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Posted on 01-25-2017

Do Animals Feel Pain? 


I get this question a lot.  It comes in various forms and fronts such as, "why does my dog need pain medication?" or "He seems to be doing fine, doc. He's not using the leg but everything else is doing great!"  Well the answer to the question of "do animals feel pain?" often comes as a shock to some, while others pull their hair out seeing it as an obvious thing that needs little time to answer.  The absolute truth of it is, yes... animals feel pain in much the same way we do.  After surgery, after a torn cruciate ligament in their knee, when they get shot... animals feel pain.  However, they communicate pain very differently than we do.  This is where this old assumption that animals don't feel pain comes from.   Communication is key to understanding pain in any animal.  It is also important to understand that each species communicates pain differently.  

Look. I don't speak Spanish. I very much wish I could speak Spanish.  One of these days, I am going to put down the investment on some Rosetta Stone software and start the process.  Until that day comes, I am going to keep my subtitles set to "ON" when I watch Pan's Labyrinth.   My weirdly structured point is that just because I don't speak Spanish, it doesn't mean that communication isn't taking place during the movie. These incredible things taking place on my television screen are communicating something.  I just need subtitles to be able to interpret it. 

Pain is an important thing to understand as a pet owner.  Our human kids will cry and whine when they want or need something, especially when they are hurting.  With a four year old biped and a 10 month old quadruped at home, I can absolutely tell you that human children communicate their pain like a hammer communicates to a nail that it wants it to go down.  Pets communicate much more subtly than that.  In fact, pets don't usually use vocalization to communicate pain. They use things like body language, isolation, distance from busy areas, reduced activity, drops in appetite, and slow movement to communicate their pain. Even licking their paws can be a sign of pain.  Understanding how animals communicate pain is what your veterinary team is for.  We are here to be your translators and to help you keep your fur kiddos happy, healthy and as pain free as possible. You'd want the same for your kids, right?  These babies need appropriate pain relief at times, too.  If you have any questions about pain in cats and dogs, please reach out to your veterinary healthcare team.  If you don't have a relationship with a veterinary team, than please reach out to us.  We will help answer any questions you have.

Ultimately, we want to help all animals by keeping them happy, healthy and pain free and by educating the public about subjects like this one so that others who want to help are well equipped to do so.  For those who do want to help, we are on your side, ready and willing to be your subtitles when you need them.  Now... back to Pan's Labyrinth. 

Rodney Little, DVM 

For your youtube viewing pleasure, watch Dr. Andy Roark talk about 8 secret signs your pet may be in pain here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wXIvH3OJahg

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