firm beds to help your arthritic pet get up more easily

Acupuncture is available with Dr Audrey Loi, Dr Kasey Tan, Dr Pauline Fong at Mount Pleasant (East) and Mount Pleasant (North).



In conclusion, it is important to identify changes in your pet’s behaviour as these may indicate painful conditions. Next, discuss the observations with your vet and diagnose the cause of pain. An appropriate therapeutic plan can then be prescribed to improve the well-being of your pet. Drugs are necessary most times. By integrating complementary therapies, the multimodal approach to pain management could minimise your pet’s reliance of these drugs.

“Our priority is the protection of animal health and welfare, and the prevention and relief of animal suffering” ~ Dr Kasey Tan, Mount Pleasant Animal Clinic (North)